In a world where 10% of young people are thought to self-harm and 50% of teenage girls think they are “too fat,” the Internet provides individuals with the anonymity to express and explore those beliefs – culminating in an abundance of pro-anorexia, bulimia and self-harm blogs.
Tumblr – one of the biggest blogging sites with over 46.2 million blogs and more than 15 billion daily page views– has recently taken steps to combat this, banning blogs that encourage self-harm, anorexia and bulimia.
Mark Coatney from Tumblr estimated that up to several thousand pages would be removed under these new measures.
Up until now, the site has allowed users to post any images, videos and comments on any subject – including those that may be deemed harmful to its users.
“It’s an important move,” argued Omar Hill, a Tumblr user. “They are taking up responsibility to protect the public, especially those who harm themselves.”
Other Tumblr users aren’t too happy with the change, however, arguing that blogs are a form of therapy. An online petition to try to halt this change has seen over 1,600 signatures.
It reads: “We simply post this content because it is an accurate representation of our own thoughts and feelings that we would not otherwise be able to express: to us it is a form of therapy.”
A tumblr user wrote: “Self- harm blogs are helping me know that I’m not alone in this world… Without my blog and everyone else’s blogs, I’d probably be dead by now.”
But many argue that pro-anorexia blogs – which portray the illness as positive and offer tips, photos and words of encouragement to ‘support’ sufferers on their plight – can be extremely harmful, often targeting individuals at their weakest.
It is no coincidence that even those who search for tips on how to get healthier stumble across pro-anorexia propaganda on their search.
“I just wanted to get healthier,” said one user who prefers to remain anonymous. “I searched for tips online and came across an abundance of photos of emaciated individuals and pro-anorexia quotes. If I didn’t love food so much, you never know what could have happened.”
Sarah Harrison, a dancer who suffered from the illness while at ballet school spoke up on the ban: “Censoring it makes total sense,” she said. “It’s unacceptable to be “feeding” (no pun intended) anorexic people more influential content at a time where the brain makes you think of nothing but searching for starvation.”
Susan Ringwood – the chief executive of the eating disorder charity Beat agrees: “These images don’t cause eating disorders by themselves but people who already have these serious problems can make it harder for people to recover.”
Mark Coatney, a Tumblr representative, went on to say that aside from simply banning the content, they wish to provide healthy support to users by linking to official organisations that could help them.
“When people search for certain tags such as ‘pro ana,’ we are going to include messages about why this is harmful and suggest where they can go for resources to help them out.”
This comes at a time where a new Israeli law bans the use of underweight models in ads, as well as undisclosed airbrushing.