Tumblr will soon regulate posts about anorexia, cutting, and other “self-harm”

Tumblr will soon update its user policy to specifically target posts that promote and encourage eating disorders, self-mutilation, and suicide. With offices right here in Richmond, Tumblr support staff will be on the lookout for harmful content in the hopes of helping its young users. How did this policy come about, and what exactly will Tumblr do?

Anorexia, bulimia, self-mutilation, suicide, and other self-harm subjects will be more difficult to find online in the next week or so. Tumblr, the international micro-blogging website with offices in Richmond, will soon implement a policy that will remove both blogs and individual blog posts that promote these unhealthy behaviors.

“There are a lot young people in our community,” said Marc LaFountain, Vice President of Support at Tumblr in a phone interview, adding that these self-harm issues are “overwhelmingly a problem that affects younger people.” He said that company concerns about users appropriating the platform to promote and encourage unhealthy and potentially dangerous behavior have “intensified” over the past years.

So on February, 23rd, the company issued a draft of the proposed policy to solicit feedback from Tumblr users. LaFountain said that they wanted to make sure that Tumblr’s users “understand what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and how we’re doing it.”

While LaFountain said that the “overwhelming majority of the feedback has been positive” with regard to the proposed policy change, he recognized that there are some who think that Tumblr’s upcoming regulation limits one’s freedom of speech and expression. LaFountain said that the blogging platform is “definitely a place that respects freedom of speech.” However, he affirmed that the company could not, in good conscience, allow any expression “to the extent that it will promote physical harm to our users.”

The current draft of the policy, which LaFountain speculated will become official in the next week, largely unchanged from its current form, states that users:

“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.

LaFountain cautioned that Tumblr is “not against people talking about these issues.” He said that when the policy goes into effect, any posts that are tagged or contain flagged terms such as “pro-ana” (pro anorexia nervosa), “thinspo” (shorthand for thinspiration), “purging,” or others will not be removed automatically. For instance, an entry that lists statistics of first-hand accounts in a more objectionable way, will be considered appropriate. An entry that, say, provides meticulous instructions on how to self-mutilate, however, will be deleted. “We look at the merits of a specific situation,” said LaFountain.

Tumblr support personnel in Richmond1 will use reports from Tumblr users to find and investigate questionable content (“members of our community are good at reporting,” said LaFountain). Additionally, support workers will patrol hosted sites. Should they find questionable content, LaFountain said they will seek the opinion of “two or three” additional personnel members before deleting material. Users of deleted content under the new policy will be sent an email with a link to the policy to discourage future posts of that nature.

Additionally, the blogging platform will also display a public service announcement that will direct those who search for terms such as “pro-ana,” “thinspo,” and others to the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline and www.nationaleatingdisorders.org. This attempt to combat eating disorders arose after Tumblr sought out the expertise of the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA). All of this, LaFountain said, are meant to educate and provide help for the most “vulnerable members of [the Tumblr] community.”

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  1. Tumblr Support employs approximately thirty people in Richmond 

stock photo by Charlotte Astrid

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Nathan Cushing

Nathan Cushing is a writer, journalist, and RVANews Editor.

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