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And All Was Right With the World

Tumblr Takes a Stand Against Self-Mutilation, Pro-Ana Sites by Banning Them


Tumblr users: Imagine how much time you spend on the site, scrolling through a variety of pictures, quotes, gifs, text, etc. usually for your own daily enjoyment. Now, imagine you’re a teenager, or maybe just feeling insecure, and maybe some nasty person called you “fat.” Or “gross.” Or even say you should “kill yourself.” And you go home to find your refuge, Tumblr, with its cat pictures, movie stills … and some blogs espousing the perks of being anorexic or cutting yourself. Sites like that are all over the internet, but soon, they’ll be gone from Tumblr. Because they will be banned, sparing some of its more vulnerable users to material that could drive them to hurt themselves.

One of the most terrifying things happening on the internet that affects an upsetting amount of girls is the “pro-ana/mia” community — online discussion groups that promote anorexia and bulimia, personifying both eating disorders with female names: Ana and Mia. Girls enter these groups, usually online forums, and talk about how much weight they lose, how many calories they take in a day, and how they aspire to look like skeletal, sick women like this (possible TRIGGER WARNING for those recovering from/living with eating disorders). They say things like “I need a visit from Ana!” or “I wish Mia would come for me,” and give advice and tips for “thinspiration.” While some people who struggle with these eating disorders are male, the vast majority are women, and lots of them are very young.

And that’s just eating disorders. There are also sites that promote other self-harm activities like cutting and mutilation. About 20 percent of teenagers say they’ve cut themselves on purpose. Once again, some people who take part in this are male, but the majority of teenager “cutters” are female. Some sites even go as far as promoting suicide and providing tips.

By now, you are probably preparing to run away to the mountains and raise your children far, far away from any hint of an internet connection.

But at least one site is taking a stand against these sites. Tumblr has announced new content policies banning sites that promote self-harm, be it mutilation, eating disorders, and the like. From their site:

One of the great things about Tumblr is that people use it for just about every conceivable kind of expression. People being people, though, that means that Tumblr sometimes gets used for things that are just wrong. 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. …

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.

There was an idea to keep allowing the sites while attaching additional information on how someone seeking out self-harm tips can find real help and avoid engaging in destructive behavior. But instead, they have decided to prohibit the sites completely. They will also post “public service announcements” when users search for the pro-self-harm terms on the site. For example, when someone searches for “proana,” they will come up with something like this:

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].

Some might call this a threat to freedom of speech on the internet. And while you’d be hard-pressed to find someone in their right mind supporting these pro-self-harm sites, some might feel like they have every right to an open discussion about this subject, and Tumblr has stated that it will hear any and all concerns at policy@tumblr.com. But Tumblr is a private company. It can make its own rules. And if they don’t want to provide a place for these discussions, then they don’t have to. And they just made the internet a slightly safer place by excluding these sites.

Let us all return to our silly gifs now, and make sure Tumblr stays silly or serious — but safe.

(via The Next Web)

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  • Anonymous

    Some might call this a threat to freedom of speech on the internet.

    Thanks for putting in the last paragraph on how specious this argument is.  The folks who own/run Reddit could use the education.

  • Anonymous

    im conflicted.  im a librarian and i dont think censorship is the right answer to anything ever period.  i believe tumblers heart is in the right place and they mean well, but i liked the idea of attaching the public services announcements to the offending blogs.  people who want to know more about proana/mia stuff will just google it somewhere else.  and those sites wont have a disclaimer…

    the road to hell is paved with good intentions and all that.

  • http://www.facebook.com/1shewolf JoAnna Luffman

    True that poeple will be able to find whatever with the right search terms, but private entities can allow or ban whatever they want. Frex, stormfront is a pox on the internet, but I’m not going to call for them to be banned. Tumblr should be free to ban or approve whatever they want.

  • Pepe Silvia

    I understand your concerns, but as mentioned in the article, tumblr is a private company. The alternative to “censorship” here is saying that tumblr is obligated to host content they disagree with for free. That seems to me to be very near the opposite of liberty. If some government authority came in and asserted that posting content related to self-harm was illegal, that would certainly be censorship, and threatening to the principle of free speech. But tumblr has every right, not only legally, but morally, to police what kind of content they are willing to have on the server space they pay for.

  • http://floatboth.com MyFreeWeb

    You can’t even spell “libertarian”

  • Anonymous

    youve got a fair point.  as a privately-owned company, it is certainly their right to block whatever information they wish.  and proana/mia content is a deserving target.  i would have handled the situation differently because of my professional experience, thats all.

  • Anonymous

     maybe not, but at least i can read the word “librarian”…

  • Anonymous

    *headdesk*

  • Anonymous

    They ban those tumblrs but keep up the other male focused tumblrs like MRA tumblrs and other racist/abelist/sexist tumblrs that call for the death of certain kinds of people. Even thought the subject matter on those is problematic, I kind of see it as another attack on women and women’s spaces.

  • http://twitter.com/relmneiko relmneiko

    I kind of agree. A lot of self-harm is about a cry for attention – and people who engage in this kind of stuff over tumblr are getting it. Better that they should have a community than be cutting themselves at home alone and probably end up feeling more isolated. :/ Hate speech is way more dangerous than this stuff.

  • http://twitter.com/relmneiko relmneiko

    Also I guarantee you that everyone who self-harms KNOWS that it’s a bad thing and they should stop. They keep doing it for other reasons that are more pressing to them. Taking away their tumblrs and posting “you need help” instead is just stating the obvious and is useless.

  • http://www.wulfmojo.com Wulfy

    You make a good point and quite frankly, I’m torn. On the one hand, I’ve seen firsthand how much anorexia screws people up, and ANA sites fill me with rage because it’s so upsetting to see them encouraging a mentality so senseless and violent. At the same time, I know that if a private company was censoring the blogs of a group of people I did agree with, I would be outraged.

    So this act by Tumblr seems responsible and is probably a good thing, but censorship is, as far as I’m concerned, always bad. Yes, they could take less extreme measures, but quite frankly, who pays attention to a warning page? Moral quagmire. I think I’m going to have to just celebrate the win for ANA sites being restricted and leave the rest to one side for the sake of my sanity.

  • Brian Linden

    You’re absolutely right that Tumblr has every right, legally, to police what kind of content they are willing to have on their server space, but morally?  That one is debateable.

    As a company, Tumblr’s entire mission is to provide a medium in which their users can communicate THEIR thoughts, and express THEMSELVES as they see fit.  While they may have every right to censor those users if they see fit, when they do so they are no longer performing that mission.

    I see this issue as more or less exactly the same as an independent pharmacist who refuses to sell birth control because they are morally opposed to it.  Sure, they might technically have the RIGHT to do so, but if they do then that makes them terrible pharmacists, because they are not doing their JOB of providing medication to their customers.  Similarly, Tumblr is being a lousy social media site, by not performing their job of allowing their customers to express themselves freely, whether they have the right to do so or not.

    Smilarly, would you argue that Tumblr has a moral obligation to censor users whose political opinions they disagree with?  Or, perhaps more appropriate to the medium, should they be deleting blogs that support a pairing they don’t ship themselves?  Certainly they have a RIGHT to do so if they feel like it, but would it be the correct thing for them to do?  Admittedly, those two examples are of an entirely different order of magnitude than censoring blogs that support behavior that can directly harm the person doing it, and I don’t mean to equate them directly, but they should at least serve to illustrate the idea that the question here is bigger and more complex than “Tumblr has the right to do it, so that makes it okay.”

    Obviously, Tumblr censoring itself like this is an entirely different issue from government censorship.  I wholeheartedly support Tumblr’s RIGHT to take down these blogs if it so chooses.  I also agree with Tumblr that these blogs are bad news, and I would personally prefer it if they weren’t there.  But I disagree with them on their decision to actually go ahead and take them down.  I hardly disagree to the point where I would suggest boycotting Tumblr and moving onto other sites, or anything like that, but I do feel it’s a violation of what a site like Tumblr should stand for.

    Personally, I would have preferred if they went with the “public service announcement” option.  That way they are fulfilling their moral obligation to oppose this behavior, while AT THE SAME TIME fulfilling their moral obligation to provide their customers with a safe place to express their own personal opinions.

    I’ve rambled on about this while I’m supposed to be working for far too long now, but I really just wanted to point out that this is hardly a black and white issue, by any means.

  • http://maidofmight.net/ Michelle

    Abstract ideals like freedom of speech are great and all, but then there’s the real world, and real harm to real living beings (human or otherwise). I don’t have a problem subsuming some of my personal, abstract ideals for the benefit of others. Sometimes we humans get a little too hung up on abstraction and miss the forest for the trees.

  • http://twitter.com/acidragdoll Bel

    And then again, not creating a space for them to encourage eachother under the guise of help, support and recovery when they just entrench the bad habits is good.

  • http://twitter.com/acidragdoll Bel

    Self-harm tumblrs (esp. Ana/Mia) are becoming a problem of epidemic proportions; the MRA tumblrs are not nearly as numerous or insidious.  Hell, I saw pro-ana/mia blogs linked off of baking tumblrs.

  • Anonymous
  • http://twitter.com/Daledoback_ Bee

    People actually assuming its censorship and blocking freedom of speech. Tumblr is a privately owned company they can delete what they see fit. It has nothing to do with censoring anyones beliefs, religion, race or even body type. It’s taking down blogs and images that are telling people to develop a disorder which is both unhealthy and mentally scarring. I personally believe more sites should follow.

  • http://twitter.com/theSAFEstore Karen Conterio

    S.A.F.E. Alternatives aka selfinjury.com provides a “trigger-free” blog/site. We ask that you do not use language containing graphic descriptions of Self Injurious behaviors. Words such as self injury, self harm, and the initials S.I. will be approved. Be mindful of swear words which are inappropriate and offensive to minors and others. This site is monitored and anyone found to continually violate these conditions will be removed from this entire blog site. Please follow S.A.F.E. ALTERNATIVES’ philosophy and help us maintain a “trigger-free” blog. Thank you.

  • http://shadowfirebird.tumblr.com shadowfirebird

    Banning these sorts of blogs will achieve absolutely diddly-squat; they will simply move to another hosting site.   So, Tumblr is simply sweeping the issue under the carpet here.  “Not in my house”.

    Fair do’s to them, though; they say that they did consider another option — an option which to my mind is far superior.  Let the blogs stay, but with a stripe across the top pointing readers to a genuine self-help site for whichever condition.

    Unfortunately — again, IMO — they’ve picked the wrong option.  Tumblr have a history of running off and doing whatever they fancy regardless of the users, so forgive me if I don’t quite believe their consultation noises.

  • http://shadowfirebird.tumblr.com shadowfirebird

    Yes, they can do whatever they like.  But if they persist in doing things that they like but the users don’t, then pretty soon they will have no users, so this is not a perfect argument.

    I agree that in this case we’re not talking about censorship.  But we can still debate whether they should have done this — for instance, whether this move actually helps the sufferers of these disorders.  I suspect not…

  • http://twitter.com/DarkSungel darkangel924

    I hope they understand by doing this, they aren’t helping anyone. They have to understand that the pro self-harm community HELPS others, not provoke them. I agree that some might convince others to self-harm, but what the community actually does is help those who do self-harm to feel like they’re not alone. That’s a big issue with self-harmers, they feel absolutely alone, with no one to confide to. Some might say that they have their parents to talk to or even their closest friends, but the judgements are still there. Parents may love their child, but once self-harm, or any topic, is brought up, judgements start arising. That’s not what self-harmers need. They need other people who understand them, are in their shoes, to truly feel safe to talk.

  • Adam Whitley

    There’s nothing abstract about the freedom to speak your mind without someone saying you can’t.

  • http://twitter.com/ironduck Addie/Annie D

    Thank God! You know how annoying it is to scroll through the dash only to find so much self harm images! I’ve recovered from that path and every time I see them, it bring me down instantly. 

    If you’re recovering, confidence is all you need to walk away from that road. 

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/FPYVKL5HQ4JS2IZXVWYSP66DGM MaeganH

    They do all that, yet they let 13 year old girls post nude photos and won’t remove them, you’d think you would be more concerned about keeping kids safe from sex offenders. 

  • Anonymous

    This is censorship, and censorship is wrong.

    No, really. Everyone says “censorship is wrong” and then turns around and tries to censor everything in the world that they don’t like.  That’s not how it works.  Censorship is wrong.  People have a right to publish racist content, sexist content, and self-harm content.  Burning books has never killed ideas, it only makes them stronger.

    And everyone knows that Tumblr is going to ban pro-ana eating disorder blogs while completely ignoring the pro-fat eating disorder blogs, which is a much bigger problem in our society.

  • Anonymous

    Tumblr is a privately owned company

    What does that have to do with anything?   This is censorship.  It doesn’t matter if it’s censorship by a government or censorship by a corporation.  Government-protected freedom of speech exists for a reason.  Apparently the Tumblr generation has forgotten why freedom of the press exists.

  • Anonymous

    Yeah, who needs things like “rights”, anyway?  Let’s just discard them whenever they become a teensy bit inconvenient.