With the usage of social media and blogging sites on the rise, new interest groups develop and grow everyday. A surge in online communities supporting and encouraging eating disorders has grown as well. On Tumblr, Instagram and Twitter, the hashtags representing these disorders like #pro ana, #ana, #thinspo, #pro mia, #ednos and #self harm are all too prevalent. Thousands of pictures are self-posted and shared with a click of the mouse depicted starving and emaciated women, girls, men and boys who support and glorify these negative behaviors.
Obtaining the ‘perfect thigh-gap’
Somewhere in the development of social media sites, users found solace and comfort in online communities and gravitate toward others with similar interests. For people suffering with self-image issues and depression, these communities have proved to be a successful way to connect, track body “progress” and discuss eating behaviors. A quick look at these tagged words are enough to evoke disgust and horror. The images and words revolving around these communities are obscenely negative and often make suicide references and feature “anon hate” where an anonymous comment author will inspire self-harm or ask the users to “kill themselves” or encourage and often provoke further starvation.
Where is the line?
As a health writer, this concerns me. Social media and blogging sites knowingly allow users to produce and re-distribute content on their sites that is dangerous and too graphic for impressionable users. While I can argue the facts and harsh realities of limited care, non-existent treatment and the lack of positive social support to cure and treat eating disorders and self-harm, the question is posed to the social media sites. Where do they draw the line in allowing these communities to exist?
Instagram recently began featuring a warning label when users try to search for tags like #ana or #pro ana and list a website for eating disorder support. Hellogiggles published an interesting article as a call to action for online users to become a catalyst for positive change surrounding these communities. Feature Shoot published an article on photographer, Laia Abril, and her quest to shed light on the issue and find a link between eating disorders and Internet communities through the exploration of the tag #thinspo. Tumblr has attempted to ban anorexia blogs, but has been unsuccessful in my honest opinion. Users are still allowed to tag and create usernames featuring prominent and recognizable self-harm and eating disorder terms. Twitter still allows prominent tags to be searched as well. This tweet was posted a few hours ago, but was a small light among the dark, negative tweets tagged with #pro ana.
Just stop. Pro Ana’s are telling young innocent girls how to kill themselves. And that should be LEGAL?
— Striving Perfection (@LiveLaughSkinny) January 27, 2013
Stopping the viral spread
How can these sites prevent users from posting content focusing on eating disorders and self-harm? Does the issue fall under the First Amendment and is it protected as freedom of speech? What should be done to end the online distribution of self-harm and eating disorder content?