Since the earliest days of Livejournal and Xanga, men and women suffering from eating disorders have been just a click away from tips, tricks, and a dark brand of “support” provided by others who are living with the same demons. But now, Tumblr, the ultra-popular blogging and sharing platform, is taking a stand against the promotion and glorification of “self-harm”–including pro-ana, suicide, and self-mutilation sites. Expect this battle to get heated, quickly. And, just a warning, some of this content may be triggering to some.
From the company’s blog post:
We are deeply committed to supporting and defending our users’ freedom of speech, but we do draw some limits. As a company, we’ve decided that some specific kinds of content aren’t welcome on Tumblr. For example, we prohibit spam and identity theft.
Our Content Policy has not, until now, prohibited blogs that actively promote self-harm. These typically take the form of blogs that glorify or promote anorexia, bulimia, and other eating disorders; self-mutilation; or suicide. These are messages and points of view that we strongly oppose, and don’t want to be hosting.
I’m currently researching an article about the internet and its relationship to eating disorders (which will run on Blisstree next week), so this announcement from Tumblr, who has become a favorite among the pro-ana community, was especially interesting to me. Recently, many anorexia, bulimia, “thinspiration,” and other self-harm bloggers have migrated from older, less-utilized blogging platforms to Tumblr, which allows for better sharing and a larger audience.
A quick search in Tumblr’s tags for “pro-ana” or “anorexia” will immediately display a long list of blog posts including reports of 200-calorie days, images of impossibly thin women, and heartbreaking lines of self-hating poetry. It’s very upsetting–but it’s also freedom of speech. Which is where the controversy is sure to erupt–particularly considering that the pro-ana community is one that’s already on the defensive.
Tumblr has every right to decide that they no longer want to play an enabling role in this often-hidden aspect of their users’ lives. Much like Facebook has attempted to curb offensive images (though they have frequently, in the eyes of many users, overstepped the line, by removing images of breastfeeding mothers and kissing same-sex couples), Tumblr isn’t required under law to provide a space where anyone can post anything they like–and if the founders and operators of the sight are saddened to be a part of someone else’s sadness, depression, and self-harm, they certainly have the right to lay down new rules.
But the pro-ana community already feels alienated and misunderstood. There have been many calls to entirely ban pro-ana sites, and some web hosting sites and search engines (including Yahoo!) will pull down or hide overtly pro-anorexia content. Which is a protective measure…but is also one that makes the men and women who participate in these communities feel even more targeted and othered than they do already.
One cool thing that Tumblr is rolling out is PSAs, which will play when certain tags (like “purging” or “bulimia”) are searched, which may help users by adding a new voice to the mix–similar, I think, to having suicide hotline numbers posted on bridges where jumping is common. Psychologically speaking, it breaks up the thought pattern, which is a smart idea. But it may not be welcome to those who are visiting the site to immerse themselves.
Tumblr’s decision is their own to make–and I can’t say that I entirely blame them. But I have a feeling it will become bigger than they anticipated, and that it will open up some interesting dialogue about the glorification of disease, the internet as a coping mechanism, and the necessity for resources and support.
What do you think? Should Tumblr continue to host these sites, even if they don’t agree with them? Have you ever used a pro-ana or self-harm website for support? Let me know in the comments!
If you’re suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is help available.
Image: Yuri Arcurs via Shutterstock and Tumblr