As a society we are more online than ever before, with pretty much everyone on some form of social networking site. The time spent on these websites is enormous, with a lot of young people logging hours of time on sites such as Facebook, Twitter and blogging platforms each day.
With this, like any other traditional form of communication, comes the risk of misuse. This week Tumblr, a blogging platform with a typically younger audience, announced that they would place a ban on pro anorexic content or blogs which encourage self-harm from their platform. This comes only a few days after the relatively new site Pinterest announced that they were removing and moderating this kind of content on their platform too.
Tumblr is fairly notorious as a platform to go find your images for anything to do with self harm and so called 'thinspiration'. These kinds of resources have been labelled by professionals and campaigners as damaging for many years now and their consequences have been the base of much fierce debate. With a lot of the young people I now work with and my own experiences these resources can certainly hinder people from combatting their issues and become a place to go to almost 'get you in the mood' to do yourself damage.
I personally welcome the move to moderate this kind of content, I think it is a positive step in minimising the risk of harm, I wholeheartedly support the removal of such material from platforms, but the internet is such a huge space we will never get rid of it all and while restrictions will make it harder for content to make it onto certain platforms it is not the complete answer.
Take Facebook as an example, who from the off have banned nudity from their platform, but it is still everywhere. While we can place these restrictions in our terms and conditions, remove blogs as and when they are found and remove users who are placing said content we can't stop the fact that it is there and it will always find its way online, even if it is only up for 24 hours.
Secondly, taking pro anorexia and thinspiration imagery into mind, if we can't find it on the internet, all we would have to do is thumb through the pages of the infinite glossy magazines where the majority of these images posted online originate from anyway, to get the fix of what sufferers feel they need to see. The fact is, if we want the images we will find them regardless of the platform they are hosted on.
The only way we will ever actually win against these issues is by not looking at the fire, but the fuel that keeps it going, the problems and disorders that are driving people to consume this media. Increased awareness of the unhelpfulness of it (of which there is currently none) improved access to early intervention before the issue grows to this kind of level are among some of the things that we need to look at. There is also the case of personal responsibility, moderating our own content, which while hard to do as someone who isn't well should be a pivotal point of care from an early stage, as this kind of issue simply isn't addressed in most therapeutic interventions.
I am talking about existing sufferers for a very good reason, an image won't cause an eating disorder, they won't cause you to start harming yourself, but they will maintain and trigger the behaviours. We have to remember that the issues we are talking about are complex psychological ones and to accredit it all to an image is simply misleading. In response to claims from users that this is a form of therapy, to them it may well feel that way, but underneath they are likely only triggering themselves and others with the content they are expressing, which if they were to receive intervention as I have suggested, they may well see it differently.
In short, I am happy to see it being addressed, to see these companies taking responsibility for the content they are hosting, but it won't solve the problem put before us. We need to take a more robust approach to personal moderation and education of young people about these sites and resources and how unhelpful they really are.
Follow Nick Watts on Twitter: www.twitter.com/nickinoxford