Kelsey Wu: Body Image and Social Media

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A bill to force tech companies to protect kids from dangerous content is moving through the state legislature and Kelsey Wu says it’s a positive step for young people like her.

Last year, reports that Instagram worsens body image for 1-in-3 teen girls shocked a lot of people. But these facts weren’t a surprise to me — it’s the reality I live with every single day.

As a 17-year-old, I grew up on Instagram. It ensured my weight loss obsession stayed strong. I was fed pictures of perfectly toned bodies and content pushing deadly weight loss supplements. The more I scrolled, the more unhealthy I became.

What I didn’t know then was Instagram knew exactly what was happening. They knew dangerous content was being shown to me and millions of other kids.

These apps aren’t designed with my safety — or your kids’ safety. Instead, they actively exploit our vulnerabilities to get us hooked, and in the process make billions in profits.

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Social media desperately needs change, and change is underway in California. The Age Appropriate Design Code now before the legislature would force tech companies to design their platforms with kids’ best interests in mind. It would limit their ability to collect and exploit our data to push harmful content into our feeds, require stringent privacy settings, and make clear how young users can block content detrimental to our health.

Despite how popular the bill is, tech lobbyists are trying to weaken it, saying it should only apply to kids under 13 or 16. As a 17 year old, that would mean companies can still collect data about any searches for reproductive or mental health information on kids like me and sell it to the highest bidder. That’s scary and unacceptable, and California’s leaders cannot let this happen.

I am proud to say I have recovered from my eating disorder, but I wonder how different my childhood would’ve been if the features in this legislation already existed on social media. I’m hopeful this bill passes here and in other states, so kids younger than me can experience a better version of social media than I have.

With a Perspective, I’m Kelsey Wu.

Kelsey Wu is a rising high school senior and a mental health and eating disorder activist.