In late February, Tumblr staff announced that it is officially prohibiting blogs "that actively promote self-harm." This policy change was made in an attempt to cut down on 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 is clarifying the terms of that ban in an attempt to address user concerns.
As a post on the official Tumblr staff blog explains, the reaction to the change in policy was "overwhelming." The initial announcement itself received more than 25,000 likes, reblogs and replies, and over 2,500 Tumblr users sent comments in by email. Many of those responses had a common theme: " What about people who just talk about it?"
For the most part, Tumblr users were happy with the new policy, but they were concerned about whether it would prevent them from discussing their own experiences or seeking support. That won't be an issue, says Tumblr's staff:
While we won’t allow blogs dedicated to triggering self-harm, we will not act against blogs engaged in discussion, support, encouragement, and documenting the experiences of those dealing with difficult conditions like anorexia, bulimia, and other forms of self-injury. We absolutely want Tumblr to be a place where people struggling with these behaviors can find solace, community, dialog, understanding, and hope.
There is also further clarification about how the policy will be applied. Suspensions will occur on a "blog-by-blog basis," meaning that there won't be a mass-ban based on keywords or tags.
Additionally, Tumblr staff has worked with the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) to draft a message which will appear next in search results for keywords such as "pro-ana," "pro-mia," "thinspiration," and so on:
Eating disorders are not lifestyle choices, they are mental disorders that when left untreated, can cause serious health problems, and at their most severe can even be life-threatening. For treatment referrals, information and support, please contact the National Eating Disorders Association’s Helpline at 1-800-931-2237 or www.nationaleatingdisorders.org.
Several similar messages are being drafted with the help of other health organizations and will appear in search results for content related to other self-harm.
As msnbc.com's own Helen Popkin has pointed out, a private business such as Tumblr is "under no burden to provide a venue for free speech" or facilitate certain types of content. But it is certainly encouraging to see that this particular site's staff is taking its users' feedback into consideration and further define policies as necessary.
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