Study Reveals Online ‘Echo Chambers’ Amplify Harmful Eating Disorder Content

Study Reveals Online ‘Echo Chambers’ Amplify Harmful Eating Disorder Content


A recent study was conducted based on the idea of “how online echo chambers, particularly around topics like pro-anorexia, intensify exposure to toxic content, with users seldom encountering differing viewpoints”. In this study, machine learning was used by the researchers for analyzing millions of tweets. It helped to discover a troubling cycle of harmful content related to eating disorders that is easy to access and often intertwined with regular diet discussions

To trace this “vicious cycle”, Lerman and team used machine learning tools to analyze patterns of the tweets. At the beginning of the study the harmful hashtags related to eating disorders, such as #edtwt or “editing disorder Twitter” and #proana, short for “pro-anorexia” were identified. Then the patterns of interaction according to the hashtag network were analyzed to discover different online communities by topic for further research purposes. 

Echo chambers refer to a condition where participants in online discussions find their opinions being constantly echoed back to them. This reinforces their belief systems as they decline any exposure to others’ opinions. In the same way, people get exposed to eating disorder content which reinforces their thinking and makes them vulnerable to developing eating disorders.

Read More: A Deep Dive into Filter Bubbles and Echo Chambers

Kristina Lerman, Principal Scientist at ISI and the lead author of the study said, “The social dynamic is perhaps the most harmful force on social media”. She also added, “The friends you make online can make your mental health worse.” The paper‘s first author, David Chu said, “You’re two clicks away from being sucked into the vicious cycle.”

Eating disorders are considered serious mental and physical health problems. It involves complex and damaged food relationships and disruptive eating habits. There are certain factors responsible for developing Eating disorders for example, some biological factors like genetic factors, bodily chemicals, socio-cultural factors and some individual risk factors like perfectionism, internalizing the thin ideal, negative body image etc.

According to a research findings, “These disorders impact approximately 20 million women and 10 million men in the United States and are found in all populations regardless of age, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, religion, sex, gender, etc.” There are a few types of eating disorders like anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorders and other types of eating disorders ( pica, ARFID, rumination syndrome). 

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