The Obligation To Experiment. Tech Companies Should Test The Effects

Ko, Allan; Mou, Merry; Matias, Nathan
MIT Media Lab

When Instagram banned hashtags promoting eating disorders in April 2012, it seemed like a victory for civil society and public health. Two years into its creation, the photo-sharing site was being used by peer support communities that encouraged anorexia and self harm as a “lifestyle choice.” When journalists and a major UK charity drew public attention to the problem, Instagram took action, trying to disrupt these communities by making them unsearchable. But Instagram’s actions may have made the problem worse. According to a study by researchers at Georgia Tech four years later, Instagram’s actions drove the conversation underground and sometimes may have increased it. Communities that evaded Instagram’s intervention received 15% more comments and 30% more likes after the ban.