Last week, Tumblr announced on its official blog that it would actively police and prohibit content that promotes self-harm. Self-harm includes eating disorders like bulimia and anorexia, self mutilation, and suicide. Recently, Tumblr’s image-based blogging engine has become a popular venue for teens to express and incite dangerous behaviors. Although this seemed like a step forward for advocacy groups like the National Eating Disorders Association, Tumblr’s move hasn’t eradicated this content from the web. Instead, the self-harm bloggers moved their content over to Pinterest.
In case you haven’t seen Tumblr’s new policies yet, here they are:
1. Implement a new policy against pro-self-harm blogs.Here’s draft language we are planning to add to our Content Policy:
Active Promotion of Self-Harm. Don’t post content that actively promotes or glorifies self-injury or self-harm. This includes content that urges or encourages readers to cut or mutilate themselves; embrace anorexia, bulimia, or other eating disorders; or commit suicide rather than, e.g., seek counseling or treatment for depression or other disorders. Online dialogue about these acts and conditions is incredibly important; this prohibition is intended to reach only those blogs that cross the line into active promotion or glorification. For example, joking that you need to starve yourself after Thanksgiving or that you wanted to kill yourself after a humiliating date is fine, but recommending techniques for self-starvation or self-mutilation is not.
2. Start showing PSAs on search results for related keywords.In addition, we plan to start posting “public service announcement”-style language whenever users search for tags that typically go along with pro-self-harm blogs. For example, when a user searches for tags like “anorexia”, “anorexic”, “bulimia”, “bulimic”, “thinspiration”, “thinspo”, “proana”, “purge”, “purging”, etc., we would show PSA language like:
Eating disorders can cause serious health problems, and at their most severe can even be life-threatening. Please contact the [resource organization] at [helpline number] or [website].
A simple search for the keyword “thinspo”, which is short for thinspiration, on Pinterest yields hundreds of pinboards dedicated to triggering images and pro eating disorder content.
Although many of these pins are coming directly from Tumblr blogs, there are still numerous independent sites around the web for people to pin from. A Google keyword search reveals that “thinspo” is searched for 201,000 times per month.
Although most web apps have a Terms of Service that allows content deemed inappropriate by the staff to be taken down at any time, this is going to be hard for Tumblr and now Pinterest to police. Keywords like thinspo and pro-ana are now being watched, but it’s only a matter of time before another snappy keyword that you and I would never think of looking for will sprout up in this internet subculture.
Will Tumblr’s move solve the problem of the growing popularity of self-harm blogs? I don’t think it will. The issue runs deeper in our society than that. But, at least it’s not Tumbr’s problem anymore.