The results of Pinterest and Tumblr's efforts to remove posts from their sites that promote eating disorders have so far been underwhelming. Last month, Pinterest, momentarily "caught off guard" by the amount of pro-anorexia posts and discussion threads, promised to limit the number of photos labeled "thinspiration" posted on pinboards and accompanied by hashtags such as #thinspo or #perfect. Simple enough, right? Not according to fashion blogger Styleite, who explains that Pinterest's best efforts to limit the amount of "thinspiring" pictures has raised questions about censorship.
The issue is a contentious one, and with good reason — on one hand it is in everyone's best interest to protect young or otherwise impressionable users from material that might encourage them to self-harm, on the other, banning certain categories of content may pave the way for greater censorship down the line.
Other observers like Mashable's Laura Indvik point out that, talk about freedom of expression aside, Pinterest has taken few active steps to limit the pro-anorexia content on its site. Part of the problem, it seems, is the difficult Pinterest has found in determining which photos count as thinspiration and which are merely photos of thin women, with no direct relation to pro-anorexia content. Due to the inherent subjectivity in trying to determine bannable pictures, it's pretty much impossible for Pinterest to completely weed its pinboards of thinspo material. Moreover, the NY Daily News notes that YouTube channels could open a new sluiceway for thinspo, so that even if Pinterest and Tumblr were to succeed at banning the material, it might still flourish in other places.
The National Eating Disorder Association is helping sites sharpen their thinspo senses, and has created a new user policy for Tumblr that directs site visitors to a public service announcement if they search for a self-harming tag. Training Pinterest and Tumblr employees to be better "pro-ana" lookouts seems like the only effective way to root out some of the better-disguised thinsperation pictures, but navigating image after image of eating disorder propaganda sounds like an intern job if I ever heard one, and if that's the case, landing a summer gig with either of those sites would be a really big kick-in-the-stomach-welcome to working for the internet.
Image via Kzenon/Shutterstock.