Secret anorexia Internet societies

A study released in early 2011 uncovered a secret organization of online communities that serve as a support group of sorts for anorexics. These groups can only be found in the deep Web, the part of the Internet that won’t show up on your everyday search engine results.

A new Internet society that you should not join. Graphic by Laura Bramble.

The research was conducted by University of Cincinnati communication researchers. The researchers are calling these organizations Online Negative Enabling Support Groups (ONESGs). Researchers managed to track down these ONESGs by looking at public anorexia blogs and websites. After examining them from October 2006 to May 2007, these websites and blogs led them to a number of ONESGs. The researchers found that the demographics for these websites are women between the ages of 13 and 26.

ONESGs are a dangerous new trend in anorexia behavior. These websites encourage users to view others without anorexia as outsiders that are not to be trusted. These support groups also teach individuals how to handle concerned friends and family who try and push healthy eating.

Other issues with these negative support groups are that they encourage individuals to internalize many of the negative thoughts that lead to anorexia. The websites encourage members to embrace their own self-loathing, encouraging one another to lose more weight to reach their target goals.

The study found that these groups worked based on four separate principles. The four principles are staying true to the anorexia movement by using the website and blogs to discuss methods of achieving goal weights. These websites then build a shared identity as members fail to meet their goals, which leads to rants about self-loathing, which are then embraced by other members of the community that negatively encourage members to continue trying to lose weight. Advising members within the community deal with those they view as outsiders such as family members and friends. Finally, the communities work positive encouragement when progress is made; this encouragement works as a barrier against the disproving others.

Anorexia is a serious disorder that strikes most heavily during the teenage and college years. This psychological disorder affects millions worldwide. Anorexia may start off as something as simple as dieting; the weight loss then leads to the illusion of mastery for those who may not have control over other aspects of their life. Ultimately it leads to an ineffective image of the self, which leads those with the disorder to becoming increasingly and unhealthily thin.

Researchers hope that shedding light on these “thin” online communities, they will be able to bring awareness to a major issue — one that is feeding off the digital age. Understanding how these support groups come about is just the first step in finding a solution for those suffering from this serious disorder.