A leading charity has raised concerns over Instagram, the Facebook-owned photography app, after it appeared to allow the promotion of anorexia by allowing users to view pictures encouraging the eating disorder and self-harming.
Instagram, which has more than 80 million users worldwide, allows users to view pictures of skeletal girls and underweight celebrities, while some of photographs on the app contain messages encouraging people not to eat.
It also gives users the option of 'liking' the disturbing images.
It is particularly popular with teenagers and young girls, with much of the content reflecting fashion trends and pop musicians.
It allows users to take a photograph with their smartphone camera, then apply a 'filter' which gives the appearance of an old processed film image, before sharing the picture with online contacts.
Unlike rival social networks such as Twitter, the content available to users is heavily moderated. Searches on Instagram for subjects which could potentially yield harmful images, such as pornography, are blocked by the app.
However, by searching for hashtags such as #ana and #thinspo, users are able to access the harmful photographs and slogans.
Before the images load, a "graphic content" warning is displayed, along with a link to the website of American organisation the National Eating Disorders organisation.
However, users are then able to click through to the pictures which show 'inspirational' images of skeletal women, along with 'advice' on strategies to refuse food.
One image uploaded today carries the caption: "Go back to school skinny and shock everyone."
Another shows a woman's flat stomach with the caption: "I only feel beautiful when I'm hungry."
A third image, also uploaded today, reads: "I like the feeling of being faint. The little two second black outs whenever I stand up. It shows that it's working."
Another reads: "Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels."
Other users have uploaded pictures of lacerations to their arms. One caption reads: "I have more scars than friends."
Some users tell peers they will refuse to eat certain foods if they are given 'likes' or comments.
British eating disorder support group Beat expressed concern that people were able to easily access harmful images through social networking sites and apps such as Instagram.
The group said that promoting an eating disorder as a "lifestyle choice" should be seen as dangerous and should be treated in the same way as other dangerous practices.
A Beat spokesman said: “It’s worrying that with the powerful medium of social networking and the growing popularity of phone apps such as Instagram, people are able to easily access images that encourage the individual to believe that an eating disorder is a lifestyle choice and to avoid treatment.
"Some sites have acted to remove content that is seen as dangerous and encouraging people to do dangerous things. Eating disorders as a lifestyle choice should be treated in the same way."
"Beat also believes that individuals should be pointed towards pro recovery sites – providing acceptance and support throughout society so that these alternative sites are no longer the only refuge a person feels they can seek.”
By Alice Philipson Telegraph.co.uk