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Tumblr Says It's Banning Porn. This Will Not End Well.

Research shows a fifth of its users seek out sexual images. But the sharing site is now part of a massive media conglomerate.

TumblrTHOMAS WHITE/REUTERS/NewscomTumblr announced today that it will be banning all adult images from its site beginning in mid-December. That decision that will most certainly cause a mass exodus from the platform, which is heavily focused on sharing images and memes.

The freewheeling nature of Tumblr, a sort of alternative social media platform focused on short and simple multimedia posts, made it an ideal incubator for sharing pornographic images and video excerpts. In 2016, when researchers probed how much porn was on Tumblr, they found that less than 1 percent of the site's accounts produced pornographic imagery—but a full 22 percent of users were following these accounts in order to view it.

That study also noted that 28 percent of Tumblr users were being "unintentionally" exposed to adult images. That is to say, they didn't follow the primary pornographic producers, but they followed other accounts that do follow the producers and those consumers are able to share the adult images at the click of a button. Note, though, that users can voluntarily label their account as having adult content, which then adds a level of screening in searches.

In 2013 Tumblr was bought by Yahoo, which was then bought by Verizon; it's now under the umbrella of a subsidiary named Oath. In other words, Tumblr is now part of a massive telecommunications monolith. And the shit hit the fan around Thanksgiving, when Apple removed Tumblr's app from its store because some child-porn images slipped through its screening filter.

What does the failure of a screening filter have to do with the existence of sexual content involving consensual adults? Outwardly nothing, but clearly the company has decided it no longer wants to be known for the main thing it is known for. Starting on December 17, adult images (including illustrations) that depict nudity or sex are banned from Tumblr (with a few exceptions, for example, for nudity found in artworks or health-related posts).

Here's part of a somewhat contradictory message from Tumblr explaining the decision:

It is our continued, humble aspiration that Tumblr be a safe place for creative expression, self-discovery, and a deep sense of community. As Tumblr continues to grow and evolve, and our understanding of our impact on our world becomes clearer, we have a responsibility to consider that impact across different age groups, demographics, cultures, and mindsets. We spent considerable time weighing the pros and cons of expression in the community that includes adult content. In doing so, it became clear that without this content we have the opportunity to create a place where more people feel comfortable expressing themselves.

Bottom line: There are no shortage of sites on the internet that feature adult content. We will leave it to them and focus our efforts on creating the most welcoming environment possible for our community.

Tumblr wants to make people "more comfortable expressing themselves" by forbidding them from expressing themselves in certain ways that maybe make certain other people uncomfortable.

As a private company, of course, Tumblr can host and ban whatever it wants. But before accepting that these are fully private business decisions, recall that governments are constantly applying pressure on online social media sites to suppress pornographic content. U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May has made it abundantly clear she wants to force online media platforms to add costly screening tools to make certain that children cannot access pornography online.

So, yes, this is a private business decision, but it seems like a counterproductive and possibly self-destructive one that suggests more than what we see on the surface. Here's an interesting Twitter thread by Casey Fiesler about online fandom that shows that when other platforms have banned adult content, there was a mass exodus. Which is to say, fandom produces a lot of fantasy porn about the characters who the consumers lust after. A huge amount of it is on Tumblr right now. But probably not for much longer.

Below, a valuable explainer about the role of porn on the internet:

Photo Credit: THOMAS WHITE/REUTERS/Newscom

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  • DiegoF||

    Good Lord. Did Tumblr have anything except porn and purplehair SJWs? (And, yes--*shudder*--purplehair SJW porn?) I think there is a chance this might yet be reversed due to outrage--especially since, yes, the more sex-positive prog crowd seems to be mobilizing a SJW-angled response.

  • ||

    I think there is a chance this might yet be reversed due to outrage--especially since, yes, the more sex-positive prog crowd seems to be mobilizing a SJW-angled response.

    I disagree, or rather, I think any mobilization is the community reassuring itself after taking a standing 8 count. It might last another round or two, but it's not going to win the fight. I don't for a moment doubt that there are people in charge of Tumblr who would run it into the ground for the good of the community.

  • John||

    What does tumbler do that instagram doesn't? It kind of strikes me as the Myspace of photosharing. Am I missing something?

  • ||

    Admittedly there's lots of overlap, and originally Tumblr was a bit unique in its embrace of porn (which is why I think this is a bad decision), but there is/was more of a microblog aspect to it. Sorta halfway between what Twitter originally and Instagram/Pinterest/Snapchat are/originally were.

  • John||

    The only thing about allowing porn is that with porn comes a huge amount of spam and bots on a platform. I can see why someone would want to just ban it altogether.

    If this is a bad idea for their business, they will find out soon enough.

  • ||

    Spam and bots are just associated with porn, not causally related. Banning porn won't rid your platform of spam and bots and the effort you spend combating porn is wasted effort relative to spam and bots directly.

    This is definitely one of the more 'libertarian lifestyle' articles. Tumblr purging it's content of porn is very much akin to Playboy foregoing nudity in their magazines and Sports Illustrated's policy of inclusion with regard to swimsuit models, IMO. Not exactly a libertarian concern or problem to be solved but certainly nostalgic lamentations to be had.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    Who'd have thunk that society was gonna get more prudish over time? What's next, Hollywood banning violence in movies?

  • Earth Skeptic||

    Well, at least violence against women. And brown people. And the oppressed.

    And by violence, that would be anything that might induce discomfort.

  • DiegoF||

    Yes. The New Republic, back when it was a magazine, used to have a strict distinction between "front of the book" and "back of the book" (no, not porn) pieces. This is definitely "back of the book." It's got far more in common with Brickbats, or Loder's movie reviews, and so forth, than the public policy content proper. Reason has always had its share of this. But in the context of the rest of their coverage of social media, and even as John mentions the paucity of coverage of something like the Paris unrest, and some other aspects of their general track record, it does encourage some snorting from the commentariat.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    I think the blogging aspect was key. It's blogging with a social aspect of allowing an easy to use sharing model, a la Twitter.

    Getting acquired by Yahoo was the beginning of the end for it though. All of these changes have come from there best I can tell.

  • Overt||

    This is not a business deciding to ban porn for no reason. Apple has been cracking down on apps that have adult content. And so they were on Tumblr's case to eliminate porn. The kiddy-porn issue gave Apple the incentive to pull the app, which- like it or not- is basically the only way any site can grow its viewership.

    Here is the important part: Apple said that they will not allow Tumblr to relist their app unless they finally pull all porn, as Apple has been asking for the past year.

    This move was done to get the app back on the Apple App Store, plain and simple. Yes, it will fuck with a good fifth of their users. But the transition of people from desktop to mobile means that they would lose far more than that if they are essentially banned from iOS devices.

  • Kevin Smith||

    Apple is currently being sued based on the fact that the App Store is the only way to install apps on the iPhone, if the SCOTUS rules against Apple then they will have to allow 3rd party stores and/or sideloading of apps (like Android) so that could be Tumblr's way back on the platform

  • Glen 69||

    As much as I hate to say this banning porn is just the start. When censorship starts it opens the door for further exploitation. What if Crapple takes tumblr out of it's store because it has "hate speech"? Little by little Tumblr will become just another progressive bubble for offended people.

  • John||

    Sex is just one part of life. I don't think having porn is necessary to have a free and rewarding internet platform. It is not like there are not plenty of other outlets for porn on the internet. If Tumbler wants its platform to not include porn, that is not only their right but might be the right decision for them depending on what their vision of their site is.

    Leave it to reason to be more upset about one platform banning porn than multiple platforms banning anyone to the right Joseph Stalin.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    Porn is better than nazis, John.

  • Tony||

    The internet without porn is like a mobius strip of nothingness. It would be the thing only nerds do, except what do nerds want to do? Porn.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    mobius strip of nothingness

    Isn't that your favorite brand of underwear? That's right, everyone, picture Tony wearing a Mobius Strip Of Nothingness.

  • Tony||

    I'm a CK boxer briefs guy if you must know, but I have a friend who runs a kinky underwear shop who should be informed of this idea.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    This sounds like some nerdier version of a chastity belt, as if S&M folks weren't already nerdy enough.

  • BlueStarDragon||

    "This sounds like some nerdier version of a chastity belt, as if S&M folks weren't already nerdy enough"

    Your are confusing swingers with nerds.

  • Qsl||

    I forget the exact details of the study (it was from the 90s), but it made a strong correlation between freedom and access to pornography. In fact, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, pornography was among (if not the) the highest imported items.

    While Tumblr taking this action is fairly benign, in the wider context of how porn is treated, it serves as pretty good barometer of relative freedom.

  • Quo Usque Tandem||

    It is our continued, humble aspiration that Tumblr be a SAFE PLACE..."

    Well, there you go.

  • John||

    http://www.theguardian.com/wor.....ets-jaunes

    meanwhile in Paris, people are rioting for actual freedom. I guess reason doesn't see much of a Libertarian angle there or something.

  • Sevo||

    John, forgive my skepticism. Every time a frog is asked about the 'freedom' he desires, it seems to come from someone else's wallet.

  • John||

    Look it up yourself. They are revolting over radar cameras and traffic fines and a huge increase in the gas tax. It is a no shit revolt against the nanny state. You can tell that and that it is not a revolt for more socialism because the government is going balls to the wall to lock them up and stop this rather than rolling over and giving them what they want like they do whenever socialists riot

  • Calidissident||

    I came across this tweet earlier today that claims that the protesters are also calling for "lower retirement age, higher minimum wage, higher taxes on high income, banning outsourcing, a maximum wage."

    https://tinyurl.com/yd4jyelj

    This NPR article backs up the minimum wage and taxes on the wealthy claims, along with Macron loosening France's labor laws.

    "Along with his early reforms to loosen labor laws and slash France's famous wealth tax, the fuel tax reinforces protesters' image of him as a president of the rich."

    "What do the protesters want?

    Their initial demand was to repeal the green tax on diesel. Now, others want the current minimum wage (about $1,350 per month after taxes) to be raised."

    https://tinyurl.com/y8rg6jzt

  • Earth Skeptic||

    Strikes and rioting in France is just the national sport.

  • Sevo||

    "Their initial demand was to repeal the green tax on diesel. Now, others want the current minimum wage (about $1,350 per month after taxes) to be raised."

    This could be sort of piling on, the way legitimate anti-war protests ended up with proggy scum pushing everything from 'free' medical care to gov't-provided housing.

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    For once it looks like it isn't just violent Muslims rioting in France.

  • Juice||

    Are you ok with rioting now?

    http://time.com/5469052/france.....ne-statue/

  • John||

    Rioting like anything else is a question of circumstances. Are you not okay with people rebelling against oppression? Is this enough oppression to justify rioting? I think it probably is. But that is a matter of opinion and certainly up for debate. But the fact that they are rioting does not necessarily make them wrong. It just depends.

  • Hank Phillips||

    To "bitte-bitte" Vichy Frogs, a "right" is the thing described in droit du seigneur! Schadenfreude in their case is ordinary karma.

  • Uncle Jay||

    Pornography should not be allowed for the masses.
    It produces degenerates who think more about sex instead of the holy writings of Saint Karl Marx.
    We can have a sex free society but never a Marx free society if we are to achieve our ultimate goal of a totalitarian socialist slave state.
    Now put your dicks back in your pants.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    Is there any Marx porn out there? Asking for a friend.

  • Uncle Jay||

    There is the porn movie where Adam Smith sodomizes Karl Marx, but that's about it.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Yes. Go to Paheal.

  • Wanderer||

    Rule 34 applies

  • Sevo||

    They know what it is when the see it.

  • John||

    Look Sevo, without Tumbler there could be a real dearth of porn available on the internet.

  • Tony||

    Drats.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    You don't seem like a porn type to me. But I agree.

  • SIV||

    Hmmm 1960s Sears catalogue lingerie section meets tumblr's definition of porn. Etsy historical costume seamstresses too. Bridal lingerie websites, 1950s ladies magazine lbra and girdle ads, Life Magazine.It's all pr0n to Verizon.

  • SIV||

    I just reblogged about 50 of my posts and reblogs flagged as sensitive adult content to be removed if you want some idea of what they're going to censor. I think one image may have originated from a softcore porno mag but the models are fully clothed. I don't follow any of what I'd call "porn" tumblrs but more than half of them are now. Any tumblr posting images from fashion, film, or advertising is going to have flagged images

  • SIV||

    I can't access most of my own content if I'm not logged in. They've flagged nearly everything.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Huh, I don't spend a lot of time on Tumblr, but from my limited experience, on those rare occasions my browser does swing over to the site, about 90% of what I do see is... well, porn.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Apple removed Tumblr's app from its store

    In 15 years when all this shakes out, it's going to be interesting reading the postmortems on all the tech giants banning each other from their platforms...

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    But before accepting that these are fully private business decisions, recall that governments are constantly applying pressure on online social media sites to suppress pornographic content.

    Thank you Scott, for adding this little addendum-- an incredibly important addendum. Because when Angela Merkel whispers sweet nothings into Zuckerberg's ear at state functions, attempting to goad him into action, I stop giving as many shits that they're private companies.

  • Hank Phillips||

    The New, Converted and Reborn Tatsuya Ishida must be toasting this victory of coercion with a mug of Anthony Comstock spring water--boiled to purity with burning books!

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Jesus. Name dropping Tats? That's a pretty damn obscure reference. Good job.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Yes, this will be interesting indeed.

  • Hank Phillips||

    The Kleptocracy must be pretty rattled by that 328% increase to 4 million libertarian votes last presidential election. As support for banning electricity withers, support for bringing back the Comstock laws is gaining steam.

  • Illocust||

    Yeah, Tumblr basically became synomous with fandom because people could put fanfiction, fanart, gifs, reviews, and metas all on the same platform side by side. Killing off the NSFW though will kill two out of those five things that make up a fandom, and the creators of the other three will follow to where ever the fanartist and fanfiction writers decide to set up shop next.

  • buybuydandavis||

    "Oh noes! Where will I find adult content on the internet now?"

  • Liberty Lover||

    The Internet traffic equation has two sides, supply and demand. Supply is easy to gauge. Google "sex" and we come up with 214 million pages–an impressive number, but as of September 20, 2005, Google had cataloged 8.2 billion pages.

    I don't think Tumblr will be missed.

  • Wise Old Fool||

    You do realize that 112 million of those pages are on tumblr don't you ?

  • jdgalt1||

    Tumblr isn't the only Internet forum that is now part of a multinational behemoth. Eight huge firms control nearly all of the world's communications among them, including not only Internet sites but Internet service providers as well as TV, radio, cable and satellite services, books and magazines, movies and recorded music.

    As Reason continues to produce stories urging that these behemoths be left alone to control their forums as they like because they are private property, while totally ignoring these elephants in the room, Reason becomes less relevant and less useful. By the time the giants get around to shutting down Reason, like Niemoller there will be nobody left with the ability to speak for Reason.

  • Liberty Lover||

    Tumblr will go broke and be shut down in months. Other than porn in offers nothing.

  • Wise Old Fool||

    I give it less than a month. Tumblr's only saving grace is porn.

  • darkflame||

    wellllll shit. Guess I have to go find a new favorite porn site now. Seriously, the attraction of its porn was the amount of specialized stuff you couldn't find anywhere else without going to some shady sites. There's also some artists that exclusively use tumblr. What a way to start a day.

  • PaulTheBeav||

    Instead of begging us for money every year, Reason should fill this new market gap and start a porn sharing subsidiary. You will never want for money again!

  • darkflame||

    Side bonus, it would attract more people to the libertarianism

  • Liberty Lover||

    I like the idea. Reason-able porn!

  • John Thacker||

    The US is going to lose its tech advantage in porn to Japanese sites like pixiv.

  • Rock Lobster||

    Freedom is a wonderful thing as long as it is tightly controlled.

  • Wise Old Fool||

    50% of tumblr's traffic is porn the other 50% of the traffic is furry/non-cis cryathons and cis-hate brigades.

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