Meta’s Oversight Board announced today it has upheld the company’s decision to leave up two posts detailing a Thai woman’s fruit juice-only diet. However, the board recommended the company restrict the monetization of similar “extreme and harmful diet-related content” on Facebook as researchers continue to wrestle with the concerning relationship between social media and eating disorders.
The Oversight Board’s decision describes the videos, posted in late 2022 and 2023 by the same account — and flagged by users as harmful. The clips detailed “content on life, culture and food in Thailand.” In both problematic videos, a man interviews a woman in Italian about her experience with “a diet consisting only of fruit juice.”
The decision illustrates the videos’ concerning influence. “In the first video, the woman says she has experienced increased mental focus, improved skin and bowel movement, happiness and a ‘feeling of lightness’ since starting the diet, while she also shares that she previously suffered from skin problems and swollen legs,” the board’s summary reads. “She brings up the issue of anorexia but states her weight has normalized, after she initially lost more than 10 kilograms (22 pounds) due to her dietary changes.”
The second video, posted around five months later, follows up on the woman’s story, asking how she feels nearly a year into her dangerous diet. “She responds by saying she looks young for her age, that she has not lost any more weight except for ‘four kilos of impurities,’ and she encourages him to try the diet.” Making matters worse, she told the interviewer she planned to become a “fruitarian” after wrapping up the fast, adding that she may start a “pranic journey,” which she describes as “living ‘on energy’ in place of eating or drinking regularly.”
The videos have been viewed over two million times and have over 15,000 comments. The posts also shared details about the woman’s Facebook page, which received a significant uptick in engagement after the second post. “Based on research commissioned by the Board, the woman’s Facebook page has 17,000 followers and features content about the lifestyle of the woman, including her diet,” the board wrote. Both the content creator and the woman’s Facebook page were part of Meta’s Partner Monetization Program, allowing them to profit from the potentially harmful advice.
After users reported the videos, Meta’s human reviewers determined the posts didn’t violate Facebook’s Suicide and Self-Injury Community Standard. They remained visible on Facebook. Separate users for each video then appealed the decision to Meta’s Oversight Board.
The board’s decision not to remove the videos was more about the lack of specific violations of the Suicide and Self-Injury Community Standard than a belief that the content was harmless. Specifically, the videos don’t provide “instructions for drastic and unhealthy weight loss when shared together with terms associated with eating disorders,” nor do they “promote, encourage, coordinate, or provide instructions for eating disorders.” Even the woman’s mention of an energy-only “pranic journey” was determined to be “descriptive in nature” without mention of weight loss.
The board recommended Meta adjust its monetization policies to “better meet its human rights responsibilities” related to “harmful diet-related content.” Most of the board considers the current authorization of this content “a conspicuous and concerning one.”
“With health and communications experts noting the ability of influencers to use first-hand narration styles to secure high engagement with their content — coupled with the ubiquity of wellness influencers — it is important that Meta should not provide financial benefits to create this type of content,” the board wrote.
Some board members believed demonetization of this type of content was a bridge too far. “For a minority of the Board, since demonetization may negatively impact expression on these issues, Meta should explore whether demonetization is the least intrusive means of respecting the rights of vulnerable users,” the board wrote. Meanwhile, another minority believed demonetization doesn’t go far enough. “For a separate minority of Board Members, demonetization is necessary but not sufficient; they find that Meta should additionally restrict extreme and harmful diet-related content to adults over the age of 18, and explore other measures such as putting a label on the content, to include reliable information on the health risks of eating disorders.”
Meta says that because the board upheld Meta’s decision to leave up both posts, it “will take no further action related to this bundle or the content.” The company adds that it will review the demonetization recommendation. A Meta spokesperson told Engadget it will respond to “their full recommendations in our Transparency Center” within 60 days.