Social media can get a pretty bad rap when it comes to the influence it has on peoples’ self-esteem. From the rise of trolling and cyber-bullying to the unrealistic expectations about sex imprinted on young men and women by the vast amounts of pornographic imagery that are so easily available, the internet holds up a rather warped looking glass through which to view the world.
And while social networks like Facebook and Twitter have long had algorithms in place to protect their users from offensive or objectionable images (usually of a graphic or sexual nature), Pinterest is determined to go one better. The photo sharing site has introduced measures which aim to prohibit the circulation of content that promotes negative or unhealthy body ideals.
Earlier this year, the network put a new set of user guidelines in place which gave them the right to ban images that “create risk, loss, physical or mental injury”. However, despite taking these measures, the site has become inexplicably popular among sufferers of eating disorders. These users post photographs of uneaten food and extremely thin people, as well as documenting their own weight loss in photo diaries.
In a bid to lessen any negative impact that its user generated content might have, the site now restricts searches on images relating to anorexia, including slang terms such as “thinspo” and “thinspiration”, which tend to glamorise unhealthy body images. When users try and search these terms, Pinterest displays a message advising of the risks of eating disorders:
“Eating disorders are not lifestyle choices, they are mental disorders that if left untreated can cause serious health problems or could even be life-threatening.” The message is followed by an Eating Disorders Association Helpline contact number and website address.
Pinterest has been enjoying novelty status this year, as more and more social media enthusiasts flock to request invites and “repin” content which they find engaging. With well over 12 million members in the United States alone, the network is clearly keen to hold onto its popularity, and this act of corporate social responsibility can only be seen as good PR.
But the fact that Pinterest is willing to go to such lengths in order to protect some of its more vulnerable user base does raise an interesting question: to what extent do social networks have a social responsibility to their users? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section.