#thyghgapp: Instagram Content Moderation and Lexical Variation in Pro-eating Disorder Communities

Chancellor, Stevie; Pater, Jessica Annette; Clear, Trustin; Gilbert, Eric; De Choudhury, Munmun

Pro-eating disorder (pro-ED) communities on social media encourage the adoption and maintenance of disordered eating habits as acceptable alternative lifestyles rather than threats to health. In particular, the social networking site Instagram has reacted by banning searches on several pro-ED tags and issuing content advisories on others. We pre-sent the first large-scale quantitative study investigating pro-ED communities on Instagram in the aftermath of moderation -- our dataset contains 2.5M posts between 2011 and 2014. We find that the pro-ED community has adopted non-standard lexical variations of moderated tags to circumvent these restrictions. In fact, increasingly complex lexical variants have emerged over time. Communities that use lexical variants show increased participation and support of pro-ED (15-30%). Finally, the tags associated with content on these variants express more toxic, self-harm, and vulnerable content. Despite Instagram's moderation strategies, pro-ED communities are active and thriving. We discuss the effectiveness of content moderation as an intervention for communities of deviant behavior.