Posting info online about harmful diets needs to be prohibited
Pinterest has followed Tumblr and Facebook in editing their terms of service to bar content that encourages self-harm. Though these bans cover cutting or other unhealthy behavior, they were inspired by the deluge of pro-eating disorder blogs and posts. Until quite recently, social media websites made it shockingly easy for a young person, insecure about his or her weight, to find support for disordered eating.
The groups tag themselves as “thinspo,” short for “thinspiration,” and frequently feature images of emaciated models with disturbing captions such as, “You’re not a dog. Don’t reward yourself with food,” or “Whatever you eat in private, you wear in public.”
Once commonly referred to “pro-ana” or “pro-anorexia,” such groups offer instructions for extreme weight loss and provide encouragement to each other in becoming dangerously underweight.
Poor knowledge about nutrition by youths makes them particularly vulnerable. For instance, some ex-members have stated that they honestly believed the less than 500 calorie per day diet advocated by some of these groups were actually not dangerously unhealthy — just very strict.
This is not to say that there is anything wrong with encouraging healthy weight loss. Obesity is becoming a greater public health issue every day, and the public at large should strive to eat healthier and lead more active lifestyles. However, eating-disorder sites and support groups encourage obsessive-compulsive and self-destructive behaviors.
Rather than encouraging a nutritious diet and an active lifestyle to lose weight, “thinspo” blogs promote extreme methods of weight loss such as starvation and purging. Sufferers of eating disorders often seek others to legitimize their condition — a kind of support they are unlikely to find in their family or friends, but that they can find easily in destructive online communities. These sites “provide community in all the wrong ways,” Claire Mysko of the National Eating Disorders Association said. “It only serves to keep people entrenched in self-destructive behavior.”
Tumblr was very popular with these groups for some time until it changed its terms of service last month to prohibit self-harm content. With the help of the NEDA, Tumblr has devised an elegant system that redirects searches for “thinspo” and similar content to places where eating disorder sufferers can get help.
In response, pro-ana groups moved to Pinterest in droves. According to Mysko, its highly visual and interactive design structure is appealing to the pro-ana community. After an outcry in the media over the deluge of new “thinspo” content on Pinterest, they have announced a change in their terms of service effective April 6.
The new terms will prohibit the posting of content that “creates a risk of harm, loss, physical or mental injury, emotional distress, death, disability, disfigurement or physical or mental illness to yourself, to any other person, or to any animal.”
Now that Pinterest is no longer an option, “thinspo” and pro-ana communities will have to find somewhere else to go. Obviously, removing content that encourages self harm from social media sites will not remove it from the internet entirely and will not stop those actively searching for the information; however, by removing the content from sites that are frequented by young people, it’s possible to keep vulnerable youths from accessing that sort of content and believing that it is a viable or healthy method of weight loss.
These social media companies are privately owned and have every right to restrict the content that can be posted. After all, they all already prohibit pornographic imagery.
If by prohibiting “thinspo” content, they can keep at least a few young people from believing that anorexia is a valid nutritional option, then they have made the right decision.
Emily Brooks is an economics senior and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.