Proposed Italian Law Targeting Pro-Ana Sites Stirs Controversy

By Paul Gaita 08/15/14

Despite the often tragic consequences of young girls visiting pro-ana sites, opponents say criminalizing them causes more harm than good.

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A bill by Italian lawmakers that would fine or even jail operators of websites that promote anorexia or bulimia has spurred debate and even protest in the country’s media and among the eating disorder support community.

The national bipartisan legislation, which was proposed in June, is an addition to an existing law that makes it a crime to instigate suicide; the new clause specifically targets “pro-ana” and “pro-mia” web sites that provide “thinspiration” to individuals struggling with eating disorders in the form of dieting tips and photographs of their weight loss. The sites, which proliferate throughout the United States and other countries, are considered dangerous by suggesting that anorexia and bulimia are positive methods of weight and body image control.

If approved, site creators could face fines between 10,000 and 100,000 euros and a possible jail sentence of up to two years. Fines would double if the site is found to have impacted a visitor under the age of 14 years.

The negative impact of pro-ana sites is under scrutiny in Europe after the recent death of 15-year-old UK resident Eleanor Holmes, who committed suicide after visiting such sites. But the proposed legislation has come under fire from critics who believe that criminalizing these sites would do more harm to their intended audiences than actual good.

An opinion piece written by author Chiara Lalli asked (in Italian, as translated), “How can you think of putting in jail the authors of blogs, websites, Facebook pages, who are often just the [same] girls who suffer from anorexia?” In another essay from July, journalist Angela Azzaro noted, “To say that there is a manager [of a site] who instigates and should go to jail is like claiming that if the conflict is with the mother, you have to put the parent behind bars.”

The Italian law is not the first to attempt to tackle the pro-ana site issue: legislation was initiated in France, the U.K., Australia, and the Netherlands, but none were passed into law. However, some global social media sites, like Facebook and Tumblr, have regulations in place to contend with such pages.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.