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Media Spot-Lite?: Tumblr and Eating Disorders

February 29, 2012

I have ranted endlessly about my technological incompetence, so while I know in theory what Tumblr is, it is not something that I have a deep or abiding understanding of. Irregardless, I found this article about the site instituting a policy to ban “self-harm” blogs fascinating (and thanks for sending it to me, Sexy Curmudgeon).

Today Tumblr announced a new policy against “self-harm” blogs, leading us to a sad, dark side of Tumblr we never wanted to know existed. From now on, Tumblr will moderate blogs that “glorify or promote anorexia, bulimia, and other eating disorders; self-mutilation; or suicide,” the company explains on their staff blog. The subtext of a change in Tumblr’s Content Policy means there are enough of these types of sites to warrant a big public to-do…

Now, this type of subject material has been present the internet since Al Gore invented this glorious and disgusting concept, but it’s pretty incredible to me that Tumblr (which I’m realizing is a blogging site…) is taking active steps to curb the proliferation of such distressing and disturbing topics and discussion. Especially given that many of their users are teenagers, who form communities around these matters online, instead of seeking help in the real world.

Tumblr is also apparently not aiming to censor all discussion that exists on these topics, but only those that cross the line, and will feature “public service announcements on search results for related keywords — a link to the National Eating Disorder Helpline, for example.” But many questions remain: How will it be determined what is active promotion and glorification, versus encouragement of dialogue? Will other similar sharing websites follow suit, so these communities become a kind of black market that is forced away from larger sites? Is this type of censorship appropriate or useful, and what will it lead to ultimately?

(Image courtesy of The Atlantic Wire)

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Scarlett permalink
    March 1, 2012 12:53 am

    Having spent quite a bit of time on Tumblr, and having read the full staff post explaining the ban (their research/language on the subject is nothing short of embarrassing), I really don’t think this ban will do much other than perpetuate the myth that it’s as easy to “catch” anorexia as the common cold. Then again, I’m generally anti-censorship to the point of having taken graduate courses on the societal motivations behind it, soooo…yeah. In case you’re interested, I did write a post on my blog about the Tumblr ban.

  2. Fedora permalink
    March 1, 2012 4:35 am

    I get what they are doing but this seems like weird over censorship to me. I guess because you said it is used a lot by teenagers?
    I am pretty sure Tumblir is used mainly for cat photos….

  3. March 1, 2012 11:07 am

    Anorexia and bulimia are mental illnesses. You can’t convert someone to become anorexic or bulimic by showing them pictures of thin women. Tumblr’s probably doing this at the suggestion of their legal counsel so oblivious parents can’t say “My daughter learned to vomit from a Tumblr blog!”

  4. Joe permalink
    March 1, 2012 7:41 pm

    wow. i had no idea that these types of blogs existed. very sad.


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