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A Deep Dive Into Tumblr’s Disturbing Content

Triggering content including the talk of eating disorders/ self-harm


Founded in 2007 by David Karp, the all-new ‘microblogging’ site Tumblr was a way for people worldwide to connect through short posts detailing things from life stories to current affairs. 

The features of the website include a dashboard for people to have live updates on posts, a tagging system so every post can be categorised for ease of use when searching for a topic you may like and custom domains which is ‘an in-house registrar that provides domains that can only be used with Tumblr unless removed from the user's blog and transferred to another registrar.’

Drawing in thousands of people over the months it opened, Tumblr’s content was enticing to a younger audience and encouraging them to post, however, it was being described by technology journalists as having a ‘sizeable amount of pornographic content.’ In an investigation done by TechCrunch on 20 May 2013, it was found that 22% of traffic found on the website included pornographic content. While being quick to resolve this issue due to the younger audience, on December 3 2013, Tumblr announced in a statement that effective December 17 2018, all images and videos depicting sex acts, and real-life images and videos depicting human genitalia or "female-presenting" nipples, would be banned from the service. 


Whilst pornographic images were now banned a new stream of media was spreading rapidly throughout the site, eating disorder promotion. Accounts promoted the culture of starving yourself through media such as ‘thinspo’, (photos of severely underweight people as a goal to reach), starvation tactics and motivation videos to cause a harmful weight loss in young people. It was widely referred to as ‘pro-ana’ which is short for pro-anorexia and posters would use this tag for content that promoted extreme starvation or behaviours anorexic people would use. 

While being an illness that affected many people before Tumblr existed, a heightened amount of young people were developing the illness due to the website's allowance for this content.

 Along with this, ‘pro-mia’ was circulating which stands for pro-bulimia content that involves ways to, once again, make yourself thinner through unhealthy methods. While these tags were rife on the page ‘tips and tricks’ also included ways not to get caught by parents or doctors which unlike posts of people's journeys into recovery, something that could’ve been helpful for those struggling, was a high factor for the rise in teens with eating disorders. 

Thousands of users started to repost photos of emancipated people and abhorrent phrases like ‘skip dinner end up thinner’ due to the lack of regulation by Tumblr. Even with new regulations in today's Tumblr, bloggers still find ways to beat these terms showing the culture is still rife in society.


The consequences stemming from these posts are significant, the promotion of eating disorders damages the perception of body images permanently, especially to younger, more impressionable people. The psychological effect of even stumbling across these posts can remain engrained in people's memories for life.

 A 2012 article from The Atlantic discussed the prevalence of pro-self-harm content on Tumblr. The company implemented a ban on self-harm content in 2012, but by then it had been circulating the platform en-masse for years. One research paper on the topic found that, by banning the content without replacing it with education, teens were only left feeling isolated with their disorders and didn’t know where to find information on recovery.


If you’re struggling with an eating disorder or self-harm, there is help out there.

Beat Eating Disorders- 0808 801 0677 (UK)

Mind.org.uk (UK)

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