Free resources are available for those who need support and treatment options, including The National Eating Disorders Association’s website, screening tool, toll-free help line, and 24/7 crisis support via text (send NEDA to 741-741).
TikTok is hosting a user-created “exhausted me” filter that seemingly simulates a look of starvation, even though it appears to violate the company’s own community guidelines prohibiting content that promotes, depicts, or normalizes disordered eating. The vulnerability of TikTok’s young user base and the nature of its hyper-tailored algorithm mean that the harm from exposure to this content can quickly cascade, making this filter uniquely dangerous. Some users have already begun criticizing the filter for promoting a look of starvation.
“Exhausted me” hollows a user’s cheeks and gives them dark circles, a look that also simulates starvation. Although the filter just launched on January 27, it has been used in over 65,000 individual videos.
TikTok has implemented a rather exclusive process for users to create augmented reality (AR) filters, and it’s not easily accessible. Users have to apply and be accepted by TikTok’s Effect House, and the platform asks applicants about their “years of experience with AR” and the “types of effects they plan on creating.” It also encourages users to “optionally include a link to their portfolio.” At this time, there is no transparency from TikTok about the platform’s rules or regulations for AR developers. But these filters are being applied to posts governed by TikTok's community guidelines, which prohibit “content that depicts, promotes, normalizes, or glorifies eating disorders or other dangerous weight loss behaviors associated with eating disorders.”
Regardless of the creator’s intentions, many users are arguing that TikTok's new “exhausted me” filter promotes disordered eating. One user posted a video with overlaid text reading “when this filter scares the fuck out of you because it looks identical to when you were an0rex!c and on the brink of death.”
Others have criticized the filter for making eating disorders or starvation “a trend.” One user wrote “this filter is so dangerous” in overlaid text, while another posted a video of themself with the filter, writing, “Watch me have a mental breakdown.” Even more concerning is a video in which a user implied they want to starve themselves after using “exhausted me,” writing, “I love what I look like with this filter. Guess Ik [I know] what I gotta do.”
Eating disorders can develop at any age, but studies show that teenagers and young adults are at the highest risk, which is particularly troubling given the prevalence of young users on the platform. About 60% of U.S. TikTok users are between the ages of 16 and 24, and a third of U.S. TikTok users could be 14 or under. The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) reports that “young people between the ages of 15 and 24 with anorexia have 10 times the risk of dying compared to their same-aged peers.”
TikTok has consistently dropped the ball on handling pro-eating-disorder content on its platform with the care it deserves. Since TikTok’s algorithm is hyper-tailored to promote individualized content to each user, it is troubling to know that those most vulnerable to disordered eating content don’t even have to seek it out, as they are most likely to have it delivered to their “For You” page.
As TikTok continues to allow users to create AR filters for the platform, the company must recognize the potential for harm and avoid making similar mistakes as it has with enforcing other content standards.