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Stanford student says social media led to near-fatal eating disorder

Stanford student tell how social media led to near-fatal eating disorder
Stanford student tell how social media led to near-fatal eating disorder 03:35

STANFORD - Social media is supposed to connect us, but for some, especially children and teens, it can have the opposite effect.
In fact, one Stanford student says it almost killed here. 

Sophie Szew was just ten years old when she first downloaded Instagram.

"I was someone that grew up pretty heavily bullied by my peers and I was told that if I downloaded Instagram that could help me fit in and stay connected," said Szew.

But instead of helping her, Sophie says the social media platform led her down a path to self-harm.

"It started off just as images of very thin models but slowly it transitioned into content that I would describe as "pro-ano", or just real eating disorder behavior encouragement content," said Szew.

Sophie says she quickly developed an eating disorder and by the time she was 15 doctors weren't sure if she'd survive.

"I was hospitalized about 13 times and during one of hospitalizations I was given two weeks to live," said Szew.

Thankfully, through poetry and finding community in mental health advocacy, Sophie was able to recover.

But State Senator Nancy Skinner says many other kids are not as lucky.

That's why she's sponsoring a bill to hold social media companies accountable for the harm she says their platforms can inflict on underage users.

"You design these platforms. You have the ability to help lessen this harm. That's what we want you to do. And that's what SB 680 is doing," said Sen. Skinner.

SB 680 would ban social media platforms from using designs, algorithms or features they know cause harm to users under the age of 16 including self-harm, eating disorders and social media addiction.

The bill would require companies audit their platforms quarterly and correct any issues within 60 days or face up to a 250-thousand dollar fine.

"They have the ability to fix it and that's what we want them to do. We want them to stop harming our kids. Here's an easy way and if you do, we'll hold you harmless and if you don't we will hold you social media responsible," said Sen. Skinner.

Sophie is now a sophomore at Stanford and a huge supporter of SB 680. So much so, she personally testified on behalf of the bill in front of lawmakers in Sacramento.

"It felt like a very full circle moment. My ten year old self would have never thought that that's where I would land. She had no idea the journey that she was going to go through when she downloaded that app," said Szew.

But now Sophie has a pretty good idea of where she's going.

She's studying mental health in America and works with the National Alliance on Mental Illness to advocate for social media regulations across the country.

Sophie told me she expects it will take time get all the regulations she wants passed but she's confident her generation will be the one to get it done.

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