Blog hosting service Tumblr announced today that a new type of content will be banned from its platform: blogs that promote self-harm, like eating disorders or suicide. In addition, users who search for tags associated with that sort of site — thinspo, for example — will be directed to an announcement that will encourage them to seek help. But will a blogging platform that encourages its most die hard users to near- Reddit levels of devotion be able to draw the line between free expression and harmful content?
The announcement by the staff blog read, in part,
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.
A ban on self-harm blogs certainly seems backed by good intentions. As curators of a community, it's undoubtedly difficult for Tumblr staff to know they're hosting content that's enabling people with eating disorders or self-destructive tendencies. And members of the community probably felt limited in their ability to help people hurting themselves in front of them.
But good gracious will this be difficult and slippery to enforce. I see massive, massive anger and confusion if very clear-cut guidelines aren't issued in the near future, as blogs about depressive binge drinking a writer may think would play as dark humor actually strike a reader as problematic and triggering. And while I'm sure that in the staff's mind, there's a clear line between dieting blogs and pro-ana content, community members' vision may not be so clear.
Tumblr users aren't nearly as unified on this issue as they are on, say, Dr. Who or how much they like the use of chalkboards as fun, cool DIY accessories at weddings. Many reactions were exclamation point laden ALL CAPS proclamations of how fucking yes this was, others were worried that they'd have to worry about saying the wrong thing and being disciplined. Many seemed optimistic, but not entirely on board.
And as with every time something changes on the internet, it'll be interesting to see how this goes.
Many of the thinspo blogs Tumblr so hoped to eradicate, meanwhile, have migrated to Pinterest. Sigh.
A New Policy Against Self-Harm Blogs [Tumblr]