We applaud this move by Tumblr. We think there should be increased moderation of anorexia related social media sites.
The Internet has created a new type of trigger for teens and adults who are suffering from eating disorders and depression. Social networking sites and blogs have allowed communities to form that promote anorexia, bulimia, self-mutilation and suicide. The spread of these groups was recently exposed by a Huffington Post article that described “thinspo” and “thinspiration” communities (short for “thin inspiration”) that glorify extreme thinness by posting photos of emaciated women and where members share news about their own weight loss.
Claire Mysko, an advisor for the National Eating Disorder Association, warns that communities that extol eating disorders and other forms of self-harm validate unhealthy and dangerous behavior. These online communities tend to consist of young females who are often socially isolated because of their condition. When they band together through online communities they tend to normalize their condition and defend their weight loss as an exercise in self control.
Tumblr, a popular microblogging platform that gets more than 15 billion monthly page views, has been identified as one of the main homes for these disturbing communities. In the past, Tumblr has defended members’ right to free speech and has not prohibited posts that promote self-harm. Following the Huffington Post expose and ensuing negative publicity, Tumblr has established a new policy that prohibits active promotion of self-injury. While online dialogue about eating disorders will still be allowed, content that crosses the line into glorification will be removed.
Tumblr’s management has also committed to publishing public service announcements that will be displayed when users of the site search for keywords related to self-harm, including
- proana (short for pro-anorexia)
The public service announcements will direct users to organizations that can provide help, such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and the National Eating Disorder Association.
The Tumblr user community’s reaction to the announced policy change has been mixed. Many welcome the change and support Tumblr’s new policy, but there are also users who feel that discussions about self-harm disorders do more good than harm. One member posted a comment saying that Tumblr is the only place where she feels surrounded by people who understand her and comfortable discussing her eating disorder.
The changes in Tumblr’s policy coincide with National Eating Disorder Week (February 26 through March 3). With 120 million users each month, Tumblr is one of the leading social network sites. It remains to be seen whether other social networks and blogging sites will take a similar stand and prohibit self-harm content.