Over the past several years, Instagram has morphed from a simple photo-sharing app to a full-blown marketplace. Businesses are now paying users to promote their products, especially those that appeal to young audiences. Diet companies in particular have seen huge opportunity for exposure on the app, which is why you’ve probably seen the Kardashians and other influencers promoting diet ads for weight-loss teas, appetite suppressants like lollipops, and other “wellness” products. This kind of sponsored content (or “spon-con”) has received backlash from those who say it’s promoting an unhealthy ideals and habits to young users.
But now, policies are finally emerging to protect vulnerable followers from potentially harmful Instagram diet ads. On Wednesday, Instagram announced new policies to regulate diet ads on the platform. First, users under 18 won’t be able to see posts promoting weight loss or cosmetic procedures with incentive to purchase product. (It’s worth noting, though, that Instagram verification tool is simply a checkbox to indicate if a user is over or under 18.) Instagram has also banned posts that make drastic weight-loss claims (think “I dropped 10 pounds in two days using this!”), and allow users to report problematic posts. These changes will also apply to Facebook, which owns Instagram.
Emma Collins, a public policy manager at Instagram, explained the reasons behind the changes in a press release. “We want Instagram to be a positive place for everyone that uses it, and this policy is part of our ongoing work to reduce the pressure that people can sometimes feel as a result of social media,” she said.
This news comes after pressure from actress and activist Jameela Jamil, among others, who regularly calls out and criticizes celebrities for promoting unhealthy products and unrealistic standards. This is a major win for her long-running push toward tougher regulations on products that lack of scientific evidence. “The issue is at its peak because, in my day, you’d have to search for ages to find this toxic information, but now it finds you because of algorithms that know your age, sex and what you’re into. Therefore it’s the worst it’s ever been,” she told Elle UK.
After launching a successful petition to “Stop Celebrities Promoting toxic Diet Products On Social Media,” Jamil said she met with executives who were also eager to implement tighter regulations on Instagram diet ads. “It sets the tone that this is not okay in our society,” she said of new regulations. “We have hyper-normalized flogging nonsense to young impressionable people. These people are selling hair-growth gummies but wearing extensions, or photoshopping themselves to look slimmer and selling a weight-loss shake. There are so many lies being told, and we’ve accepted that as a cultural norm.”
On the official account of Jamil’s body positivity platform, @i_weigh, she writes: “This is just the start of our efforts.” It’s about time Instagram (and social media in general) became a more positive, inclusive place. Hopefully, other platforms will follow suit and continue to crack down on harmful content.