Tumblr is entering thorny territory today with the announcement of an update to their content policy. In an official blog post, Tumblr announced that they plan to revise their current policy in a way that will prohibit self-harm blogs. To make sure that everybody has the same understanding here, self-harm blogs can include anything from pro-ana and thinspo blogs to self-mutilation and pro-suicide ideation. As of the current policy, Tumblr has no limitation on what kind of content such blogs can include.
After internally debating the merits of hosting blogs that include self-harm content versus permitting them to stay up as public awareness, Tumblr drafted the following statement to be added in their Content Policy:
Active Promotion of Self-Harm. 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.
Additionally, Tumblr has decided to attach public service announcements to any tags associated with self-harm – like “bulimia”, “thinspiration”, “thinspo”, “proana”, or “purging” – that will include links to resources where people can get assistance.
Already, the reactions on Tumblr following the tag “self-harm” are mixed, ranging from praise for axing pro-ana blogs to doubt over Tumblr’s free speech provision to outrage over the new prohibition. One detractor of the new content policy criticized Tumblr for the decision because she says it limits the support network for self-harm sufferers who may seek out such blogs as an outlet for help. Others acknowledge that Tumblr’s heart is in the right place but the execution of their mission to limit the blogs that promote self-harm is misguided. “Many use these blogs to connect with others and know they are not alone,” one Tumblr user wrote, “and to curtail that ability to connect will hurt far more than it helps.”
Tumblr isn’t the only social media site to prohibit the content regarding self-harm. On the site’s Community Standards page, Facebook flatly states the site “is not a place for self-destructive behavior” and that they “don’t allow the promotion of suicide, cutting, eatings disorders, or illegal drug use.”
Any site promoting content intended to encourage harmful behavior in people shouldn’t be permitted, period. It’s especially dangerous when a site fosters the self-harm ideation within a person already prone to hurt themselves. People die because of this stuff and while Tumblr’s new policy will eliminate blogs of this purpose, it doesn’t appear to discern them from support groups that may include self-harm content. Do you think Tumblr should more carefully distinguish between the two, or is it better to simply eliminate all of it so as to avoid any unintentional triggers for self-harm through those support groups? With the latter, do you think that the decision may limit the resources Tumblr users have with seeking support for self-harm problems?