Pro-Ana on Facebook

February 26, 2008

A news story broke this week that there is a clinic in Cheadle, UK, campaigning to get the pro-ana (Pro-Anorexia) groups out of Facebook. It feels like 2001 all over again. Check out the Sky News story along with some of our quotes for journos below and then take our poll below:

Should Facebook remove Pro-Ana groups?

1) Yes
2) No
3) This is the wrong question
4) Let’s ask the users
5) Phone a friend

View Results

Make your own poll

We have a few chapters on this subject in our new book, The Medicalization of Cyberspace (Feb, 2008) and Emma Rich has been focusing her recent years on these aspects of eating disorders and new media.

Our quotes for journalists:

“While we have no wish to promote eating disorders, we must be cautious not to respond to pro-ana sites as wholly dangerous. Calling for the removal of pro-ana spaces from Facebook will only obscure such communities even further.

As things stand, anyone can join these groups and the identities of users is much clearer than it is for other web spaces. So, if medics are concerned about the users within these communities, they stand a much better chance of offering support than they will by these groups existing in a lower profile webspace.

Rather than remove of these sites, we should be concerned more with the relationship between healthcare professionals and users of such environments. They offer spaces for intervention and support, which allow the concomitant avoidance of the traditional models of monitoring and regulation.

“It would be naïve to assume that people, especially young women, can be swayed into anorexia through social networking sites like facebook. All this does is further pathologise those experiencing the condition. If nothing else, these sites emerge from the desperate need for understanding and social support that these people seek. The content of these pro-ana networks varies greatly, in many instances one can find support from others experiencing an eating disorder.

We should also remember that these same arguments for their removal were used in 2001, when Google was urged to remove Pro-Ana sites from its search engine. What difference did it make, other than ensure that these communities were now out of our view? The users of these environments are far more capable of finding other spaces than regulators are at shutting them down.

Eating disorders are incredibly complex, damaging and isolating conditions, but often remain grossly unreported by those experiencing it. Many of the pro-ana users may not have sought help or reported their condition and facebook may be the only context in which they might be exposed to possible support. .

These spaces are also often the only context in which sufferers will talk about so openly about their experiences. There are few, other social spaces in their everyday lives where people experiencing anorexia can do this, without some form of censorship. Pro-ana sites may therefore offer us a greater insight in terms of helping us to better understand the condition. Anorexia is after all, experienced not simply as an illness, but as an identity, in this sense it is not surprising that communities are formed around it.

The sharing of stories through such environments is an integral part of the condition and so to call for a removal is simplistic and, potentially, more dangerous than their existence. The other point is about whether organizations like Facebook should be empowered to decide what goes on within its space and this level of censorship control extends their role considerably and makes them vulnerable to any high profile media campaign, which has been launched in this case.”

The New story from Sky
Social Sites Push Pro-Ana Beliefs

Site users seek starving advice

Site users seek starving advice

There is nothing new about so-called pro-ana websites that offer ‘thinspiration’ and suggest ways of hiding your problem from friends and family, but the advent of sites like Facebook has allowed groups to be set up very quickly and easily.

On one Facebook group, a user asks: “How can I convince myself not to be hungry?! I want to be thinner, a lot thinner!!”

On the discussion wall of another a member is looking for a ‘thin pal’.

“Anyone up for being weight loss penpals, sharing tips, that sort of thing?” she writes.

But this is not about a pound here or there. It is about fasting, starving, disappearing.


One comment

  1. I was admitted to Cheadle Royal Hospital a few years ago, as i was suffering from anorexia it was so bad i lost the will to live. The staff at cheadle royal were brilliant and helped me so much if it weren’t for them i wouldn’t be here right now, or expecting my first child on christmas day.
    So i say that if the staff at Cheadle royal believe that it is for the best to remove pro-ana sites all together then i say we should get behind them all 100%.
    Eating disorders are a terrible thing to suffer from and if the media can help stamp out ‘glamourising’ celebrity weights that would also help.
    Thankyou Leanne Cawley

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