A bipartisan group of Italian MPs has recently put forward a bill proposing jail time and hefty fines for people encouraging eating disorders on the web. A primary target of the new measures are the so-called “pro-ana” and “pro-mia” websites.
The very premises of the proposed law are flawed, and it is based on very thin evidence. With a multidisciplinary team of researchers from French and British Universities, I have studied these websites since 2010 (ANAMIA project). Our results suggest that the the bill, if approved, would be ineffective (websites migrate) and harmful (making these communities more isolate and difficult to reach by health practitioners).
This is not only an Italian affair, but the sign of a more general concern. In the past, UK and France have unsuccesfully endeavoured to ban or restrict these sites. At stake is our societies’ approach to mental illness and whether criminalizing it is the right response.
Antonio A. Casilli and myself have written a story on this topic on Medium, entitled An open letter to the Italian Parliament, against the criminalization of “pro-ana” websites. A dangerous new law could turn into a public health disaster. Our point is that such laws do not create a suitable environment for betterment and well-being of individuals living with eating disorders. The results of recent studies allow better understanding of these online communities.
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