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She weighed 85 pounds. She was hospitalized. His heart stopped twice. Doctors thought she would not survive.

But she did. And now the New South Wales, Australia resident is dedicating her life to helping other girls. His first warning to parents and children concerns the dangers of Instagram, where, says Thomas, his near-death journey began.

On the app, Thomas started following “healthy food” influencers. She was an athlete looking to have the fittest body she could create. And the bodies she saw as ideal flocked through her timeline every day, every “like” and every comment prompting her to emulate the body types she saw.

“I just wanted to be loved and loved the way they were,” said Thomas, now 20.

“I wanted to get a taste of it.”

But the opposite has happened. She started to hate herself.

A commentator reacted to the photos Thomas posted of herself by writing that her stomach was big. At one point, she stopped eating. She said her parents tried everything to get her to eat. The authorities responsible for the protection of children were contacted because they had resorted to his forced feeding.

“It got to the point where I remember sitting down and my dad holding my jaw open and my mom pouring food into my mouth because I refused to eat,” Thomas recalls. .

“There is no miracle solution to this problem”

Thomas’ struggles are just one example of Instagram’s potential “toxic” effect on teenage girls, as testimony to Congress Tuesday from Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen points out.
“I think Facebook’s products hurt kids, fuel division and weaken our democracy,” Haugen, a 37-year-old former Facebook product manager who has worked on civic integrity issues at the company, told a Senate subcommittee.
Facebook’s own internal research, cited in one of Haugen’s filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, showed that “13.5% of teenage girls on Instagram say the platform makes thoughts of” suicide worse and “Self-Injury” and 17% say the platform makes “eating problems” such as anorexia worse.

Her research also claimed that Facebook’s platforms “worsen body image problems for 1 in 3 teenage girls.” (Instagram is owned by Facebook.)

“Company management knows how to make Facebook and Instagram safer, but won’t make the necessary changes because they put their astronomical profits ahead of people,” Haugen said in his opening remarks. “Congress action is needed. They will not solve this crisis without your help.”

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg used the platform he built to defend the company against Haugen’s claims, saying in a 1,300-word statement that the tech giant’s research into its impact on the children were deformed.

“We care deeply about issues such as safety, well-being and mental health,” Zuckerberg wrote.

He added: “A lot of statements just don’t make sense. If we wanted to ignore research, why would we create a cutting edge research program to understand these important issues in the first place? “

What we know about the Facebook whistleblower

In a statement, Facebook challenged the interpretation of the research and insisted the percentages are much lower. The company also said it welcomes the regulation.

Yet those who know how the tech world works say it will take a lot longer to save teens.

“Their business model places kids in these kinds of engagement loops,” said Tristan Harris, co-founder of the Center for Humane Technology. “And that’s what really worries me … that there isn’t a quick fix to this problem. It’s the intrinsic nature of the product.”

The content of extreme diet accounts can serve as validation for users already predisposed to unhealthy behaviors, experts say.

Pamela Keel, director of the Eating Behaviors Research Clinic at Florida State University, said posting photos to Instagram increased concerns about weight and shape as well as concerns and dissatisfaction with her appearance.

“It’s actually one of the biggest risk factors for developing an eating disorder,” she said.

Instagram’s wide reach among young women and girls means that such content posted on its platform can be particularly dangerous, according to Keel.

“You should be dead”

In a video of his family, Thomas is seen screaming and crying when his parents ask him to eat.

“I can’t do it,” she cried.

“Come on, open your mouth and put it in and swallow,” he is told in another video.

“When I was admitted to the hospital, the doctor said to me, ‘We don’t understand why you are here. You should be dead,'” Thomas recalls. “Actually in the hospital … my heart has failed twice.”

Thomas admits she was “very addicted” to Instagram.

The revelations on Facebook are shocking.  But nothing will change until Congress takes action

Anastasia Vlasova, an eating disorder survivor who lives in New York City and attends Gallatin University in New York, said she had had a similar experience.

“I was definitely addicted to Instagram,” she said.

Vlasova was drawn to the images of women with chiseled bodies and perfect abs. The more she saw toned bodies, the more she felt bad for herself, she said.

“I just got bombarded with all these messages that you have to exercise every day, or you have to do this type of exercise or you have to follow this type of diet and avoid these foods,” he said. she declared.

Vlasova, now 18, called it an “unhealthy obsession” that plagued many young people her age.

Instagram has put their lives on the line not only by not cracking down on accounts promoting extreme diets and eating disorders, but by actively promoting those accounts, according to the young women.

“We shouldn’t have to end up in hospital beds or we shouldn’t have to be nose or gastric tube fed or our parents have to say goodbye or surrender their parental rights because your platform is encouraging us. to starve ourselves or to eat healthy, ”Thomas said.

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, the National Eating Disorders Association (in the US) has phone, text, and chat services available on their website. website and Beat (in the United Kingdom) offers telephone and chat services on its website.

Ray Sanchez of CNN contributed to this report.