DMOZ and web sites promoting anorexia and self-injury

I have written previously about the AOL-owned directory known as DMOZ or ODP (Open Directory Project) endorsing and promoting via listings in their directory sites that are pro-pedophilia and/or provide forums and chat rooms where child molesters can congregate to rationalize and justify their sexual preferences (see AOL-owned DMOZ Directory promotes child pornography [February 14, 2006] and DMOZ still listing pro-pedophilia sites [April 15, 2006]).

Now, I come across a recent publication in the APA journal Developmental Psychology warning of the dangers of the proliferation of web sites promoting self-injury, anorexia, and other self-destructive behaviors among young people:

The study’s three authors, all from Cornell University, point out that although internet contacts “clearly provide essential social support for otherwise isolated adolescents, they may also normalize and encourage self-injurious behavior.”

The study’s lead author, Janis Whitlock, explained in an interview that the marginalized adolescents who hurt themselves often are the types who are drawn to anonymous social contacts provided by internet bulletin boards and chat rooms.

And in the world of self-injury, the number of those virtual communities has grown prodigiously over the past decade, according to Whitlock’s research. The first was established in 1998. Currently, 406 exist.

It isn’t clear how much can be done to prevent the growth of sites such as these but it would seem to me that at least some pressure could be applied to web hosting services to take down the sites when they are made aware of them and to search engines and directories such as DMOZ to cease promoting them by listing such sites in their indices and making them easier to find. I have argued previously that if webmasters, directory owners, and search engines fail to demonstrate social and moral responsibility in the choices they make they may well find that they have lost the choice to make those decisions themselves, relinquishing them to international police forces and the courts.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone by now to learn that a quick search in the DMOZ directory locates this category – Top: Society: Issues: Health: Body Image: Pro-Anorexia. What one finds there are several listings for exactly the sorts of sites Whitlock is warning about:

Ana’s Underground Grotto – Background information about anorexia and food, tips and tricks, quotes, links, pictures, essays, and poetry. Beautiful PerfectionThinspiration, tips, tricks, poetry, pictures, bracelets, forum, and chat.
Cerulean ButterflyTips, tricks, thinspiration, resources and support for anyone suffering from an eating disorder.
Chaotic SerenityPro-anorexia basics, sections on food, exercise and media, link list, and chat room.
Life with Ana – Skin Deep – Offers personal story, tips, tricks, fasting information, and chat room.
LiveJournal: Happy Anorexic – Community message board for anorexic or bulimic people.
LiveJournal: Pro_Anorexia – Community message board for pro-ed people.
LiveJournal: Proanorexia – Community message board for people with eating disorders.
LiveJournal: Thinspiring – Community message board for thinspiration such as pictures, poems or stories.
Mia Is A Faithful Friend – Information and links about anorexia and bulimia. Thinspirational photos, tricks and quotes, nutrition and exercise, and chat.
Pro Ana Suicide Society – Community message board covering various topics ranging from eating disorders (male and female) to music and other interests (requires registration).
The Red Bracelet ProjectThinspiration gallery, recipes, excercise programs, and information on different eating disorders.
The Thin FilesA listing of pro-ana sites.
Words Won’t Bring Me Down – Personal story, daily food journal, tips and tricks, calories in foods, and thinspirational photos.

Those opposed to restrictions on the content of such websites use the red herring of “free speech”, apparently not understanding that society has long recognized that one person’s rights end where they endanger the rights or well-being of another. Supporters of DMOZ in particular have tried to argue that they are not promoting such sites, merely indexing them, and that too is nonsense: A directory of the size and influence of DMOZ has a responsibility to act responsibly and listing sites like these is not by any stretch of the imagination a socially or morally responsible act.

ODP, DMOZ, AOL, anorexia, eating disorder, self-injury

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