Feb 13, 2019

Tumblr Bans Porn

Reading time: 3 minutes

If you’ve been paying attention to the news in the past couple of weeks, you may have heard that micro-blogging site, Tumblr, has decided to ban all so-called Not Safe For Work content.  The announcement came on December 3rd and officially took effect on the 17th. The ban specifically targets all images and videos depicting sex acts, as well as “real-life” human genitalia and "female-presenting" nipples.  Exceptions to the nipple ban are allowed for images depicting childbirth, breastfeeding, mastectomies and gender reassignment surgery and illustrated nudity if it’s deemed “political” and/or “newsworthy.” Given Tumblr’s history as one of the few social media platforms to stand against self-censorship, this is a huge shift in their business model.   

Tumblr launched in February 2005. The site quickly took off in large part because it provided a space for the progressive community to openly discuss body image, sexuality, gender identity and traditionally taboo topics, like sex work.  Tumblr further benefited when competing blog site, LiveJournal, relocated to Russia, where government censors ban any pro-LGBT material. Many queer people and their allies left LiveJournal for Tumblr, specifically because it gave users free reign to post whatever they wanted.  However, instead of learning from LiveJournal’s mistakes and appreciating the desire for a less censored platform, Tumblr’s new policies erase its primary distinction from competitors like Instagram and Facebook. To many, this move feels like a personal betrayal of what Tumblr’s previously loyal base.     

While obviously this affects members of the adult entertainment community, including us at coupons.xxx, the NSFW ban isn’t limited to what would traditionally be considered “porn.”   Art photographer and California native, Michael Stokes, has been publishing coffee table books featuring the naked male form since 2012. He is best known for a controversial photo of war veteran and amputee Alex Minsky, fully nude.  In the photo, Minsky is shot from the side, and is covering his genitalia with an athletic cup. The photo was blocked from Facebook in 2013 because, they claim, it violated their ever-vague “community standards.” Following Tumblr’s announcement, Stokes penned an article for The Advocate where he laments the decision made by Tumblr’s most recent parent company, media mega giant, Verizon Communications. He says, “Verizon acquiring and sanitizing Tumblr is just another example of a large corporation manipulating social media to serve its own purposes... Social media is unwittingly appealing to the lowest denominator; general standards that will least offend a theoretical global society. This is not only a dumbing down of America, but the creation of a global civilization in shades of beige.”  

This dystopian image of Verizon’s corporate takeover becomes even more disturbing when your consider that Tumblr and Verizon had, up until the takeover, been diametrically opposed in one of modern media’s most important political battles. Tumblr has always been one of the strongest voices for Net Neutrality while Verizon constantly pushes for preferential access.  In buying Tumblr, Verizon isn’t just limiting the diversity of social media by sanitizing it, they are silencing a major political adversary and effectively disbanding the community that flourished there.

Of course, there is another side to this story.  Verizon didn’t simply decide out of the blue that it wanted to destroy Tumblr as we know it out political Malice. Tumblr’s anything-goes attitude regarding its content has always been the subject of controversy.  Unfortunately, some seriously troubling blogs were allowed to fester under its domain. Specifically, the site has repeatedly been called out for harboring both child pornography and literal nazis. The same progressives that flocked to Tumblr for its relaxed content moderation began pushing the site to address its “nazi problem.”  Tumblr users were also the first to raise the alarm when child pornography was found slipping past the filters. In response, Apple decided to remove Tumblr from its App Store as of November. It’s pretty clear that that the NSFW ban, announced just weeks later, was an attempt to address these concerns. However, most argue that the NSFW ban is not the answer.  There are plenty of ways to better filter child porn without driving away their user base and, of course, the ban does nothing to address the nazi problem.

After the announcement, the internet erupted in outrage.  Twitter was flooded with comments like “RIP Tumblr” and “Who came up with that idea?” One of  my favorite Tweets came from Keith Calder who claims, “tumblr getting rid of ‘adult content’ is like Spotify getting rid of music.” It wasn’t just social media decrying the news.  Business insider claims Tumblr’s users are abandoning the platform in droves. Forbes claims the move “comes at great cost to the community and little gain to the company's long-term prospects” in an article titled “Tumblocalypse.”  Even Collegehumor put out a sketch mocking the media company for its poor understanding of its own platform.

With the internet seemingly united against the NSFW ban, it’s unclear how Tumblr’s new parent company will respond.  However, other media companies have already swooped in to fill the void. New sites like Timbr, TumblrX and Mojo Fire have been hastily constructed to host Tumblr refugees. Other existing communities like Twitter, Reddit and 4Chan can expect to absorb much of the Tumblr exodus, however these platforms aren’t as appealing Tumblr’s to sex positive progressives, as they are closely associated with Donald Trump, nazis and incels.  There are some smaller, independents sites like Dreamwidth Studios or Arts Erotica, and of course, coupons.xxx has plenty of artful adult content, with many sites even offer various interactive social media features. While this is clearly a disruption to the Tumblr community, perhaps their users will find that they are better served elsewhere, on platforms that will truly appreciate their work.