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Tumblr bans anorexia, bulimia and other self-harm

Feb. 24, 2012 at 8:34 AM ET

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Tumblr has been known to struggle with an overwhelming amount of content which promotes or glorifies many forms of self-harm including — though unfortunately not limited to — eating disorders, self-mutilation and even suicide. Now the micro-blogging service's staff has made the decision to fight this phenomenon by officially prohibiting blogs "that actively promote self-harm." 

An announcement on the official Tumblr staff blog explains that the decision to revise the service's content policy is not being taken lightly as its staff is "deeply committed to supporting and defending [its] users’ freedom of speech." But as a company, those folks have decided that certain and specific types of content — including spam and identity theft —  "aren't welcome on Tumblr."

While Tumblr's staff is asking for input from its community regarding its policy change, the language of the relevant content policy addition appears to already be very clear. A distinction is made between content which actively promotes or glorifies self-harm and something such as an off-hand declaration that someone feels so embarrassed she could just die or similar:

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.

In addition to implementing this new policy next week — after a grace period which allows affected blogs to conform to the changes — Tumblr will also begin showing "public service announcements" whenever a user searches for keywords which are frequently associated with self-harm-promoting blogs. Such a message may look like this:

Eating disorders can cause serious health problems, and at their most severe can even be life-threatening. Please contact the [resource organization] at [helpline number] or [website].

Tumblr isn't the only service which is making changes to its policies in order to suppress content deemed inappropriate. Popular link-sharing website Reddit has recently banned all forums — dubbed "subreddits" — which focused on the "sexualization of children."

Like Tumblr's staff, Reddit's moderators and administrators appeared to struggle with the decision to enact this content policy. As explained in the post which announced the change, the site's staff is "adamant about not limiting the ability to use the Reddit platform even when [it does] not [itself] agree with or condone a specific use."

But as msnbc.com's own Helen Popkin points out, Reddit — like Tumblr — is  a private business and as such it is "under no burden to provide a venue for free speech" or facilitate certain types of content.

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