It is out of the ordinary for Tumblr, the largest blogging site in the world, to take a political stand. And it's even stranger for Tumblr executives to fight anorexia nervosa, bulimia and self harm over the internet. But such was the case in 2012 when Tumblr's CEO David Karp approved a policy banning any post that "actively promoted self harm."1 Even amidst public backlash, Tumblr held firm on their policy against 'self harm posts.' For many users struggling with eating disorders or depression, this refusal to change company policy was an outrage - the line between Tumblr's affordances and constraints had suddenly become blurry. Unfortunately for disgruntled users, from a legal standpoint, Tumblr is fully within its rights as a private company to control speech on its platform. But content regulations run the risk of alienating users.
An over dramatization? Another negative consequence of social media? A mistake by Tumblr's public relations team? Perhaps all are true. But this story is a telling example of today's media culture where communication technologies have political meanings. In the 2012 Tumblr dispute, a simple online policy had tremendous impact on an entire group of people. For hundreds of Tumblr users struggling with eating disorders or depression, blog uploads with vivid pictures or story posts of self harm were an incredible source of healing. A simple message of support from an anonymous Tumblr user was a form of therapy in itself. In October of 2012, Tumblr issued a public apology representing an important system change, "but the questions are still far from .
resolved."2 Can we be our true self on social media? Can we share times of hardship online? And perhaps most importantly, who can tell us what we can or cannot share?.
For many communications theorists, the first step in resolving these questions is to define the affordances and constraints of a particular technology.