Should Tumblr ban self-harm and pro-ana blogs?


Last week Tumblr took the controversial step to reveal that it’ll be banning blogs that it considers to promote self-harming in the future. But is an outright ban really the best solution to such a complex and sensitive issue?

In recent years, Tumblr has become a global phenomenon with more than 46,708,159 blogs under its belt to date that cover everything from funny cats to politics, business news to sex advice. You name it and there’s probably at least ten Tumblogs dedicated to it.

Therefore, it’s no surprise that some of the content on Tumblr has raised some tricky questions recently and last week the company decided to take a stand and ban blogs that it considers to promote self-harming.

A post published by the Tumblr team on the official blog attempted to explain the decision to its users:

“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”

The post then went into more detail about the kinds of blogs that could well be banned in the near future:

“These typically take the form of blogs that glorify or promote anorexia, bulimia, and other eating disorders; self-mutilation; or suicide.”

To come up with a new way of regulating this kind of content, the company is now looking to draw up a brand new Content Policy, and it’s turning to its users for help.

However, as you’d expect the blog post left some users happy, some angry and others very confused, because who’s to say which blogs promote self-harm and which offer some individuals a form of support?

If you’re suffering from any kind of medical condition you don’t just have to deal with physical pain and discomfort, but you can spend a lot of your time feeling unbelievably scared and alone. Although medical professionals are there to help, you can’t call them whenever you please and their approach is often far too clinical. In the same vein, although friends and family offer love and support, how can they really empathise with what you’re going through?

Therefore it’s no surprise that the Internet has become an ideal haven for those living with the same problems to connect regardless of where they are or even who they are in their ‘real’ offline lives. Of course we rarely seem to have a problem with the blogs and websites created to connect those that have most illnesses, but those which bring people together who are suffering from eating disorders, mental health issues and problems with self-harm tend to make up a rather grey area that very few on the outside seem to properly understand.

Later in the post, Tumblr tries to separate support sites from those that are promoting content that glorifies injury in anyway. Here’s what the team calls a ‘draft’ of its new 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.”

That certainly makes things a little clearer in theory, but in practice we imagine it’ll be much harder to make those kinds of distinctions.

We understand why these kinds of blogs could well be both emotionally and physically harmful to many people, but at the same time we can’t help but think that an outright ban might not be the best solution for those who turn to these sites for support, even if they don’t provide the answers and help they really need.

Due to some of the uproar from users after the original blog post, Tumblr published a follow-up post, which explained it would be working with the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) to pull together its new policy and attempted to clarify that support sites would not be banned:

“While we won’t allow blogs dedicated to triggering self-harm, we will not act against blogs engaged in discussion, support, encouragement, and documenting the experiences of those dealing with difficult conditions like anorexia, bulimia, and other forms of self-injury. We absolutely want Tumblr to be a place where people struggling with these behaviors can find solace, community, dialog, understanding, and hope.”

But again, is it REALLY that easy for outsiders to say what constitues support and what doesn’t?

Although some blogs have popped up over the past few weeks, some online communities and blogs that many may believe to promote self-harm have been established for years, which has led countless users to make strong connections with others, ingraining this online community into their offline lives. In this way, engaging in these communities is not just about mutual support or a bad habit that needs to be broken, it’s become an integral part of their daily lives and banning these sites could be detrimental in the long run.

Various charities, organisations and even individuals have campaigned to have self-harm and pro-ana websites banned or at least more closely moderated over the past few years, so it’s good to see Tumblr take the issue so seriously.

It’s impossible to say whether an outright ban is the best solution or not, but it is good to see the popular blogging platform take the issue seriously, explaining its actions every step of the way and looking to those that matter the most to help make decisions, its users.

[Image via Yoshiffles]
Becca Caddy


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  • Last week Tumblr took the controversial step to reveal that it'll be banning blogs that it considers to promote self-harming in the future. But is an outright ban really the best solution to such a complex and sensitive issue? 

  • I generally oppose measure that limit freedom of speech or the openness of the internet. That being said, as a Tumblr user, I have found the sheer amount of such negative content to be shocking, and sometimes quite disturbing. Seeing as Tumblr is a private company and there has been no governmental mandate forcing this issue, I do not see this as a move against freedom of speech. If a user wants to blog about such things, they are free to find another platform. There is, however, a concern that Tumblr may add more restrictions in the future (drug or adult content). This would be potentially devastating to the community and company. As it is though, I’m glad my dashboard will be a little less morbid.

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