Instagram will no longer allow accounts, images or hashtags “dedicated to glorifying, promoting, or encouraging self-harm.” The decision follows similar proclamations from other social networking sites, such as Pinterest and Tumblr.
“Thinspiration,” or “thinspo,” refers to images of extremely thin women that are posted by social network users who come together to encourage each other to lose weight. Sometimes it’s as innocuous as photos of slender celebrities posted to encourage the shedding of a few excess pounds, other times the images are of dangerously emaciated women or are accompanied by “tips” for those suffering from anorexia or bulimia. Users argue that embracing thinspo is a lifestyle choice, not an illness.
According to Instagram, hashtags like ‘thinspiration,” “probulimia” and “proanorexia” no longer return search results, and other images associated with self-harm will soon display warning notices for graphic content before they are displayed. Instagram stressed that they would not ban accounts that discuss self-harm without promoting it. “We believe that communication regarding these behaviors in order to create awareness, come together for support and to facilitate recovery is important, but that Instagram is not the place for active promotion or glorification of self-harm,” said the statement. Thinspo became a hot topic on Instagram last week when model Alexa Chung posted a photo of herself and was attacked for being too skinny.
Though sites such as Facebook, Tumblr and Instagram are private and can remove any content they like, social networks have to walk a fine line between curtailing potentially harmful images and censoring their users. Instagram’s thinspo policy is more stringent than those of some other sites: Tumblr still permits searches for thinspo, but plans to accompany all of the images with contact information for the National Eating Disorders Association. However, communities this large must rely on users to police others’ behavior by reporting violations of their terms of service, so searches for thinspo on Pinterest and Tumblr still return results. In Instagram, terms like #proanorexia won’t return results, but variations like #proanatips do.