Guest Column: Tumblr self-harm ban will help users

Catherine Wirtz

Tumblr, an online blogging community, announced last week that it will implement a new policy against blogs that promote self-harm, eating disorders and suicidal thoughts.

Since Tumblr’s launch five years ago, it has encouraged users from all walks of life to share their stories. This freedom, however, has allowed several blogs to emphasize negative material that can be detrimental to readers’ perceptions and self-esteem. The trending topic of “thinspiration” has grown increasingly popular on Tumblr.

On thinspiration blogs, users glorify dangerously thin girls, share their experiences with eating disorders and confess their harmful habits.

The proposed plan of action is to monitor tags and prohibit posts that encourage self-mutilation, anorexia, bulimia and suicidal thoughts and to provide bloggers with links to hotlines or treatment websites.

By putting forth this policy, Tumblr has made a bold and necessary move.

Any frequent user of Tumblr has encountered thinspiration posts in some form or another. As a Tumblr user, I at times feel barraged with images of “ideal” women.

These types of blogs dominate fashion, photography and beauty threads; often, Tumblr seems like a community centered on pictures of pretty people that reinforce damaging notions of perfectionism.

Such an overbearing presence of thinspiration blogs expose impressionable teens to a deluge of content that provokes low self-esteem and could lead to unhealthy behaviors or eating disorders.

Our society is already full of images of so-called perfect women and men; Tumblr is making a significant effort to make sure these messages don’t seep into its blogosphere.

Content that promotes eating disorders to such an extent can trigger relapses. Aimee Liu, a staff writer at Ms. Magazine who struggled with an eating disorder for years, said that “perfectionism is common in people with all eating disorders. These traits precede the disorder, and they do not go away when you recover.”

A large constituency of Tumblr bloggers argue that the new policy sweeps self-harm issues under the rug and prevents users from expressing themselves. Tumblr recognizes that simply eliminating these posts is counter-productive.

Instead, by acknowledging self-harm posts and providing users with resources to seek help, Tumblr is encouraging awareness. This awareness will motivate users in need of treatment to seek help, or at least discover sites that offer valuable information about dealing with eating disorders.

Critics of the new policy also argue that blogs promoting self-harm provide a support system to users who are otherwise completely isolated by their disease. Without them, freedom of expression becomes limited and inter-group discussion ceases.

But the new policy seeks to limit this discussion as a means of discouraging glorifying discourse about serious mental diseases. Inhibiting the onslaught of triggering content can make a difference in the lives of many.

The censorship of thinspiration blogs aims to limit posts with implications of self-harm as opposed to the general expressions of niche communities.

The website ultimately has the right to protect the well-being of its users. And it has made a significant stride in creating a positive environment. This policy is only going to increase the standard of content on Tumblr.

It is a daring move, but someone needed to do it.

Daily Trojan, U. Southern California via UWIRE