Business of Fashion

ThinsPo: The hunger pins

Understanding TOU Through Thinspiration

Thinspo photo
Fashion blogs get a lot of media attention but as of late “thinspiration” or “thinspo” blogs have been gaining negative attention. These “pro-ana” blogs promote anorexia through pictures of extremely thin females and tips to help avoid eating.

Should operating ThinsPo sites be considered a public harm, punishable by law?

Here are some unhealthy “tips” listed on thinspo blogs:

  • If you take a pure cold bath for 15-30 min and lower your body temp, your body burns 200 cals for every degree it has to raise itself to reach a normal body temperature.
  • Instead of buying food, buy yourself flowers. Food is depressing, but flowers make you happy.
  • Unless you’re 100% positive that your friends or boyfriend/girlfriend will understand or help, DON’T TELL THEM.
  • Drink one glass of water every hour. It will make you feel full.
  • Wear a rubber band around your wrist. Snap it when you want to eat.
  • Have 6 small meals a day. Take 2 apples, and split them so you can make 6 meals out of them. 

Actions taken against thinspiration

Just as websites can get into trouble for contributory intellectual property infringement (think Napster), tort claims can arise by someone alleging damages for a a harm. So, website owners are wise to disclaim responsibilities and also diminish the possibility of having a legal duty to the users. This is attained through terms of use.

It is my understanding that AOL was the first to take action by prohibiting material that promotes physical harm to oneself or others. Yahoo followed by removing 115 pro-ana sites because the sites violated Yahoo’s terms of service. You can learn more about thinspiration in the Huffington Post article here.

Pinterest’s terms of service were recently changed to prohibit material 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.” Previously, Pinterest only had the condition that they did not allow nudity or hateful content.

Tumblr responded to its large and ever-growing ThinsPro-related blogs by banning blogs it considered self-harming. You can read Tumblr’s new policy on its website (here). This new policy includes showing a PSA to people who search for pro self-harm related blog terms.

What are Terms of Use or Terms of Service?

Terms of use (TOU) or service are the terms and conditions website users attest to abide by in order to use or retain the given website’s services. They are often found on a link at a website’s footer. Some websites may require users to confirm a read of its terms.

TOU usually shift liability to the user and ban activity that could get the website provider into legal trouble. Here is where the provider may reserve the right to limit a user’s access or terminate the user’s account due to TOU violations.

If drafted correctly, terms of use will be upheld by U.S. Courts. To make this a stronger possibility, your terms should include a severability clause (e.g., If any provision of these terms of service is deemed invalid by a court of competent jurisdiction, the invalidity of such provision shall not affect the validity of the remaining provisions of these terms of service, which shall remain in full force and effect).

What to include in Terms of use/Terms of Service

These terms are quite straight forward to draft; I have drafted a few for different clients I had in a business law clinic. There are probably tons of templates online but the key is to make sure you are thinking of the services or discussion platforms you provide to users of your website. Amongst other things you want to explain 1. who owns your website, 2. description of your service, 3. who the terms apply to, e.g. everyone who accesses your site, registered users, or anonymous commenters, 4. age restrictions, 5. information on third-party sites, 6. account termination policies, 7. website modification policy, 8. limitation of liability, and 9. a warranty disclaimer.

Also, due to case law, your warranty and limitation of liability sections must be under different headings. They must also be displayed in CAPS to be found to properly alert your reader.

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