CNN  — 

At 14, Ashlee Thomas was in the grips of anorexia.

She weighed 85 pounds. She was hospitalized. Her heart stopped twice. Doctors thought she would not survive.

But she did. And now the resident of New South Wales, Australia, is dedicating her life to helping other girls. Her first warning to parents and children is about the dangers of Instagram, where, Thomas says, her journey to a near death began.

On the app Thomas started following “clean eating” influencers. She was an athlete looking to have the most fit body she could create. And the bodies she considered ideal streamed down her timeline every single day, with every “like” and comment enticing her to emulate the types of bodies she saw.

“I just wanted to be liked and loved like they were,” said Thomas, now 20.

“I wanted to get a taste of that.”

But the opposite happened. She began to hate herself.

One commenter reacted to photos Thomas posted of herself by writing that her stomach was fat. At some point she stopped eating. She said her parents tried everything to get her to eat. Child welfare authorities were called on them as they resorted to force feeding her.

“It got to the stage where I remember sitting down and my dad holding my jaw open and my mom syringing food into my mouth because I just refused to eat,” Thomas recalled.

‘There isn’t some quick fix to this thing’

teenager using smartphone STOCk
This is a teenager's brain on Instagram
02:49 - Source: CNN

Thomas’ struggles are just one example of Instagram’s potential “toxic” effect on teen girls, as highlighted in the congressional testimony Tuesday of Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen.

“I believe Facebook’s products harm children, stoke division and weaken our democracy,” Haugen, a 37-year-old former Facebook product manager who worked on civic integrity issues at the company, told a Senate subcommittee.

Facebook’s own internal research, cited in one of Haugen’s filings to the Securities and Exchange Commission, showed “13.5% of teen girls on Instagram say the platform makes thoughts of ‘Suicide and Self Injury’ worse” and 17% say the platform makes “Eating Issues” such as anorexia worse.

Its research also claimed Facebook’s platforms “make body image issues worse for 1 in 3 teen girls.” (Instagram is owned by Facebook.)

“The company’s leadership knows how to make Facebook and Instagram safer but won’t make the necessary changes because they have put their astronomical profits before people,” Haugen said during her opening remarks. “Congressional action is needed. They won’t solve this crisis without your help.”

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg took to the platform he built to defend the company against Haugen’s allegations, saying in a 1,300-word statement