Hashtag Adoption in the Pro-Eating Disorder Community on Instagram

Munmun deChoudhury, Eric Gilbert

It is true that social networking has been a powerful force for good; however, these sites have also enabled sharing and connectivity for more nefarious purposes. Specifically, the Internet connects people in ways that can enable and amplify the destructive power of eating disorders (EDs). Some pro-ED communities have emerged that support users' choices of self-harm as a reasonable lifestyle alternative. These communities are not only dangerous for those with EDs but also for potential contagious effects of these communities on those who don't already have these behaviors. Instagram, the photo, and video sharing site has taken proactive steps to block hashtags associated with eating disorders, yet the pro-ED community works around these bans by creating new hashtags with lexical permutations to congrea.

My research examines the formation of the pro-ED community on Instagram around these hashtags and the life cycles for these hashtags. I hope to examine questions such as: what categories of lexical permutations are created for banned hashtags? What characteristics of a hashtag make it "stick" and used around the network? Can we predict what lexical characteristics make a hashtag better or worse at avoiding detection and connecting the pro-ED community together?

Eric Gilbert

The comp.social lab focuses on the design and analysis of social media. According to their website they "like puppies, mixed methods and new students (particularly MS)."