'I was crying every night': Does TikTok fuel eating disorders?

When I first started looking at these videos on TikTok, it felt like falling down a rabbit hole.

You are probably familiar with the hugely popular TikTok format: mostly teenagers sharing quirky, neatly produced clips of themselves miming to songs and attempting challenges.

But now I'd entered a twisted and disturbing version, in which children were promoting eating disorders.

ITV News found dozens of videos of mostly teenage girls sharing how they limit their daily calorie intake, discussing weight loss pills, expressing delight at their thin limbs and sharing dark jokes about their mental illness.

'It's like entering a community - but it's competitive and it's dangerous'

After an evening viewing this content, it was easy to see how addictive and toxic it could be - especially for children.

TikTok is an app targeted at children as young as 13.

As I watched more and more videos it felt like I was stepping into a community, but this clique was clearly competitive - and it felt dangerous.

I wanted to find out more, so went to meet 18-year-old Ezme Butler. Anorexia has dominated her life since she was 14.

"I was experiencing seizures and I was crying every night," she told me. "I'd become a shell of who I used to be."

She's now in recovery, but just picking up her phone, threatens to drag her back to her darkest days. While we were filming, I asked her to show me her TikTok account, a negative video immediately appeared.

"They share tips and tricks as if it's like some kind of inclusive community.

"They're glorifying it, glamourising it.

"It's really scary because when you're in recovery from an eating disorder if there's anything that's said or seen that makes you feel like what you're doing is wrong, it kind of pushes all the negative thoughts to the front of your head."

TikTok is by no means the first social media platform to have videos like this, but users like Ezme say they have less control over what they see.

TikTok uses an algorithm, so if a user views, likes or comments on a particular topic, similarly themed videos will appear on their "for you page".

So, for example if you've watched weight loss videos, even healthy ones, harmful videos - might then appear on your page.

Flo Simpson has half a million followers. Credit: ITV News

So I went to meet Flo Simpson who uses TikTok to promote positive body images and has more than half a million followers.

"It makes me feel bad that they've started watching my videos and now they've got all these horrible ones on there," she said.

"People are putting really toxic content out there and it's not being removed and I think if TikTok can remove my things that they think violate guidelines you should be able to remove things that are harmful to young people."

A TikTok spokesperson said: "Keeping our community safe is a top priority for TikTok, and we care deeply about the wellbeing of our users.

"Any content or account that seeks to promote or glorify eating disorders is a violation of our Community Guidelines and will be removed.

"For some, TikTok provides an opportunity to share their experience of living with or recovering from an eating disorder and expression of this nature is permitted within the boundaries of our Community Guidelines."

TikTok also point out that users can indicate if they want to see less of a certain type of content by long-pressing on any video and tapping the 'Not Interested' icon.

But clearly harmful videos are still getting through and for a site that's designed for children, some might say they have a greater responsibility to protect their users.

Campaigners say there needs to be a regulator with the power to punish platforms that fail to protect vulnerable users.

The government insists it is bringing in new laws that will be the "vanguard" of online safeguarding.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden told ITV News "Even while Covid has been going on I've been working with my officials making the decisions to prepare this Bill and this is about placing duties and obligations on social media companies like TikTok."

For someone like Ezme that can't come soon enough.

"As soon as you've seen something it's already done the damage, so I think TikTok needs to take responsibility," Ezme explains.

Then with a huge, yet fragile smile, she assures me: "One day in the future I'll be completely fine and I'll be able to say I've beaten anorexia."

For her sake, and for other vulnerable people like her, I hope there's action soon.