The company prioritised welfare over revenue, and that’s important.
Last week, Pinterest made history by becoming the first social media platform to ban all ads relating to weight loss on their site.
The image-sharing platform worked directly with the National Eating Disorders Association to develop their latest policy. The ban prohibits ads that “discuss weight loss, reference BMI, or show before-and-after-imagery or imagery that idealizes certain body types and features.”
The move is significant, particularly when you consider the size of the weight loss industry and how heavily it relies upon social media platforms.
In 2019, the US weight loss and diet control market was valued at $72 billion. This is expected to grow.
The industry is held up by the myth that weight loss is inherently healthy. This belief then sustains itself on social media as it targets users. For instance, MediaRadar found that weight loss brands spent $327 million on ads between January and June 2021. The same company determined that there was a 120% increase in year-on-year spending for weight loss ads on Facebook.
While the weight loss industry is lucrative, eating disorder experts regularly point out the harm that can be done through targeted ads.
According to a 2017 study, an estimated 16 million people worldwide have anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa. Experts routinely point to the role diet culture and the media plays in encouraging disordered eating.
She said: “They may exacerbate the problem or be a contributing factor for someone who is vulnerable to developing [an eating disorder] or is already ill.”
Pinterest themselves noted the ways in which these ads contribute to disordered eating. They said that they enacted the ban to prioritise users’ “emotional and mental health and wellbeing, especially those directly impacted by eating disorders or diet culture or body shaming.”
With their ban, Pinterest rejects lucrative ad revenues in favour of protecting their users’ welfare. They break the cyclical relationship that sees social media companies promote diet culture. In this regard, they make a small but important dent in the weight loss industry’s huge armour.
Pinterest’s policy is significant, not only for the welfare of their users, but for the precedence it sets.
It’s a small step, but it’s a step in the right direction, nonetheless.