The online bulletin board site Pinterest, where users can "pin" pictures from almost any site on the internet to serve as a visual bookmark, has announced new terms of service. These changes, however, do not have to do with privacy or other marketing purposes, but rather they aim at protecting the users from themselves.

(As a side note, there has been some publicity lately about Pinterest's terms of use regarding Intellectual Property issues, but those changes are not what I am addressing here.)

Pinterest has been growing at a rapid pace, and now has over 10 million users. While I have had an account for several months, I never came across the alarming pictures which the terms are meant to address until I read this, this, and this.

Essentially, people with eating disorders, or aspiring to be extraordinarily thin, are creating "inspiration" boards dedicated to their unhealthy goals, with the hashtags #thinspiration or #thinspo for short. While some of the search results seem to border on a "normal" conception of thin, others depict emaciated figures, fitness models with almost no body fat, and unquestionably anorexic frames.

The remainder of the photos, it seems clear to me, have been photoshopped to create absolutely impossible results. For example, the image of a model that was admittedly photoshopped in bad taste for a Ralph Lauren ad which met public scrutiny over 2 years ago. There is also this story, which details how a model's pelvis was completely photoshopped out of a Bloomingdale's ad.

The changes relevant for the purpose of this discussion can be found, here, under the Acceptable Use Policy.They are set to take effect on April 6, 2012. They state in pertinent part,

[Users agree not to post content that]:

  • creates a risk of harm, loss, physical or mental injury, emotional distress, death, disability, disfigurement, or physical or mental illness to yourself, to any other person, or to any animal...

The website Tumblr has also recently changed its terms on this point, which makes sense considering many of the images on Pinterest initially derive from Tumblr. Its terms state in pertinent part:

[Tumblr is not for]

  • Promotion and Glorification of Self-Harm. Don't post content that actively promotes or glorifies self-harm. This includes content that urges or encourages readers to cut or injure themselves; embrace anorexia, bulimia, or other eating disorders...

While I applaud the efforts of these companies attempting to address the proliferation of these destructive images, I'm not certain that the changes will have the desired result. However, presumably ever image that is not pinned is another image not found when users search under these terms. So perhaps it will have at least a slight impact on the thinspiration wildfire.