• Follow-up: Tumblr’s New Policy Against Pro-Self-Harm Blogs

      Last Thursday, we posted a draft of a new policy against blogs that actively promote self-harm, along with some PSA-style language to appear next to searches associated with self-injury. The reaction was overwhelming. The post itself provoked more than 25,000 likes, reblogs, and replies; and more than 2,500 of you sent in comments by email. Thank you.

      By far, the most common comment was some variation on this:

      This is really great, but what about people who just talk about it? They aren’t promoting it in any way, but like some of us just express ourselves through posting about it. I don’t promote self-harm or eating disorders or anything, but I do talk about my experiences with these things. Do those count as something that’s going to be banned?

      That’s an important concern, so we want to be totally clear: 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.

      We will apply this policy on a blog-by-blog basis. There won’t be any wholesale suspension based on tags or text. We’re not under the illusion that it will be easy to draw the line between blogs that are intended to trigger self-harm and those that support sufferers and build community, but, thanks to the tireless efforts of our amazing Support team, we will do our best.

      With the benefit of all your input, we’ve written a new draft of this policy, changing some wording and adding some clarifying language:

      Promotion and Glorification of Self-Harm. Don’t post content that actively promotes or glorifies self-harm. This includes content that urges or encourages readers to cut or injure themselves; embrace anorexia, bulimia, or other eating disorders; or commit suicide rather than, e.g., seeking counseling or treatment, or joining together in supportive conversation with those suffering or recovering from depression or other conditions. Dialogue about these behaviors is incredibly important and online communities can be extraordinarily helpful to people struggling with these difficult conditions. We aim to sustain Tumblr as a place that facilitates awareness, support and recovery, and to remove only those blogs that cross the line into active promotion or glorification of self-harm.

      In addition, we got some helpful suggestions from the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) to improve the language that we’ll start showing alongside searches for tags associated with the promotion of self-harm, such as “pro-ana”, “pro-mia”, “thinspiration” and “thinspo”. Here’s an example of the revised language:

      Eating disorders are not lifestyle choices, they are mental disorders that when left untreated, can cause serious health problems, and at their most severe can even be life-threatening. For treatment referrals, information and support, please contact the National Eating Disorders Association’s Helpline at 1-800-931-2237 or www.nationaleatingdisorders.org.

      We’re working with other health organizations to help us craft similar language around pro-cutting and pro-suicide search terms.

      After the jump, we’ve pulled out several thoughtful messages from the community on both sides of this issue:

      From “Tumblr is Wrong for Censoring Eating Disorder Blogs”:

      Pro-eating disorder websites do not cause eating disorders. The thing that people can’t look past is someone will post something like “I didn’t eat today!” and people will be supportive and congratulate them. This is what is at stake. People being nice to each other in a misguided way. It’s not great, sure, but why target this very specific kind of violence?

      It’s still okay to have a racist blog on Tumblr. It’s still okay to have a blog where you take pictures of people eating and call them fat. In essence, it’s okay to have the kind of blog that causes someone to degenerate into the mental state where they might get an eating disorder, but once they get one we’ll sweep them under the rug unless they only talk about their disease in a manner a bunch of bros unfamiliar with eating disorders find acceptable.

      It’s not a secret that this new rule will target primarily women. Sick women that have finally found a community where they don’t feel alone. If you think censoring these websites will lead more women to recovery, consider whether people fought in wars before there was violence on TV. This is shutting down a community where people can talk openly without addressing the (actually evil) blogs that may have caused them to be where they are at. Great job, Tumblr.

      From coldbeans:

      Sorry tumblr but this is the stupidest idea you have ever come up with and I’m so disappointed. Tumblr is the only place for a huge number of people to come for comfort and release and to know they’re not alone, if you take that away.. *sigh* It’s not like any of us encourage anyone to self harm in any form, we need somewhere to talk about it and that’s here.

      Completely and wholeheartedly against the new policy.

      From fictional-me:

      When I think about my friends and family members who have self-harmed in the past, I feel sick to think about the support some of them got online, and the encouragement they got to continue hurting themselves in ways that, in some cases, could have taken them from us permanently. Sadly, this isn’t limited to blogs, and probably did not happen directly on tumblr (mostly because much of it happened before tumblr was even a thing), but I’m happy to support this effort even knowing it will barely reduce the number of blogs and communities that would have told them the best places to cut themselves without their loved ones knowing or proclaimed them “friends of ana and mia” and encouraged them to feel guilty for eating more than one meal a day.

      While saying this, I’d like to say that self-harming does NOT make you a bad person, and tumblr is obviously not trying to imply anything like that. They would simply rather provide real safe spaces, the kind where you can discuss such matters without receiving encouragement to take them further.

      From catinablender:

      I have so many feelings about this. In the midst of my eating disorder, in junior high and high school, I often felt the online community I found through blogs kept me alive. And it may have. But in a lot of ways, it also kept me sick. I think I’ll be able to make up my mind once it becomes clear how Tumblr plans to enforce this, but it’s probably a good thing to have PSAs over those tags, and to take down instructions on how to self-harm. I don’t think pro-ana/mia/self-harm blogs make anyone anorexic/bulimic/cut/burn/ect. but I do think they can fuel the flames if those thoughts are already forming.

      From amberopants:

      How far does this extend? Does this mean that I’m not going to be allowed to talk about my eating disorder at all, or only allowed to say negative things about it? Does it mean that I can say “I want to go therapy,” but I’m not allowed to say “I’m okay with having an eating disorder and never want help”? Does it extend that far?

      Furthermore, why does tumblr think it’s okay to joke about killing yourself or starving yourself? Why is it okay to joke about an eating disorder, but not okay to express your feelings about your eating disorder?

      I’m obviously not for the glorification of self harm, eating disorders, and suicide, but I don’t think it’s fair to have a policy against talking about them. Some things need to be talked about, and that’s what people use tumblr for.

      From vidasextraviadas:

      Youre going to prohibit self harm/pro- eating disorder blogs, its great for the ones that promote them, we need to get rid of them, but for people like me, that actually have an eating disorder and post on their blogs such photos just to express how we feel is not… I dont do it with that purpose and I know there are other people that dont as well. And what about other blogs that promote alcohol and drugs?What about them? Its not fair in my opinion…

      From kinkymercenary:

      I feel like if done wrongly this could just take away another safe space for ED people on the internet.

      From handfu1ofdust:

      Pro-anorexia blogs are the most triggering and harmful thing ever and I would feel much safer on tumblr if they went away.

      Someone with anorexia

      From joriemeister:

      My roommate - who is no longer my roommate now that she’s left to get treatment - is anorexic. I know what an eating disorder looks like, I know what it acts like, I know what it does to everyone else who is in contact with it, and it’s one of the scariest things you can be witness to. The fact that anyone can post something promoting or glorifying eating disorders or self-injury is absolutely detestable; the three months or so I spent living with a girl who weighed under ninety pounds, who exercised compulsively, who had panic attacks over eating small amounts of food or missing going to the gym, and who regularly (and unintentionally) helped aggravate my own self-image issues were seriously the worst three months ever. When you post that shit (and, yes, I am going to break my Lenten attempts to stop swearing to express that because there is no better way to put it) you are doing what my roommate did to me to every person who is out there looking for a trigger: You are harming them. Except you’re doing it intentionally which is infinitely worse.

      Sure, a policy against self-harm blogs won’t stop them everywhere. But it’s the right kind of message that the internet needs. Encouraging self-harm - be it by glorifying it or goading someone into it through bullying or coercive means - is unacceptable and it will not be tolerated.

      From nemomynameforevermore:

      Well thank god someone has the brains to differentiate between self-expression and triggering. You know, these blogs could be used as a support group to help all these individuals cope with their issues and seek professional help. Instead, they’re just adding fuel to the fire and further fostering the idea that what they’re doing to themselves is right or okay. I’m glad the staff is attempting to break this cycle, because self-harm is running rampant in our generation and needs to stop.

      From alextimmons:

      Simply be careful not to accidentally block content that goes toward support - for example, if I tag information for a treatment facility such as The Renfrew Center with “thinspiration.” Also, I occasionally tag food posts at “fatspiration,” as my own personal anti-thinspiration posts - those, too, need protection. I feel like it’ll be a lot of work for you guys, but I couldn’t be happier that you’re making this kind of an effort. :-)

      From dyke-recovery:

      I AM SO HAPPY RIGHT NOW. After tumblr constantly fighting against us to have pro ana/mia and thinspo blogs removed THEY FINALLY UNDERSTAND HOW IMPORTANT THIS IS! This is amazing, this is awesome, this is GREAT! My brain is trying to work out which option i support..i do believesome thinspo blogs should be removed while others go with the thinspo name but seem to actually realise what thinspo really is so how could those blogs be rightfully removed? I definitely like the idea of having PSAs on certain search results, that is a FANTASTIC idea.

      From promisestotheeastcoast:

      After reading over this new policy I myself have mixed feelings. I understand that they are attempting to ban any blogs that glorify or promote self-harm, eating disorders, etc. Don’t get me wrong, I fully support getting rid of blogs that solely encourage these dangerous behaviors. But where does Tumblr plan to draw the line between what is acceptable and what is not? There are no clear cut specifics as to what you will and will not able to post, so how are we as the users of this website supposed to follow this new policy if put into effect. How is the staff going to determine a person’s definition of “promoting” when everyone has a different view on what should and should not be tolerated? Some users may believe that pictures or even general posts about these issues are a means of promoting them, yet others may see these pictures and posts as nothing more than another post on their dash. But what happens to all the blogs that post about these issues yet do not intentionally promote these behaviors to others? I can think of so many bloggers, myself included, that post about these issues as a way to express their feelings, thoughts, and struggles with them. Tumblr allows people to talk about these issues with those who are struggling with them now and those who have struggled with them in the past. Tumblr provides these people with support and a sense of community through this open and honest communication. Yet this new policy has already begun to censor and ward off individuals who normally post about these behaviors. People who use their blogs as a means of expressing and dealings with their eating disorders or self-harm now have to worry that this new policy may interpret their blogs and posts as “promoting”, when in reality they do not in any way.

      Lastly, I can’t help but point out this section included in the policy description:

      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.

      I find it completely ridiculous that they are trying to ban blogs that promote self-injury and eating disorders yet they find it completely acceptable for people to joke about things like killing yourself or starving yourself. I understand that people harmlessly joke about these things all the time, but jokes are triggers too.

      I didn’t mean to completely go off on a rant about this policy, but as a user of Tumblr I could not just sit back and let this happen. I am fully supportive of banning blogs that solely promote self-injury and eating disorders, but don’t take this out on all those who use this website to deal with these behaviors and to ask for help. I suggest that that Tumblr Staff go over this policy again and clarify the specifics for users. Honest and open communication are vital parts of recovery and I’d truly hate to see this policy censor that.

      From umhi-im-alexis:

      This is a great idea. I know some people will get upset about it and accuse tumblr of violating their freedom of… blogging, I guess, but the reality is that there really is nothing good about promoting any sort of self-harm. Considering how many pro-self-harm blogs/posts I have seen on Tumblr and how much they actually influence some people, I think the Tumblr staff is making a smart decision.

      From S.R.:

      i get that people don’t like thinspo blogs but they need to stop and think. my blog helps me. i am stuck in my mind all day but when i get home and log on to this tumblr, it makes me feel better. i talk to people who help me, this is more than just skinny girls, it’s support, it’s sanity, it’s like my therapy. posting the girls is a way to get the constant nagging out of my head. tumblr thinspo is more than eating disorders, it’s about community and support. it’s there for people because it helps. it sickens me that tumblr is even thinking about getting rid of all the thinspo blogs.

      i’ve met many people here on tumblr. my best friend is a girl i met on my thinspo blog two years ago. she struggled with bulimia, and we spoke all the time. i supported her through her recovery and just recently i’ve been thinking very seriously about recovery. she is helping me, she supports me when i eat toast in the morning, she supports me when i eat snow peas in the afternoon, she supports me when i go for a weigh in at the doctor’s office. she helps me through everything and our friendship couldn’t have been possible without tumblr.

      without all the people i talk to and all the people who talk to me on my blog and the large about of eating disorder blogs i come across, i would honestly think i was crazy. three years ago, before i started thinspo blogging, i was at my lowest weight, 72lbs (at 5’3”), and thought i was the craziest person in the world and that no one was like me. when i found these blogs here, i cried. it cried so hard because it told me i wasn’t alone. i started my first ed blog and the people who i followed and followed me helped me. i was supported in my recovery. i recovered and it helped me so much. my first suicide attempt only failed since i told my friend on tumblr goodbye. she called the police though she was four states away and told them what was about to happen. she saved me and i thank her everyday. if i didn’t have my tumblr, i would be dead.

      it helps me so much. it keeps me from going crazy. three years ago, i was alone. i know i’m not anymore. i’m crying as i type this because i don’t know what i will do if tumblr closes my blog down. it’s more than just skinny girls. it’s what’s running through my head at any given moment. posting or reblogging it takes it off my mind and on to here. i have this moment of clarity and peace after i log off this blog. those few hours with my eating disorder off my mind is what’s keeping me stable.

      the precarious nature of my mental state and the hundreds of girls and boys just like me are all grateful to have this escape. it’s irks me that people just see the girls and think it’s pro-ana. i don’t support pro-ana, but i support the people like me who need help and they support me. please realize how much this helps us and how much damage this would do if you shut us down.

      From C.P.:

      I am very disturbed by this new policy for several reasons. First, it is blatant censorship. If people are deluded enough to think their eating disorder is a lifestyle choice, that is their business. Do you plan to ban pro-fat accounts, too? What about pro-medical marijuana, or pro-gay rights? The Christian Right would LOVE to see you banning everything they see as unsavory or inappropriate.

      Second, you are driving it to more unsavory places. Say a teen has a cutting problem. The parents are going to be looking at Tumblr, Facebook, and LiveJournal first. If the teen was forced to go to a seedy, more hidden page for support, the parents can’t find it. You’re forcing the issue underground, which is the worst Possible scenario.

      Early detection for eating disorders and self harm is directly correlated to successful treatment. By forcing sufferers to seek support elsewhere, you’re making the tell-tale signs harder to find. How many lives were saved because a family member or friend ‘caught’ a cutter, binge eater, or laxative abuser online on Tumblr? Your new policy is removing one method of ‘catching’ these life-threatening obsessions before they kill.

      Is that Really what you want to do?

      From T.:

      Pro-ana is not some kind of cult made by malicious people who want to hurt others by keeping them sick. People who make pro-ana blogs and websites are already in pain, and already sick; they use pro-ana as a coping mechanism, because it helps them stay in denial of their problem. In all the years I spent on pro-ana sites, I have never known a non-eating-disordered person to develop an eating disorder after being exposed to pro-ana; the ‘tips’ and ‘diet advice’ (i.e. starvation instructions) offered by pro-ana are really not any different in their actual *content* to what you see in 100% legal girls’ and women’s magazines. The difference is the attitude. But still, the ‘pro-ana’ attitude is not born out of malice.

      One of the symptoms of being anorexic or bulimic is being in denial that you have a problem. Not everyone has this symptom, but almost everyone who has an eating disorder has believed, at some point, that their disease is not a disease. They might justify it with religion, with fashion, with some kind of belief that they deserve punishment - whatever. When you’re in that mental place, it seems like the entire world is against you. People tell you that what you’re doing is wrong. Then they tell you that because you don’t think it’s wrong, you are a bad person. When you find a community of people online who have the same experience, and they tell you that you’re right, that other people just don’t understand, it’s a massive relief.

      Obviously, it’s still not healthy, but what I think is important to understand is that blocking or banning these websites won’t solve the problem. When you are in that state of mind, where you’re in denial about your problem and are seeking comfort from other people who are also in denial, having your community’s websites taken down only strengthens your sense of solidarity. Every time I’ve been part of a website that was deleted for its ‘pro-ana’ content, the members have always reacted with outrage: it strengthens their belief that the entire world is against them and just doesn’t understand.

      It also discourages them from getting help. If the people offering help are the same ones punishing them for having a problem in the first place, they won’t trust the help at all. Personally, if it wasn’t for the pro-ana sites I used to visit, I’d probably not have entered recovery; most sites are moderate, and see recovery as a good thing that not everyone is ready for, rather than something to be avoided at all costs. Because of that, I got to hear people I trusted - people who had also been in denial about their disorders - telling me, on the very same sites where I used to post my ‘goals’, that recovery was worth it. If those sites had been deleted, I wouldn’t have sought out a recovery-oriented website on my own.

      One final note: a lot of more moderate sites/blogs are run by people who actively discourage their readers from hurting themselves, but also describe in detail their own day-to-day self-harm and eating-disordered experiences. Because of this, they can be misinterpreted as ‘encouraging’ self-harm/ED by ‘giving tips’. In fact, they are offended by the suggestion that they are encouraging others to hurt themselves, when all they want to do is vent their distress somewhere. There is a big difference between saying ‘I suffer from bulimia/anorexia and this is what that means for me’ and saying ‘I suffer from bulimia/anorexia, so if you want to be like me, here’s a list of what I do’. However, it can be hard to make that distinction as a moderator, which can lead to people who are most definitely *not* promoting EDs/self-harm being labeled as ‘pro-ana’/pro-self-harm and therefore having their sites banned.

      If you really want to help people who struggle with self-harm and eating disorders, don’t ban their websites. People make those websites because they’re scared and in denial, not because they’re trolling and want other people to hurt. Taking down their sites will only strengthen their denial, because they’ll see it as proof that the people who tell them to get help are actually just out to get them. If you really want to help, then provide recovery-related ads for self-harm-related search terms, but don’t ban blogs that talk about it. Please.

      From A.S.:

      Please please please please PLEASE Do not take down the pro ana pages. They are the thing that keeps me going. Haven’t you heard of freedom of speech????

      From A.M.:

      I just wanted to let you guys know I am behind your decision 100%. While Tumblr wasn’t around when I was a kid, I suffered from both these afflictions and I can say without a doubt I would have used Tumblr as a tool to worsen my conditions. I do not believe you are trampling on free speech - there has to be some kind of limit put in to place (especially when you consider how many young and impressionable people use your service).

      I truly hope you follow through with your plans and don’t see any kind of negative backlash. Will you have some? Absolutely! Will it be enough to deter you? Let’s hope not!