Tumblr Contemplates A New Policy Against Self-Harm Blogs: Let's All Weigh In

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Tumblr is a popular microblogging platform.  It lets you share anything from text to pictures to video.  According to their website, the average Tumblr user creates 14 original posts each month, and reblogs 3. The "reblog" button on all Tumblr posts allows a meme to spread rapidly across thousands of blogs with just one click.

As with other social media platforms, tumblr has an enormous reach (18,878,347,183 total posts as of the time of this blog).  Therefore, it has great potential to help and hurt the public's health as it facilitates communication among millions of people.

A few weeks ago, Tumblr presented to its users a challenge (and possible solution) regarding blogs that promote self-harm.  Their users are being asked to weigh in on the policy.  I think that is a smart move.

Here is an excerpt from the Tumblr staff blog

Our Content Policy has not, until now, prohibited blogs that actively promote self-harm. These typically take the form of blogs that glorify or promote anorexia, bulimia, and other eating disorders; self-mutilation; or suicide. These are messages and points of view that we strongly oppose, and don’t want to be hosting. The question for us has been whether it’s better to (a) prohibit them, as a statement against the very ideas of self-harm that they are advancing, or (b) permit them to stay up, accompanied by a public service warning that directs readers to helplines run by organizations like the National Eating Disorders Association.

We are planning to post a new, revised Content Policy in the very near future, and we’d like to ask for input from the Tumblr community on this issue.

The blog goes on to say that they currently think the right answer is to implement a policy against pro self-harm blogs.  They aim to focus only on blogs that actively glorify or promote these behaviors. They also intend to start showing public service announcements (PSAs) on specific search terms like "anorexic" or "thinsperation".  It is unclear from their post how this policy will actually be implemented.  It would take enormous staff resources to comprehensively review their site and remove concerning materials. 

Other online and social media platforms have struggled with similar issues regarding how to respond to users that may be searching for or posting worrisome content.  Here are a few examples of other challenges and solutions:
From these examples, you can see that there have been a variety of approaches to address potentially unhealthy or unsafe posts on social media platforms.  Sites can decide to be inclusive of all posts, they can let users police each other and report concerns, they can post resources in response to keywords, they can actively prohibit certain content...or they can use some combination of these strategies.
  • What strategy or combination of strategies is best for the public's health?  
  • If users are prohibited from posting, does that make them more isolated and less likely to connect to services?
  • Should the overall health of the user group outweigh the health of that individual?
Tumblr is encouraging users to weigh in on their plan...so I ask you to both comment here and contact them at policy@tumblr.com
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