Just over a month ago, I wrote a piece on internet safety. In particular, I highlighted the social media platform Tumblr, owned by Yahoo! and, currently, seeing 555 monthly visitors. It is easy to access, with blogs simple to set up, which can then be managed either any computer, or through mobile phones and a downloadable app.
For most people, Tumblr is simply a way to share and discuss interests and hobbies. It enables people to search for key words and see all similar posts and blogs. For most, it is completely innocent and harmless.
Unfortunately, as with any multimedia platform, there is a darker side. For their part, Tumblr have put in place measures to prevent people coming across NSFW content, such as adult blogs. However, this relies on people marking their blogs as such, and people searching to have their Safe Mode turned on. Having a cursory look, there is no age verification performed when selecting to turn the Safe Mode off, meaning anyone, regardless of age, can access this.
However, campaigns regarding access to adult material are well established. The media have taken to this as expected – it is a subject people recognise as having a negative impact on lives, particularly those who are young, and, therefore, no one questions these campaigns.
Unfortunately, there is also a darker side to Tumblr – one that does not require a Safe Mode to be deactivated in order to access it. There is an epidemic happening on Tumblr, and one they do not seem to wish to acknowledge.
I am, of course, referring to the sharing of images and text. Whilst many will argue that they are sharing posts in solidarity to show support, to people in need, they can actually be seen to create a warped, almost romanticised narrative, leading not to help, but instead to further self harm and, potentially, suicide.
In 2012, British teenager Tallulah Wilson committed suicide, after posting self-harm images to Tumblr. It was also reported than she was sent an image of a noose with the message “here is your new necklace, try it on.” The UK Government called on Tumblr to remove toxic content. Tumblr responded advising that they wanted to protect freedom of expression, but users could report blogs that promoted self harm.
In America, the Washington Post reported a number of cases where teenagers uploaded their suicide letter to Tumblr, before committing the act. Leelah Alcorn, 17. Zander Mahaffey, 15. Damien Strum, 13, attempted this, but his letter was found and family were alerted before he could go through with his plans.
Unfortunately, the letters that were posted were then shared multiple times. On all these occasions, people were not saying they supported suicide, but were trying to show solidarity with those in need.
And there, unfortunately, lies the problem. The way these images are being shared, the way letters are being shared, all have the impact of showing self harm and suicide in a positive light. Tumblr, in wanting to protect free speech, is actually allowing this to go ahead.
I understand the want for people to talk, and feel part of a community. I understand the need to feel as though you are not alone, and that other people understand. I get why teenagers go to these platforms. They can remain anonymous, yet talk about their feelings. Unfortunately, by being anonymous, so are the people they talk to. At best, it means there are teenagers going without help who need it. At worst, it means they are talking to people who do not have their best interests at heart, and are looking at prey on their vulnerability.
Tumblr reported that they would introduce a page which, when searching specific key words, would direct people to resources to get help. Unfortunately, this no longer seems to work. Even when it did, there was still the option allowing people to proceed to the content.
I get the need to protect freedom of speech and expression. But with that comes responsibility. If people were promoting defamatory material, it wouldn’t be allowed. The platform has even shut down those looking to promote material from ISIS and associated groups. In fact, the only thing it doesn’t seem to want to do, is put measures in place to protect the vulnerable.
Right now, mental health has become the ‘elephant in the room’ again. No one seems to want to talk about it. Media have become focused on the dangers of internet predators. Celebrities, once openly talking about mental health, are now focussing their energy on Donald Trump and Brexit. Mental health is, once again, being pushed into a corner, with no one wanting to do anything.
Given you are here, reading this blog, I can hope that you are not that person. I can hope that you want to be someone who wants to make a difference. To be someone who will stand up and speak out for those who need help.
Please, if you do just one thing today to help those who are being affected by the images they see on Tumblr, please sign my petition. This will be delivered to both elected officials and Tumblr in order to put pressure on them to take real action, and not just words. Once you have signed it, please share it. Show you want to help. The more this is shared, the more people will sit up and listen and do their bit.
Thank you for taking your time to read this. Only together will we be able to take the necessary steps to get people talking about Mental Health, and put measures in place to protect and support those in need.
Stay strong. Stay you.