Tumblr users like to joke that it’s a hell-site but recently that sentiment seems to be truer than ever. Reportedly, users told the Tumblr staff that their bot system meant to filter out explicit adult content was glitchy and inefficient. The app got deleted from the App Store for issues involving explicit child content. Following this, Tumblr announced they would be banning all adult content starting December 17.
In their statement, they addressed the problems that led to the app being removed from the App Store and promised they are working hard to include “industry-standard machine monitoring, a growing team of human moderators, and user tools that make it easy to report abuse”.
They said their reason for doing this is to make Tumblr “a safe place for creative expression, self-discovery, and a deep sense of community” and explicit content just doesn’t fit into their vision of what Tumblr should be.
So, what exactly is changing? The way the CEO talks about the new policies makes it seem like the system will just get rid of really inappropriate, explicit content and the site will still be a free space for people to “speak freely about topics like art, sex positivity, your relationships, your sexuality, and your personal journey”. But a lot of users are worried this will have deeper implications and change the culture of the site. It will also be harmful to a lot of users and large communities.
When asked about the change to the Tumblr policy Janelle Barnett, a sophomore at Leesville and an avid Tumblr user, expressed her disapproval of the new policy change.
“At first, I found this hilarious because nothing would be done… and nothing did happen. After the seventeenth, all the bots started tagging things as SFW and nothing changed. It hurt itself in confusion because it flagged its own example of good content… as it violated the guidelines because it had museum art but it had like, a nip slip and it just tagged itself”, said Barnett.
Banning explicit content will affect entire communities and rip away platforms from certain users. Artists, furries, and sex-positive blogs are some of the groups that are most likely to be heavily affected by the new guidelines. The LGBTQ+ community is also likely to be affected because for some reason that kind of content is typically more likely to be flagged as explicit, even material that isn’t inherently sexual.
In their statement, the Tumblr staff assure they will give users a heads up to tell them what content is no longer allowed, and they have a system to “appeal or preserve [users] content outside the community if they so choose”.
Even for users who don’t post NSFW content, this new policy has major implications for the future of the site. Tumblr has always been relatively uncensored and authentic compared to other social media sites. Tumblr users have been able to post just about whatever they want and that has allowed for many communities to grow on the platform; implementing a censorship system will scare off Tumblr users who might not even be affected by the new rules per say. Tumblr’s appeal has been how uncensored the community is and taking that away will make users who appreciated that feeling to leave.
“I just think Tumblr is going to hurt itself because its algorithm is just ignoring things that are tagged as SFW,” said Barnett. Apparently tagging things as SFW (safe for work) or NSFW (not safe for work) influences what posts the system filters despite the facts that NSFW content can be anything from inappropriate language to nudity.
Another main concern is that their bot system meant to filter inappropriate content is incredibly flawed. People have been complaining about their content that is in no way explicit is being flagged for no reason. It’s also hard for bots to differentiate between adult content and nudity that has political or artistic value, which they said they will still allow. The website staff even admit that the system is incredibly flawed and that their automated systems are not perfect.
The way they decided to deal with the issue felt incredibly lazy and showed little regard towards the users it would affect. This is a problem that has been going on for years on the site, but it was only when their app got removed from the App Store that they decided it was time to do more to fix it. Users have also been pointing out how they are banning adult content but Nazis and pedophiles, people who create an unsafe space for minors, are still rampant on the site.
“They should get rid of the Nazi stuff. Like if your first issue is pornography, not all the neo-Nazis and the pedophiles, I don’t think you have your priorities straight. I get that [Tumblr is] a blogging website first but come on… I just feel like it really hurt the LGBT community a lot, also furries”, said Barnett.
Community members have been posting under tags like #tumblrban, #tumblrpurge, and #tumblrisdead to express their anger. There has also been a lot of talk of people hoping Verizon, Tumblr’s owners, realize that they’re going to lose popularity and sell to more reasonable buyers.
Tumblr users have been turned off by the platform’s change, and the site has started to lose a lot of business to other social media sites. Already users have been moving to other sites like Twitter, Archive of Our Own and Pillowfort as alternatives. This isn’t ideal for most users because they could lose a majority of their followers in the shift and have to build up their accounts from scratch on a new site.
It’s understandable the goal Tumblr expressed of creating a safe website but if that safety comes at the cost of increased censorship, then Tumblr will lose its appeal to its users. The way the situation was poorly handled is what drove away a lot of users who no longer trusted the site or felt they had a place there. It may be melodramatic and premature to claim that Tumblr is dead just yet but, considering the log off protests and the fact that many creators have already started moving away, definitely makes Tumblr’s future look grim. They lost large demographics of people due to their poor decision to implement the new policies and this is what will most likely bring about the end of Tumblr.