Tumblr Takes Stand Against Eating Disorder Blogs

5 years ago

The microblogging platform Tumblr has more than 45.1 million blogs which create over 40 million posts per day, providing with the network with over 13 billion views every month.

Easy to use and completely customizable, the platform is hugely popular with teens and 20-somethings, which has raised some questions about the content Tumblr allows users to post. Five years after its launch and facing an explosion of blogs that glamorize harmful behaviors such as eating disorders and self-injury, Tumblr has finally decided to modify its anti-censorship position and take a stand against self-harm.

In a post on its staff blog, Tumblr announced this week that it has plans to implement a policy prohibiting the glorification of dangerous behaviors, singling out among them disordered eating. They write:

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. 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. The question for us has been whether it’s better to (a) prohibit them, as a statement against the very ideas of self-harm that they are advancing, or (b) permit them to stay up, accompanied by a public service warning that directs readers to helplines run by organizations like the National Eating Disorders Association.

The measures they plan include banning content that promotes self-harm, including content that encourages anyone reading to "embrace anorexia, bulimia, or other eating disorders" as well as adding public service announcements on search results for keywords associated with self-harm, such as anorexia, bulimia, thinspiration (a portmanteau of the words "thin" and "inspiration"), thinspo (the shortened name for "thinspiration"), "proana" (a word meaning "pro-anorexia") and "purging."

However, as Cheryl Wischhover at Fashionista points out, it's highly likely that once Tumblr starts to police these blogs, users will simply migrate elsewhere. The hottest sharing site at the moment, Pinterest, has already started to see a dramatic increase in "thinspirational" imagery.

To buck the trend, writer and photographer Emily Threlkeld has created a strength and beauty pin board which she fills with images of women of all ages and sizes. I have done the same. Follow ours or make your own on the networks you use.

Tumblr has done something powerful by refusing to continue to stand by in silence. Let's do the same -- not by shaming, but by showing the many shapes that beauty comes in.

AV Flox is the section editor of Love & Sex and Health on BlogHer. You can connect with her on Twitter @avflox, Google Plus +AV Flox, or e-mail her directly at av.flox AT BlogHer.com

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