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David Baxter

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You Can't Ban 'Em All
by JaneCopland
Fri (8/10/07)

The Times Online is reporting today that "charities involved with eating disorders" are asking sites like YouTube and MySpace to ban or remove groups and videos that glorify and promote afflictions such as anorexia. While neither service is showing much interest in censoring their weight-obsessed members, the idea that organizations can lobby for the removal of legal content is a larger matter.

You may think anorexia is tragic, stupid, selfish, or a combination of all three, but as far as I know, there's nothing illegal about it. There's plenty immoral, but there's nothing illegal about promoting it either. The problem with removing content on MySpace, YouTube, et al based on its immorality is that everyone has different moral standards. Do you really want every "charity," non-profit, or political lobbyist to have a say in what you're allowed to own and view online?

Most websites that include user-generated content have ways in which other members can report content as unsavory. Reddit lets members report comments that are offensive, but even Reddit's most offensive member never sees his oft-reported comments removed or censored (link NSFW in soooo many ways). It seems that you can get kicked off Digg for having someone from the same IP as you even look at a story you dugg, but calling other members horrible names and swearing up a storm doesn't appear to be against the rules.

Of course, there are examples of legal content that should be removed. Facebook representative Kate* states that the Facebook staff "review the reports and remove material that we consider a violation of our Terms of Service" when they're notified about objectionable content. Kate goes on to say, "One phenomenon I've found is that "chapters" of groups will spring up at many different schools. Thus, there was a template... that was copied by groups across the site." The groups Facebook removes, however, are usually engaging in hate-speech against races or religions.

Removing content that isn't hateful or threatening widens an already expansive gray area. Bigots already argue their right to free speech. Their case is hardly convincing in the eyes of either the public or the law, but the free speech case of extra-thin teenagers is a bit stronger. They're not advocating that girls should purposely starve their friends or children, after all. The idea that these charities can influence sites like MySpace also sends out a dangerous message that it's okay to lobby for content to be removed on the basis of belief. There is plenty of content out there that advocates atheism. Should churches be able to object to the public promotion of heresy? Should rival political groups be able to lobby social networks to shut down each other's forums? The recent deletion of a StumbleUpon group that reportedly discussed the existence / nonexistence of God was contested by Christians and Atheists alike for its apparent bias. According to all reports, the group had not violated StumbleUpon's terms of service. It's impossible to verify whether that's true, however: the group is gone.

I have to stand behind these idiotic girls' choice to post their lengthy suicides online, not because I'm idealistically hugging a copy of the First Amendment, but because infringing on their right to promote their stupid-yet-legal activities has too much potential to morph into a go-ahead for every agenda-happy moron out there to cry "I object!"

Besides, making these people take their videos and groups offline won't resolve their eating disorders. It won't prevent impressionable girls from seeing bony celebrities and swearing off all forms of nutrients, just like removing atheist groups won't turn everyone into church-goers. Just like removing racist content won't cure racism. However, we have to set boundaries in terms of which content should be removed and which is allowed to stay. As gag-inducing as some of it may be, we're going to have to put up with stuff we don't like. Now go eat a hamburger and be happy that you're not sixteen and insane.
 

David Baxter

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My posted comment on the proceeding article

Mon (9/3/07) at 09:05 PM

You're missing the point.

1. Anorexia and bulimia are not caused by stupidity. They are mental illnesses, psychiatric disorders. Yes they are treatable but it's not about "choice", any more than discovering one has cancer is a "choice".

2. The issue of pro-anorexia, pro-bulimia, pro-suicide sites and the like is not a legal question, nor is it a freedom of speech issue. It's an issue of social responsibility. As a society, we have a duty to protect our more vulnerable members, including children, the elderly, and those with mental health issues. Our record on protecting those segments of society is pretty damn dismal to date. We should do better. But that's not going to happen as long as people hold on to misguided notions of free speech and freedom of choice, nor as longs as people promote negative stereotypes and stigma as in articles like this.
 

David Baxter

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The Times article cited above

Social network sites are urged to ban ?hardcore? anorexia videos
August 10, 2007
by Helen Nugent, The Times Online

Charities involved with eating disorders have called for tighter controls on the internet after it emerged that popular social networking sites such as MySpace and YouTube were being used to promote anorexia.

Pro-anorexia websites, on which girls exchange extreme dieting tips and view ?thinspiration? videos featuring alarmingly thin women, have existed for some years. But they have always been difficult to find and the people posting on them have remained anonyomous.

Now pictures and footage of underweight teenagers are emerging on more mainstream sites, reaching a potential audience of tens of millions.

On Facebook, some groups extol the virtues of anorexia as a lifestyle choice. MySpace?s groups include one that has more than 1,000 members. Its rules state: ?No people trying to recover. It ruins our motivation.?

Thousands of people have viewed film clips of emaciated looking teens and twentysomething women on YouTube which, along with the other networking sites, has rules against posting harmful content. The two to ten-minute videos often feature the more slender celebrities such as Victoria Beckham and Kate Moss, neither of whom is anorexic. They also show images of underweight women in their underwear.

Eating disorder charities have called on social websites to look closely at their online material. Susan Ringwood, chief executive of the charity Beat, said: ?Pro-anorexic sites weren?t easy to find and most responsible internet providers would cut them out. But on the networking sites there isn?t the same control over them at the moment. Some of the more hardcore struff does seem to be getting on to these sites. We are concerned that this is a trend.?

However, support groups claim that making and discussing videos are the only forms of help available to some young women who are afraid to talk openly about their concerns.

Kay Fielding, 16, from Gloucestershire, aspires to weigh less than 7? stone. The 8st sixth-former said: ?I?m unhappy with my weight and the way my body looks. I wish I could be slightly slimmer because I just feel there are some parts of my body weight I cannot shift.

?My favourite celebrity and model is Kate Moss and my next goal weight is her weight of 107lb, which I read somewhere. I first started looking at thinspiration videos about a year ago. I felt like a failure because I couldn?t fit the image they projected.

?But I was also really inspired because the people who made the videos were only trying to support other people with eating disorders, not trying to force a condition on someone else. I look at the videos now every few days and I save the images I like on my computer. I restrict my calorie intake, and if there?s an event that?s coming up I might fast for a day, then eat just fruit and vegetables. I?m not dangerously skinny, but I know my mum does worry.?

Some of the videos carry a warning that they might trigger eating disorders or are marked as suitable only for adults, which means web users have to register as an 18-year-old to see them.

One 22-year-old video-maker, calling herself Lolaleberg, insists that she does not promote anorexia or encourage girls to become anorexic. Lolaleberg, from Berkshire, said: ?I make hamshire, said that thinspiration videos did not help people wanting to recover from an eating disorder and did not promote good health.

Deanne Jade, principal of the National Centre for Eating Disorders, said: ?I have no firm view that YouTube should ban them, they only pop up again in a different guise.

?There is no proof that they cause anorexia and although many are firmly helping helping people to stay anorexic, they also support people who decide to get well.?

A YouTube spokeswoman said that it did not comment on individual videos. MySpace said: ?Rather than censor these groups, we are working to create partnerships with organisations that provide resources and advice to people suffering from such problems. We will target those groups with messages of support.?
 

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