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‘She opens the app and gets bombarded’: parents on Instagram, teens and eating disorders | Instagram

Voice Of EU



Early in the Covid-19 pandemic, Michelle noticed her teenage daughters were spending substantially more time on Instagram.

The girls were feeling isolated and bored during lockdown, the Arizona mom, who has asked to only be identified by her first name to maintain her children’s privacy, recalled. She hoped social media could be a way for them to remain connected with their friends and community.

But as the months progressed, the girls fell into pro-diet, pro-exercise and ultimately pro-eating disorder hashtags on the social media app. It started with “health challenge” photos and recipe videos, Michelle said, which led to more similar content in their feeds. Six months later, both had started restricting their food intake. Her eldest daughter developed “severe anorexia” and nearly had to be admitted to a health facility, Michelle said. Michelle attributes their spiral largely to the influence of social media.

“Of course Instagram does not cause eating disorders,” Michelle told the Guardian. “These are complex illnesses caused by a combination of genetics, neurobiology and other factors. But it helps to trigger them and keeps teens trapped in this completely toxic culture.”

Testimony from the Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen last week revealed what parents of teens with unhealthy eating behaviors due to body-image fears had long known: Instagram has a substantial negative impact on some girls’ mental health regarding issues such as body image and self-esteem.

Internal research Haugen shared with the Wall Street Journal found the platform sends some girls on a “downward spiral”. According to one March 2020 presentation about the research, “32% of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse”.

Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But the company has disputed the characterization of its internal research on Instagram. “It is simply not accurate that this research demonstrates Instagram is ‘toxic’ for teen girls,” the company said in a statement last month. “The research actually demonstrated that many teens we heard from feel that using Instagram helps them when they are struggling with the kinds of hard moments and issues teenagers have always faced.” The company has also criticized the internal presentation that the Wall Street Journal reporting was based on.

But parents of teens with eating disorders who spoke with the Guardian following Haugen’s testimony said that finding out that Instagram’s parent company had research on Instagram’s impact had been infuriating.

They explained how their children had been directed from videos about recipes or exercise into pro-eating-disorder content and weight-loss progress images. And they said they struggled to regulate their children’s use of social media, which has become inextricable from their kids’ daily lives.

Frances Haugen speaks before senators in Washington.
Frances Haugen speaks before senators in Washington. Photograph: Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/REX/Shutterstock

“They are responsible for triggering serious eating disorders in many individuals,” Michelle said about Facebook. “And after what we learned this week, it is evident they don’t care as long as they’re making money.”

‘There is nothing we can do about it’

Neveen Radwan, a parent living in the San Francisco Bay Area, said social media “has played a humongous role” in her 17-year-old daughter’s eating disorder. The teen had been harmed not only by content that was explicitly pro-anorexia or weight loss, she said, but also by edited photos of influencers and real-life friends.

“The second she opens the app, she is bombarded by photos that are filtered, that are manipulated,” Radwan said. “She is trying to attain something that is unachievable.”

Over the past few years, Radwan’s daughter has journeyed down a long road of recovery from a severe eating disorder. At one point, her weight was down to 74lb. Her heart stopped beating and she had to be airlifted to a specialized facility.

To help her daughter avoid the triggers she believes helped send her to the hospital, Radwan tried installing a number of safeguards on the girl’s phone. She uses built-in iPhone tools to keep her daughter from downloading apps without permission and monitors her online activity.

Recently, after a year and a half in treatment, Radwan’s daughter was allowed to have her phone back. But within 30 minutes, the teen had sneaked around the restrictions to log into Instagram from the phone’s browser, Radwan said.

When her daughter had opened the app, her algorithm had been right where she had left it, Radwan said, in the midst of an endless feed of unhealthy eating and diet content.

“Once you look at one video, the algorithm takes off and they don’t stop coming – it’s like dominoes falling,” Radwan said. “It is horrific, and there is nothing we can do about it.”

Experts say that Facebook, however, could do something about it. There are a number of proven tools that would prevent the spread of harmful content and misinformation, especially as it relates to eating disorders, according to Madelyn Webb, associate research director for Media Matters for America.

She explained that the algorithms recommend content similar to what users have shared, viewed, or clicked on in the past – creating a feedback loop that some vulnerable teens cannot escape.

“But they will never change it because their profit model is fundamentally based on getting more clicks,” she said.

Haugen, in her testimony, suggested Facebook return to a chronological rather than algorithmically driven timeline on the platform to reduce the spread of misinformation and inflammatory content.

Facebook has said it works to minimize such content by restricting hashtags that promote it. But a report released in September by the advocacy group SumOfUs found 22 different hashtags promoting eating disorders still existed on Instagram at the time, and were connected to over 45m eating disorder-related posts.

The report found 86.7% of eating disorder posts the researchers analyzed were pushing unapproved appetite suppressants and 52.9% directly promoted eating disorders.

Lucy, a mother in the Washington DC area who asked to be identified by a pseudonym to protect her privacy, said her daughter had struggled with an eating disorder at age 11 and had spent several years in remission.

But when her social media use started picking up during the coronavirus pandemic, the eating disorder re-emerged. Lucy said her daughter had changed quickly.

“By the time we found out she was getting this negative body messaging, it was too late – she was already into the eating disorder,” she said. “We watched our smart, lovely, caring, empathetic daughter turn into someone else.”

She also has taken measures to limit her daughter’s social media use – banning her phone from her room at night, restricting time on social media apps, and talking to her about responsible use. But she can’t take away the device completely as so much of her daughter’s school and social life relies on it.

“Having that phone is like having a 24/7 billboard in front of you that says, ‘Don’t eat,’” Lucy said.

Compounding the problem, she added, was the difficulty in finding good and affordable care for teens like her daughter. “In much of the country there are no therapists. There are waiting lists for treatment facilities. And while you wait, this disease gets stronger, and people get closer to death.”

The rate of eating disorders has risen sharply in recent years, in particular following the onset of the pandemic. A study published by CS Mott children’s hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan, found that the total number of admissions to the hospital of children with eating disorders during the first 12 months of the pandemic was more than the average from the previous three years – at 125 young people compared with 56 in previous years.

Meanwhile, access to treatment in the US has remained extremely limited. Hospitals have run out of beds and inpatient treatment centers have long waiting lists.

Despite what many parents see as a direct line between Facebook and Instagram content and their children’s eating disorders, many struggle to leave the platform themselves.

Lucy, the mother in Washington, said she felt “extremely conflicted” about her Facebook usage because the closed groups for parents of children dealing with eating disorders had been “a godsend”.

She recalled a particularly rough day when her daughter lashed out at her after she urged her to eat a small amount of food. Crying and unable to sleep, Lucy posted to the group in the middle of the night in desperation.

“Suddenly dozens of people all over the world who knew what I was going through are telling me ‘you’ll get through this’ – it made a huge difference,” she said. “It also helps me when I can help other people. Because there is such a stigma around this disease, and this can be such a lonely road.”

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New EU law may force big messaging vendors to open up • The Register

Voice Of EU



The European Parliament’s new Digital Markets Act, adopted as a draft law this week, could compel big platforms owned by large firms including Apple, Google, and Facebook to make their tech interoperable.

Among other things, this might mean forcing the tech vendors’ messaging apps to allow communication with other services.

If the EU deems a company to be what it calls a “gatekeeper”, it could impose “structural or behavioural remedies” – compelling the largest outfits to allow interoperability, or imposing fines. The Act would also restrict what companies could do with personal data – not the first time it’s tried.

While the legislation carefully phrases the characteristics that make a company a gatekeeper in terms of its operations inside the EU, the fines are assessed against global revenue. It applies to companies that provide a “core platform service” in at least three EU nations, with more than 45 million monthly users and 10,000 business users. In money terms, it’s talking about €8bn a month inside the union, and a market cap of 10 times that.

A potential get-out is that it applies to “number-independent interpersonal communication services” – so services that identify you by your phone number rather than an account, such as Whatsapp, Telegram, Signal, and the like, might be able to dodge the new rules, which won’t come into force for a year or two.

As we pointed out a week ago, services already exist that can talk to most vendors’ proprietary offerings. Nothing technical prevents this and many of the services talked to one another in the past.

For example, Apple’s iMessage originally used AOL’s OSCAR protocol, and AOL allowed authentication using Gmail credentials. Google’s Chat, Talk, and Hangouts, and Facebook Messenger, all used the Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol or XMPP – to and from which Skype offered a gateway.

As far as the phone number-based systems go, there’s also an existing standard for internet-based SMS – not that anybody cares. ®

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What happens when we ‘power through’ burnout?

Voice Of EU



Employers know that burnout levels are increasing, but it’s important to step in and tackle it head on before it’s too late.

A recent survey from HRLocker found that more than half (52pc) of respondents are experiencing burnout.

The company surveyed 1,000 full-time employees across Ireland to assess their stress levels and the primary causes of stress.

Click here to check out the top sci-tech employers hiring right now.

This is common thread with many other surveys and reports from around the world suggesting a significant increase in stress, exhaustion and burnout among the global workforce.

Another recent survey, this one of US workers, found that 89pc of respondents reported experiencing burnout over the past year.

While it’s easy to acknowledge that this increase in burnout is a problem, it’s a very different thing to take steps to actually address it, whether you’re an employee on the verge of crashing or a manager starting to notice the signs among your team.

Burnout is classified by the World Health Organization as a “occupational phenomenon”. While this can seem problematically vague for those who are experiencing it, Prof John Gallagher, chief medical officer at Cork-based Cognate Health, sees it from a different perspective.

He said that because burnout is considered a workplace phenomenon, it is not so much about the individual as much as it is about the impact that the workplace environment has on them.

“We can support the individual, but the real question is how do we fix the workplace and the impact it is having on the employee?”

‘The blurring of the lines between work and life has had an impact’

Many people will be familiar with the symptoms of burnout, which include profound exhaustion, cynicism about work, decreased productivity and extreme emotions.

However, it’s also worth noting that some people are more prone to burnout than others. “More often than not these are the more idealistic, committed and dedicated employees,” said Gallagher.

Dr Sarah O’Neill, chartered psychologist and chief clinical officer at Spectrum Life, agrees that it can often affect the most high-achieving employees. However, she said there are other people who can be prone to burnout too.

“People can also experience ‘bore-out’ when they are in a role that is dull, repetitive and there is a distinct lack of stimulation. The third common iteration is when people become worn down over a period of time,” she said.

“While the first example may be much more aligned with what we think of when we imagine burnout, the end result is the same.”

When the elastic band snaps

Burnout occurs when there are unusual levels of pressure or stress over a prolonged period of time. Those who start to suffer the symptoms will most likely have been ‘on’ for a long time with no opportunity to rest and recover.

“Think about an elastic band,” said O’Neill. “They stretch and bounce back. If the band is stressed, stretched out without the opportunity to bounce back and reset, overtime it loses its stretch. You can think about stress this way. Then burnout is when the band eventually snaps.”

Often, employees don’t mean to ignore their own health. Even the overachievers would rather reap the rewards that come with rest and recovery, which are higher energy levels, more productivity and better focus.

But sometimes an ongoing stressful period seems never-ending, like during a pandemic for example, and it can feel impossible to find the time to actually stop and take a break. You might just feel like you have to power through your stress in the hope that you’ll make it to the end of the tunnel.

However, it is this ‘powering through’ that will directly result in burnout. While it’s important for employees to be aware of this, Gallagher said it’s vital that employers and managers know when to step in.

“What employers and managers will see if an issue isn’t addressed is that the person will pull back and distance themselves from their work, become more cynical and ultimately disengage from the workplace completely. The physical symptoms are similar to those seen across other mental health issues such as feelings of exhaustion and weariness, as well as bowel and stomach problems,” he said.

“It’s important that managers engage with employees early once they see any of these warning signs and that they check in to see if the person is OK. Often the people that are most likely of experiencing burnout are those who take on more and more work without raising any red flags about their mental health and ability to cope.”

O’Neill agreed that early intervention is key but that it’s also important that managers understand how each member of the team responds to stress and pressure within the workplace.

“It’s critical for managers to know their teams well enough to recognise when something is off. That makes it possible to mitigate issues before they progress too far by managing an employee’s workload and having open conversations with them about the mental wellbeing,” she said.

The pandemic effect

Burnout has been a concern for employers and employees for several years now but, as we have seen from recent surveys and reports, the pandemic has likely compounded the stressors that can bring about burnout.

O’Neill said there has been a 30pc increase in people presenting with burnout compared to pre-pandemic trends.

“The blurring of the lines between work and life has had an impact and we’re seeing pretty consistent results from research where employees are identifying blurring of boundaries impacting their mental health.”

Gallagher has seen a similar increase, including increased incidences of anxiety and depression.

“It would seem that mental health concerns will be at the core of our work in occupational health for the foreseeable future. There are the more obvious reasons for this – increased feelings of isolation, loneliness, disconnection from people, as well as the general stress and anxiety of living during a global health crisis,” he said.

“But this is all compounded by the fact that it is easier to hide any issues from your colleagues and employers while working remotely and being less connected in real life.”

However, it’s not all bad news. O’Neill also said there are some positives to be gleaned from the pandemic when it comes to mental health. “We have collectively lived through a traumatic time which has, at its best, given us a new perspective on our lives. The theory of post-traumatic growth shows how a difficult experience can shift your values and your perspective on different situations in life, allowing you to move through them and grow as a result.”

Employers’ duty of care

While it’s important for employees to watch out for signs of burnout in themselves, both O’Neill and Gallagher agree that managers have a duty of care when it comes to workplace risks for their employees and these risks must include psychosocial risks.

“What I always say is that managers and employers need to ‘ask, don’t assume’ when it comes to discussing mental health concerns. We can’t assume a person is dealing with an issue and we can’t leave them to handle it by themselves. Managers need to reach out to employees and ask them how they are doing, especially if there have been any warning signs,” said Gallagher.

“Sometimes employers and managers prefer to pull back when an employee appears to be dealing with a mental health issue but that is when we need to lean in and address it openly and directly.”

‘We need to ask ourselves why employees are more comfortable saying that they are having issues with their physical health as opposed to their mental health’

O’Neill said it’s also important to look at the supports in place for teams, such as an employee assistance programme, and examine whether or not they are sufficient.

“We know people are increasingly experiencing mental health distress, that impacts them in the workplace and the mental healthcare system is, like many parts of the health service, overwhelmed by demand,” she said.

“Even if mental health distress is not a work-related issue, it can be in the interests of companies to provide support to employees from both a cultural and business perspective.”

While having support systems in place are vital, Gallagher highlighted the fact that the area of mental health can still be highly stigmatised. “While we have seen great developments to date, there needs to be an increased effort made to eradicate any stigma around mental health in the workplace,” he said.

“We need to ask ourselves why employees are more comfortable saying that they are having issues with their physical health as opposed to their mental health – we still see employees asking for their medical certs to say they are suffering from back pain rather than stress, anxiety or depression. We need to cultivate an environment where employees are as comfortable saying they need time to care for their mental health as they are saying they need time to prioritise their physical health.”

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Best podcasts of the week: the life and death of Diego Maradona | Podcasts

Voice Of EU



Picks of the week

The Last Days of Maradona
“Everyone – fans and non-fans alike – must have asked themselves: how did Maradona’s life end the way it did?” Thierry Henry narrates this podcast about the football legend’s death at the age of 60 in 2020 – part forensic investigation, part homage to his greatness. In a novel twist – and perhaps a sign of things to come for podcasting – the series is also available in French, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian, via a series of hosts. Hannah J Davies

I’m Not a Monster
Listeners were captivated by the case of Indiana mother Sam Sally and how she ended up at the heart of the Islamic State caliphate. Now, host Josh Baker is back for two new follow-up episodes. He answers listeners’ questions – and heads back to Iraq. Hannah Verdier

Twenty Thousand Hertz
More offbeat sonic discoveries in a miniseries from the long-running audio show. It’s Not TV, it’s HBO, tells the story of the network’s bombastic 80s theme song as well as its iconic – if more understated – “static angel” sound, as heard before everything from The Sopranos to Sex and the City. HJD

Behind the Wand
More than 20 years after Harry Potter’s first film adaptation, Potterheads are still looking to learn something new about the wizarding world. Here, Emma
Watson’s body double Flick Miles takes us behind the scenes with crew members. It’s not as exciting as, say, the upcoming TV reunion, but fans might enjoy the nitty gritty details about how the story came to life on the big screen. Hollie Richardson

Even the Rich: Murder in the House of Gucci
With Lady Gaga and Adam Driver ’s new film throwing the spotlight on to the Gucci dynasty, this podcast tells the story of the family’s humble beginnings. Brooke Siffrinn and Aricia Skidmore-Williams bring their gloriously salacious tone to the tale, from observing Guccio Gucci’s knowledge of luggage to analysing Patrizia Reggiani’s controversial white fur school coat. HV

Sunny delight ... Rob McElhenney, Glenn Howerton, Kaitlin Olson, Danny DeVito and Charlie Day on the set of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia.
Sunny delight … Rob McElhenney, Glenn Howerton, Kaitlin Olson, Danny DeVito and Charlie Day on the set of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia. Photograph: Michael Buckner/Getty Images

Chosen by Danielle Stephens

There is always a risk in learning how something you adore is made. That’s why I was slightly apprehensive to listen to The Always Sunny podcast, which launched earlier this month. The premise is simple: each week, the geniuses behind the hit show It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia sit down to bring us insider knowledge on how every episode came to be, starting all the way back in 2005.

The worry is that your favourite (terrible) characters are somehow played by an unfunny trio, but Rob McElhenney, Charlie Day and Glenn Howerton allay any fears early on, making one another laugh as much as you might imagine. The scoring is the same as the show, and sound design is nonexistent, so the content needs to carry – which it does. For true fans, it’s a must listen, as we hear how they developed ideas; the stumbling blocks they encountered; and, most interestingly, some of the things they regret with hindsight.

Talking points

  • As podcasts evolve, expect to see even more boundary-blurring with other creative mediums. A case in point: US culture show How Long Gone will release a double-CD album via Jagjaguwar on 17 December, featuring about releases from the record label’s other acts, including Moses Sumney, Dinosaur Jr and Angel Olsen.

  • Why not try: Close to Death | Is This Working? | Sh***hole Country

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