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Social media health myths are destroying the lives of teenage girls – Coda Story

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Ronja Holopainen didn’t mean to fall down the rabbit hole. But, like so many things online, it just happened. One day last spring, the 21-year-old medical student was scrolling through Instagram when she stumbled into the strange world of period misinformation.

Her journey started simply enough. Searching Instagram using the hashtags “period” and “menstruation,” she quickly came across a deluge of posts promoting unsubstantiated ideas, such as girls being able to regulate or predict periods based on their astrological signs. Visiting the accounts responsible for them appeared to populate her feed with even more falsehoods. 

“When you get to one page, you start scrolling to the next and the next, and end up somewhere on the deep web,” she said.

The volume of distortions and inaccuracies shook Holopainen. So, she decided to meet them head-on. She was well-positioned to do so. For the past seven years, she has campaigned with the global girls’ rights organization Plan International. Bringing her experience of medicine and advocacy together, she set up an Instagram page — theperiodmove — to help girls climb out of the morass of pseudoscience that many of them have unwittingly stumbled into. 

On May 1, she published her first post: a soft pink grid detailing how misinformation seeps into discussions about menstruation. “Due to the taboo nature of periods, a lot of mis- and disinformation is being spread,” she wrote. “This may cause false and even dangerous beliefs.”

Ronja Holopainen, a 21-year-old medical student, launched the “theperiodmove” Instagram page in May to combat period myths and disinformation

It’s no secret that our digital spaces are rife with conspiracy theories and fake news. But new research from Plan International suggests that disinformation is taking a severe toll on young women and girls, exposing them to ideas that are dangerous to their physical wellbeing, eroding their trust in democratic processes and negatively affecting their mental health. The report comes amid increased scrutiny of social media’s influence on adolescents, following a series of damning allegations from a Facebook whistleblower about Instagram’s “toxic” impact on teenage girls, including exacerbating disordered eating and suicidal ideation.

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Plan International’s study surveyed more than 26,000 girls across 26 countries about their exposure to disinformation and found significant numbers are harmed by online myths. In the United States, 80% of young women said misinformation has had a negative impact on their lives, while Brazil and the Philippines reported 91% and 95%, respectively. One-third reported that it has damaged their mental health, making them more stressed and anxious, and 20% said their faith in election results has been compromised.

The report also clearly showed that digital disinformation can affect the decisions that girls make about their physical health. For instance, a quarter of young women questioned whether to get vaccinated against the coronavirus. Like Holopainen, they also have also been confronted by a significant amount of erroneous health misinformation — one, in Brazil, recalled coming across a post suggesting that tampons cause cancer.

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The flood of reproductive health-related misinformation has introduced Generation Z to a new variety of influencer: physicians debunking online misinformation about sexually transmitted diseases, fertility, the human papillomavirus vaccine, birth control and other reproductive health issues in snappy, bite-sized videos on TikTok and Instagram. But, for most doctors, myth-busting often takes place when they meet patients.

U.S.-based medical practitioners Trish Hutchison and Melisa Holmes routinely field an array of social media-driven questions on topics ranging from coronavirus vaccines to infertility. Hutchison, a physician who works at the College of Charleston in South Carolina,, and Holmes, an obstetrician-gynecologist in the state, also run an online sexual education hub for parents and teens called Girlology. This work has allowed them to see that what young women see on screen often migrates directly into their real-life choices and beliefs.

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Falsehoods about menstrual products — such as the myth that non-organic tampons leak chemicals into girls’ bodies — are widespread. However, the most common lies that they find themselves patiently refuting are that the birth control pill causes infertility or that women need to periodically take a break from using contraception to “cleanse” their bodies. “The only thing that happens when you take a break from birth control is that you have an unintended pregnancy,” Holmes says. 

They also routinely confront misconceptions about feminine hygiene, largely propagated by online vendors of pseudoscientific products claiming to promote vaginal cleanliness. “Self-treating vaginas is huge on Instagram,” Hutchison told me. “I pulled a sprig of lavender out of a vagina a couple of weeks ago, because TikTok talks about how to clean yourself. Don’t do that.”

Some social media channels lay heavy emphasis on self-treatment and diagnosis, leading them to delay visiting a doctor until their conditions are more advanced than they need to be. Holmes pointed to a patient who developed a kidney infection after attempting to self-treat a urinary tract infection with cranberry juice, or young women who gave themselves skin conditions after using DIY remedies to treat what they wrongly believed were yeast infections.

“There’s so much self-treatment that’s happening based on Dr. Google that people are later getting health care from a trusted and licensed provider,” Holmes said. “Someone may think they think they have a yeast infection and it’s not getting better and they’ve looked online. They come in finally and they’ve got raging herpes infection, and they didn’t recognize what it was. We are definitely seeing more misinformation and it’s impacting people in bigger ways than it used to.”

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5 apps for scheduling Instagram posts on iPhone and Android

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Alright, we get it. You’re an Instagram Nostradamus.

You know exactly what you want to post and when you’re gonna want to post it. Maybe there’s a meme or comment you want to make that you know will be totally relevant for a future moment or event. Or it could be that you’re an influencer and you want to make sure you keep a steady stream of content coming, so you want to schedule posts for times when you know you won’t be active (or won’t have internet access).

You’ll be happy to know there are apps that are specialized for just such situations. So listen up, InstaNostradamuses…Instagrostra…Instadam…Insta…uh…you guys (we’ll workshop it. No we won’t. We’ll probably just abandon that effort completely. You’re welcome) — these are the Instagram-post-scheduling apps for you.

While all of the iPhone apps below are free to download, they all have some in-app purchases.

1. Planoly

PLANOLY

We’ll start with “official partner” of Instagram, itself, Planoly — an Instaplanner that uses a grid to let you plan, schedule, and publish posts (as well as Reels) on Instagram. The app also lets you see post metrics and analytics so you can make sure your post didn’t flop.

Planoly is available for iOS on the Apple App Store and the Google Play store for Android.

2. Buffer

BufferCredit: buffer / app store

Buffer is another Instagram post scheduler that helps you plan your posts and analyze feedback once they’re published. Use a calendar view to drag and drop posts into days/time slots for easy scheduling.

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Buffer is available for iOS on the Apple App Store and the Google Play store for Android.

3. Preview

PreviewCredit: preview / app store

Preview offers typical post-scheduling tools and analytics along with a few helpful extras. Get caption ideas, recommendations for hashtags, and more.

Preview is available for iOS on the Apple App Store and the Google Play store for Android.

4. Content Office

Content OfficeCredit: content office / app store

An Instagram post scheduler with a visual boost, Content Office allows users to plan and schedule Instagram posts while learning “marketing and visual guides to grow your brand on Instagram.” Like aesthetics and using visuals to create cohesive themes? Maybe this is the Instaplanner for you.

Content Office is available for iOS on the Apple App Store.

5. Plann

PlannCredit: plann / apple store

You’ll never guess what “Plann” lets you do…

Aside from scheduling posts, get content ideas and recommendations, as well as strategy tips to ensure you’re maximizing your Instagram engagement. Ever wonder when the best time to post something is? Plann can offer you some help with that.

Plann is available for iOS on the Apple App Store and the Google Play store for Android.

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Social networking websites launch features to encourage users to get boosters

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Facebook Instagram and TikTok are launching new features to encourage people to get their coronavirus booster jabs.

From Friday, users will be able to update their profiles with frames or stickers to show that they have had their top-up jab or aim to when they become eligible.

It follows on from people previously being able to show they have had their first and second jabs on certain social networking websites and apps.

TikTok also held a “grab a jab” event in London earlier this year.

I urge everyone who is eligible – don’t delay, get your vaccine or top up jab today to protect yourself and your loved ones

More than 16 million booster vaccines have now been given across the UK.

People who are aged 40 and above and received their second dose of their vaccine at least six months ago are currently eligible to have their booster.

A new campaign advert is also being launched on Friday, which shows how Covid-19 can build up in enclosed spaces and how to prevent that from happening.

Vaccines minister Maggie Throup said:  “Getting your booster is one of the most important things you can do to protect yourself and your family this winter.

“It is fantastic to see some of the biggest household names further back the phenomenal vaccine rollout, allowing their users to proudly display that they have played their part in helping us build a wall of defence across the country.

“I urge everyone who is eligible – don’t delay, get your vaccine or top-up jab today to protect yourself and your loved ones.”

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How many hashtags should you use to get the most ‘Likes’ on Instagram?

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Hashtags are a key feature of Instagram posts. In fact, they have become an essential means of ensuring more ‘Likes’ on social media – so long as you choose them wisely.

But how many hashtags should you use to maximise your popularity on the social network? The answer might surprise you.

It’s a question that many Instagram users ask themselves: what’s the right number of hashtags to add to a post? To find out, the Later platform analysed 18 million Instagram posts, excluding videos, Reels and Stories.

Interestingly, Later’s results differ from Instagram’s own recommendations. According to Later’s analysis, using more hashtags helps get better results in terms of “reach”, or the percentage of users exposed to the post. By using 20 hashtags, Later observed an optimal average reach rate of just under 36%. Using 30 hashtags gets the next-best reach rate. With five hashtags, reach hits just under 24%.

And while a post’s reach is important, engagement is even more so. From “Likes” and comments to shares and follows – on average, 30 hashtags appears to result in better engagement rates: “When it comes to average engagement rate, using 30 Instagram hashtags per feed post results in the most likes and comments,” says Later’s research.

Yet, at the end of September 2021, Instagram advised its creators to use between three and five hashtags for their posts, while warning them against using too many. The social network advised that using 10 to 20 hashtags per post “will not help you get additional distribution”.

For Later, there could be other reasons behind Instagram’s recommendations: “As Instagram continues to expand their discoverability and SEO tools, it makes sense that they want users to experiment with fewer, more relevant hashtags – this could help them accurately categorise and recommend your posts in suggested content streams, like the Instagram Reels feed or the updated hashtag search tabs,” the website explains. – AFP Relaxnews

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