Everyone’s favourite microblogging site is under threat and could soon join the likes Myspace and Bebo in the social media graveyard. That is, if users of Tumblr decide to call it quits and jump ship to another social platform following a recent announcement from its staff. Tumblr’s new policy is coming into effect on December 17th, and will result in the deletion of any posts portraying “real-life human genitals or female-presenting nipples.”
Tumblr’s staff have said that this is in order to make the site “a better, more positive” place, but the reaction from its users to this announcement has been swift and mostly negative. But what led one of the internet’s most liberal sites to take such a stern stance on explicit content?
The change in policy is likely due to recent events, in which the platform failed to screen out some child pornography that was found in an audit. This resulted in Tumblr being removed from the App Store. Reading this might make you wonder why there’s such a resistance to the policy considering it seems to be for the greater good of the site. But while Tumblr’s intentions are good, many users feel that they are seriously flawed.
So what are the problems? And how can all this lead to the ‘Death of Tumblr?’
Alienating Sex Workers
Considering Tumblr has always been known as a place where users can view sex-positive images and videos, this policy has felt like a sucker punch for workers and creators of this type of content. They argue that Tumblr is ‘punishing consenting, adult sex workers who rely on platforms like Tumblr for their livelihood and safety.’
Thanks to Tumblr banning porn, a massive sex-positive community has just been decimated. Sex workers, who are already under attack, have just lost one of the last platforms available to them. If you care even a little about freedom of sexual expression, this should infuriate you.
— Ej Dickson (@ejdickson) December 3, 2018
Sex workers have used Tumblr for community support and gathering resources for staying safe, as well as screening clients who could be potentially dangerous. Taking this away, as well as the closing down of other likeminded sites leaves one less safe space for these men and women to work in. And in a cruel, ironic twist of fate, the ban comes into place on December the 17th, which is also the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers…
Fandoms & LGBTQ Under Attack
Actual porn only has a small presence on Tumblr compared with the multiple fandoms and artists on the site, who post fictional and nonfictional content about various TV shows, video games or films.
Tumblr is a space that they use to express their freedom and creativity in these fandoms, a place that they might not be able to replicate elsewhere. Thousands of works of art, fiction and videos have been created and posted on the site, with some users making a small income from selling their drawings through their Tumblr page. Many of these creations will be lost when the new policy comes into effect on December 17th. It feels even more personal when you consider that the artists who draw explicit artwork on Tumblr are often women creating for other women. These hard-working people are being entirely abandoned by Tumblr, and it’s difficult to see why they wouldn’t all just switch over onto to Twitter now.
The policy will also have another impact on the LGBTQ community, as discussed by people who used the site to discover who they are. LGBTQ users have used Tumblr to express themselves and be open about their sexuality or identity; something they never felt they could do on popular platforms like Facebook or Twitter. This journey of self-discovery also included some NSFW content, but many have credited the site for helping them gain confidence to come out in real life. The community and content that many LGBTQ users will have built and consumed will no longer be available for future generations come December 17th.
The System Is Broken
ping pong: too horny pic.twitter.com/0VAmcgIOgs
— lexxy ✨⚔️💕 ECCC BB-13 (@Lexxercise) December 3, 2018
Yes, you read correctly, apparently ping pong is too sexualized for Tumblr. Of course, anyone who reads this blog can tell that there is no NSFW content in the above image, and you’d surely think the Tumblr staff would notice too? This is one of the major problems that the new policy update is causing. Tumblr is using an auto-detecting algorithm to flag what it deems as ‘explicit content,’ a bot of sorts, that is searching through every single post on the site and deeming whether it’s acceptable or not. As you can see from above and these few posts below, it’s extremely flawed.
— KatOtter (@DarnThatKat) December 4, 2018
— Emily | Animator & Illustrator (@EDAnimation) December 4, 2018
— Ivoroon🦉 (@Ivoroon) December 4, 2018
Not even Bake Off is safe! And while users can click on these flagged posts and appeal, this is going to be very time-consuming as some accounts have had over 2,000 deemed as NSFW by the algorithm.
Only by scrolling through my posts in the dashboard, all 2,072 of them. Flagged posts have an orange bar at the top, with a button you can click to appeal the flagging. pic.twitter.com/cLNizG0kWt
— John Overholt (@john_overholt) December 5, 2018
It’s easy to see how this is angering users when many of these posts would be deemed completely fine if they were being checked over by a pair of human eyes and not a bot. Likewise, one of the most frustrating issues is that the algorithm is flagging up posts like these, but not extremist content. Racist and white supremacist posts, including Nazi propaganda, are still easily found on the site, despite Tumblr’s stance against ‘hate speech.’
Tumblr be banning nudity but not… nazis? pic.twitter.com/6f7a3Atiqh
— 🧛🏻♀️Nicole Maines🧛🏻♀️ (@NicoleAMaines) December 3, 2018
things tumblr could have done:
– banned nazis
– banned cp creators
– banned porn bots
– enforced safe mode
things tumblr did:
– banned all nsfw content, hurting sex workers and artists for publicities sake
— bird 🧡 semi ia (@lunarkiddo) December 4, 2018
Tumblr being able to just ban all porn on their platform is fascinating because they show just how easily they could also choose to ban, for instance, Nazis.
— Laurie Charles (@TheStuffOfMemes) December 3, 2018
Yes, Nazis can continue to post swastikas and we can belittle one another and shout abuse, as long as there’s ‘no female-presenting nipples’ visible. The whole idea is absurd, but what’s worrying is that other sites such as Facebook, and even Twitter, are considering using algorithms like Tumblr’s to filter out inappropriate content.
So will December 17th be remembered as the day Tumblr died? It seems likely. Even if they were to back-pedal now, the damage is done. Thousands have already flocked onto Twitter or are in search of new sites to replace the platform. Content creators know that at any given moment their artwork and creations could be deemed explicit and removed. Users have learned that their desire to shape their own communities and manage their own content doesn’t matter to Tumblr.