This week, the big news about Pinterest is that the micro-blogging platform finally listened to its users (and, likely, its lawyers), and made necessary changes to the wording regarding copyright and ownership in its Terms of Service. But they also snuck something else into the new rules: no “self-harm” sites…meaning no “pro-ana” content, and no “thinspiration.” But, as Tumblr’s recently-updated conditions seem to show, it’s a lot easier said that done.
Jezebel drew some attention to Pinterest’s burgeoning thinspo community last week, with this article detailing the many pinboards which centered around extreme dieting, images of very-thin women, and often-repeated adages within in the eating disorder community. And, it seems, the site’s creators paid attention, because here’s the new clause in the Acceptable Use policy, which mandates that users not post material that…
creates a risk of harm, loss, physical or mental injury, emotional distress, death, disability, disfigurement, or physical or mental illness to yourself, to any other person, or to any animal;
Which is all well and good in theory, but in practice, it seems a little more difficult.
Tumblr, who worked with NEDA to help not only curb the use of its site for pro-ana content, but also offer support to users who were looking for it, stated that they were “deeply committed to supporting and defending our users’ freedom of speech,” but that they “do draw some limits.” However, policing these new policies seems to be difficult; it doesn’t take more than a quick peek at Tumblr’s tags to see that the purveyors of scary, triggering images and blog posts are still posting plenty of potentially harmful stuff. But then, pro-ana and thinspo sites are as old as the internet, and so far, no amount of restriction has really made them go away. They just move around.
And, of course, there’s the question of free speech. Tumblr, Pinterest, and any other platform that users agree to interact with can rightfully do whatever they want, and can limit what content is “acceptable” in whichever way they like. But that doesn’t mean users will be happy about it. As one commenter put it on an article about Tumblr from last month, ”they can do whatever they want, but I don’t find it fair that Tumblr is insisting on restricting blogs that are merely being used to express the thoughts of the blogger behind it.”
Additionally, when it comes to pro-ana blogs, many individuals who are suffering with eating disorders–which are notoriously isolating mental illnesses–rely on that kind of content to feel less alone. And, as one commenter pointed out, “many blogs on tumblr with posts concerning anorexia and bulimia can be recovery blogs.” Something as subjective as what may potentially lead to “self-harm” isn’t just difficult to enforce–it’s difficult to define.
Still, many concerned parents and individuals looking for a safe space without triggers will likely appreciate this additional piece of language in Pinterest’s updated usage rules. And who knows? Maybe Pinterest will be more dogged about policing content than Tumblr or other platforms. Though with user growth of 866% in the last six months, that seems a little unlikely.
What do you think? Just another meaningless infringement on free speech, or a progressive step toward making the internet less full of thin women in undies, unhealthy “tips,” and other triggering images?