Following criticism from various sources over its continued hosting of so-called “thinspiration” blogs, Tumblr has revised its content policy to explicitly forbid blogs that promote self-harming activities like eating disorders, self-mutilation, and suicide. It’s about fucking time.
Up until recently, Tumblr had no policy restricting these blogs, so many sick people in the “thinspo” community utilized it as a platform to spread words and images designed to encourage those with eating disorders to continue their unhealthy behaviors. The Huffington Post, among other publications, has published sad testimonials from children and parents about the role these blogs play in preventing recovery, essentially shaming and/or educating (if I’m being optimistic) Tumblr into taking a closer look at what its users were posting.
Tumblr’s post on the imminent new policy reads:
We are planning to post a new, revised Content Policy in the very near future, and we’d like to ask for input from the Tumblr community on this issue.
Here’s what we think the right answer is:
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.We aim to begin implementing this policy next week. Of course, we will allow any affected blogs a grace period in which to edit or download your content.
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].So that’s our plan. We’d like your feedback. If you have any comments or suggestions, please email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’m glad someone at Tumblr finally realized it was a terrible idea to host these blogs, but I’m a little disappointed it took them this long. People suffering from eating disorders (and drug addiction, for that matter), are always going to find a way to trade self-destructive tips with each other, but maybe if various platforms make it difficult for them, they’ll have no choice but to click the links and try joining a recovery community instead.
And no, this is a not a first amendment rights issue, as Tumblr is a privately held company, not the government, and can pick and choose what content it decides to host.