TikTok is cracking down on weight loss ads that promote ‘harmful’ body images

Technology

Some advertisers are banned, others have to follow stricter rules

TikTok is putting new restrictions on weight loss ads as the app increasingly comes under criticism for promoting dangerous diets. The new policy bans ads for fasting apps and weight loss supplements. It also puts increased restrictions on other weight loss-related ads, like limiting ads for “weight management products” to users over 18 years old and not allowing those ads to “promote a negative body image or negative relationship with food.”

Some of the new restrictions are vague, but they’re broadly designed to limit TikTok users’ — especially teenagers’ — exposure to potentially harmful imagery and language. “These types of ads do not support the positive, inclusive, and safe experience we strive for on TikTok,” Tara Wadhwa, TikTok’s safety policy manager, wrote in a blog post this morning.

TikTok has been criticized this year for running both ads and user-created videos that seem to promote eating disorders or otherwise unhealthy diets. BuzzFeed News reported in February that the app was “filled with pro-eating disorder content” that was triggering to some viewers. In July, the New York Post wrote about the dangers behind the app’s “what I eat in a day” trend, in which people sometimes show themselves eating very little. Rolling Stone reported that TikTok was “advertising dangerous fasting diets to teenage girls.”

While the advertising crackdown is a useful starting point, the real thing TikTok has to contend with is its much-lauded algorithm. The app’s For You Page endlessly serves up videos based on what gets people to stick around, so users could find themselves watching harmful videos without actively seeking them out. TikTok notes that you can long-press on a video and select “not interested” to tell the app to stop surfacing similar videos if you come across one.

TikTok is also partnering with the National Eating Disorder Association and will start redirecting searches and hashtags for terms it deems unsafe to the association’s helpline.