Why Tumblr Banning Adult Content Is a Serious Problem

For many of us, Tumblr was the place that we first got to discover and share our fandoms, art, and identities. Though some of us may have migrated to other platforms, the site has thrived as a place for communities to come together and explore. Sadly, today Tumblr announced that they would be banning adult content from the platform, which would eradicate the majority of what people still visit it for.

Over the 11 years since it was founded, Tumblr has become a place synonymous with porn, NSFW fan art, erotic fanfic, and a whole bunch of other adult material. Until recently, that was essentially policed by the platform’s use of Safe Mode, which enabled users to use search filters to avoid the NSFW side of the site. The site played a large part in changing perceptions of what was attractive and acceptable in porn and nude photoshoots, making it a vibrant and vital space for body positivity.A study from 2017 reported that almost three quarters of Tumblr users are women. “Tumblr is used predominantly by young females […] Based on a statistics over 1.7M Tumblr users who self-reported their demographic information, we estimate that the average user age is 26 and 72% of the users are female.” This means that the platform also created a space for porn to find an audience beyond than the usual demographics of straight men.

Over the years, Tumblr became a thriving space for sex workers. The purge announced on Monday seems to actively target that community, along with artists who draw pornographic fan art. It’s also important to note that in the last Tumblr purge, a lot of LGBTQ blogs were banned after being deemed NSFW. So though Tumblr will likely state that the reason for this was their recent removal from Apple’s App Store due to the site hosting child exploitation imagery, the decision appears to be coming from a much more insidious place that specifically affects the marginalized communities who have kept Tumblr afloat.

According to the questionably worded statement on Monday, the site will now ban what it calls “adult content,” which “primarily includes photos, videos, or GIFs that show real-life human genitals or female-presenting nipples, and any content—including photos, videos, GIFs and illustrations—that depicts sex acts.” Though certain imagery is banned, written erotica will still be allowed along with a selection of “approved” nudity that isn’t directly linked to sex.The whole thing is incredibly puritanical and strange. The site will utilize algorithms to work out who it thinks is posting explicit content and will alert users via email, if Tumblr decides that your page breaks the rules then it will be set to a private mode, meaning that only you can view it, and posts cannot be shared or reblogged. The new rules go into force on December 17, which happens to coincide with International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers.

It’s a depressing move from the company, which is now owned and overseen by Verizon’s Oath Inc., an umbrella company that is in control of all of the corporation’s digital content including AOL and the Yahoo, who bought Tumblr a few years ago. It’s another sad day for the internet in the wake of the violent FOSTA-SESTA act, which has already impacted users of online spaces like Craigslist’s personals and Backpage, and another blow in an era when more and more communities are under threat and losing their agency in general. Going forward we hope that there will be other sites to fill the void that Tumblr will be leaving, and that the wider internet continues to harbor and create spaces for underrepresented and marginalized groups.

Image: Tumblr

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