Internet

Instagram Bans Healthy Eating Ads for Promoting 'Negative Self-Perception'

Plus: The ERA returns (again), Rep. Nancy Mace's marijuana mission, and more...

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Social media companies pull ADHD ads by mental health startup Cerebral. The latest ad ban by Instagram and TikTok highlights the slippery slope of "misinformation" purges as well as the warped way some folks have come to view food and healthy eating in 2022.

Instagram and TikTok are both pulling ads from the mental health company Cerebral for supposedly violating policies related to eating disorders and to misinformation.

The ads suggested people with attention deficit problems may fall victim to impulse eating. They note a link between ADHD and obesity. And they suggest that getting ADHD treatment through Cerebral could help people to "stop overeating."

Stephanie Chan, a spokesperson for Instagram parent company Meta, said the ads were pulled because the company doesn't allow "content that promotes misleading health claims" or attempts "to generate negative self-perception in order to promote health-related products. We remove ads that break these rules."

But research has indeed linked ADHD to obesity, and ADHD forums often discuss impulsive or disordered eating habits among people with the disorder.

And promoting good dietary habits hardly seems like it should be discarded as merely "generat[ing] negative self-perception." Sure, some people might feel bad whenever they see anything about healthy eating or weight, just like some people might feel bad when they encounter any advice or imagery related to healthy habits they lack or things they wish to change about themselves. But is that really justification for this content—which may actually help some folks—being banned?

Of course, Meta and TikTok are private companies and are allowed to set whatever rules they want on their own platforms. Attempts to force private companies to platform speech they find objectionable are no good.

But tech companies' ever-increasing pool of things that can't be said isn't just the result of their executives' own beliefs or a simple response to market pressure. It's come as government officials increasingly demand that they have a say over what can and can't be found online.

This government pressure and support for it are often pushed as a way to protect people from "misinformation" or to keep teens from doing dangerous things. Arguably, these are neither roles for government nor for tech executives, but let's put their general desirability or wisdom aside for a moment. The Cerebral ad ban shows the practical problem with such pushes: They inevitably creep far beyond their purported scope.

Supporters of misinformation bans imagine they'll only snag obvious lies and grifters, like people pushing miracle cures for COVID-19 or ranting that vaccines contain microchips from Bill Gates. But now we've got companies pulling content for…lacking context? Not providing as complete a picture as an academic meta-analysis?

Kevin Antshel, a Syracuse University psychology professor and ADHD researcher, suggested to NBC News that the Cerebral ads were bad because they didn't reference other conditions with which ADHD is linked:

[Antshel] said that Cerebral's ads painted an incomplete picture of the condition. While research has associated obesity with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, ADHD has been linked to many illnesses, he said.

"ADHD is associated with just about anything else that you can imagine," he said, including autism, schizophrenia and depression. He added that Cerebral's ads appeared to be playing on concerns among Americans about "being thin and concerns with diet and weight loss."

Antshel also complains that TikTok ads from the company Done say ADHD meds can lead to "a quiet mind," though this may overstate the case and omits information about side effects.

How quickly we've gone from shunning outright lies to suggesting maybe mental health content is misinformation for not being as nuanced as a psychology professor may want.

Besides—what's wrong with concerns about diet and weight loss? While some people may take them too far, they're certainly not an inherently bad thing. It's bizarre to suggest that any talk of these topics is dangerous or exists only to promote eating disorders and negative body image. There's a big difference between pro-anorexia content and pushing counseling to help with ADHD impulse control.

But tasking tech companies with perfect content moderation or else they'll face congressional hearings, more regulation, more lawsuits, etc. invariably leads to this sort of mischief and mission creep.


FREE MINDS

The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) is back yet again. The deadline for passage of the act expired in 1982. The amendment to the Constitution only got enough states voting to ratify it in 2020. But congressional Democrats say that's good enough. On Thursday, they introduced a resolution that would recognize the ERA as part of the Constitution.

The resolution says the amendment "has met the requirements of the Constitution and become valid to all intents and purposes as a part of the Constitution."

The Trump-era DOJ said the ERA was over. Now, the DOJ has issued an opinion saying that decision "does not preclude the House or the Senate from taking further action regarding ratification of the ERA."

See more on the ERA's revival here and here.


FREE MARKETS

Marijuana as American as apple pie, says congressional Republican. U.S. Rep. Nancy Mace (R–S.C.) wants to end the federal prohibition on marijuana. "It's American, it's uniting," Mace told Forbes. "There are three things that really bring people together—animals, Britney Spears and cannabis. Those are the three things I've found that have struck a chord with the American people and that can bring people together at the dinner table—just like apple pie." Read more about her cannabis decriminalization efforts here.


QUICK HITS

• A new study published in Free Radical Biology and Medicine finds that "cannabinol protects neurons from oxidative stress and cell death, two of the major contributors to Alzheimer's disease." Cannabinol is a compound in cannabis that's less known (and less researched) than cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

• No, America is not on the brink of a civil war, writes Musa al-Gharbi in The Guardian. "The perception that we are is almost purely an artifact of people taking poll and survey data at face value despite overwhelming evidence that we probably shouldn't."

• A federal judge has halted enforcement of South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem's executive order changing the rules for obtaining abortion pills.

• Boston's vaccine mandate for city workers hits a snag. A state "appellate judge has temporarily frozen Mayor Michelle Wu's coronavirus vaccine mandate, leading the city to suspend enforcement as it gets ready to respond in court," reports the Boston Herald. "Wu's December policy changes requiring all municipal workers to get the jab are 'temporarily stayed pending review' of a lower court's ruling on a request by three unions for a preliminary injunction."

• An Alabama police department is accused of harassing people who criticize it on social media.