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Duke Expert Adds Insights on Facebook Eating Disorders Project

Dr. Nancy Zucker consulted with Facebook and Instagram on a project designed to provide support and information about eating disorders

Published October 18, 2016 | Updated October 18, 2016

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DURHAM, N.C. -- Nancy Zucker, Ph.D., director of the Duke Center for Eating Disorders, consulted with Facebook and Instagram on a project designed to provide support and information to people who indicate they may be struggling with an eating disorder. Facebook launched updates to its resources earlier this year, and Instagram is rolling out similar features this week. 

“This is a widespread problem,” Zucker said. “By the time females reach the age of 20, approximately one in 10 will have suffered from some type of eating disorders."

 Zucker, a child and family clinical psychologist, spent several weeks working with the Facebook team to help them learn more about eating disorders. Their goal was to figure out how to reach individuals who post eating disorder content on Facebook that may be triggering or upsetting to other Facebook community members.
 
In such instances, the concerned person could file a report and request Facebook to review the disturbing post. After reviewing the post and confirming that the content indicates the person might be in distress, Facebook would send a note with helpful resources to that person only, which would appear the next time the person logs into Facebook.
 
Zucker worked with the product team to design these communications to individuals who may be suffering. With her input, the Facebook designers, content strategists and others developed a response that the social media company can use when contacted by people who are concerned about a troubling post that is validated by the Facebook reviewers. 
 
Their response was guided by several considerations. First, they reasoned that there were two individuals who potentially would benefit from support: the individual who posted disturbing content and the reader who was troubled by it. 
 
Second, they didn’t want to make any assumptions about why the individual posted the content or why an individual was upset by the post. Instead, they worked from the assertion that both the writer and the reader were likely suffering emotionally in that moment. 
 
As a result, Zucker provided her expertise to help the Facebook team, which crafted a response designed to encourage a moment of peace where an individual is provided a temporary connection with something they care about. The note provides a positive message to help the person seek a moment of peace, connect with someone they trust, or contact a national helpline. 

The effort is similar to those Facebook launched to address other sensitive topics such as suicide prevention.
 
“Fewer than 20 percent of those suffering from eating disorders receive treatment,” Zucker said. “New ways are needed to provide much needed resources to individuals who are struggling alone.”

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