Tumblr Shoots Self in Genitalia, Announces Sitewide Ban on Porn

Sarah Goodridge's 1828 miniature painting, 'Beauty Revealed,' depicting a woman's breasts, enclosed in its simple wooden frame painted bright red. Photoshopped to superimpose Tumblr's lowercase 't' logo over each nipple, and Verizon's check-mark logo (black type, red check mark) between the two breasts
Artist conception (Beauty Revealed by Sarah Goodridge: public domain via Wikimedia Commons)
Tumblr has announced a campaign of self-censorship aimed at purging "adult content" from its prolifically pornographic platform

The once fiercely transgressive social-media platform Tumblr has announced that it is hopping aboard the censorship express. In a statement posted to its staff blog on December 3, Tumblr CEO Jeff D’Onofrio warned that beginning December 17, the company will no longer allow adult content, “including explicit sexual content and nudity (with some exceptions).”

In the statement, D’Onofrio explained that the site is updating its community guidelines as part of an effort to create a “better, more positive Tumblr,” one that fosters “a safe place for creative expression, self-discovery, and a deep sense of community.”

The statement linked to a Q&A page specifying that banned content will include photos, videos, GIFs, and illustrations that depict sex acts, “real-life human genitals,” or “female-presenting nipples.”

“Female-presenting nipples?”

Whatever those are, they evidently aren’t nipples that present in the context of birth, breastfeeding, or health-related matters such as breast cancer or mastectomy, according to the Q&A.

Presumably, all Tumblr systems are go for “male-presenting nipples.” Ditto written erotica, along with nudity found in works of art and in the context of political and/or newsworthy speech.

Existing content that does not earn a passing grade from Tumblr’s censorship algorithm will be flagged and made private, viewable only to the person who posted it.

Observers have noted that Tumblr’s announcement comes less than a month after its app vanished from Apple’s App Store. Several days after Apple pulled the app, Tumblr issued an announcement disclosing that child pornography was involved.

D’Onofrio’s statement obliquely references the incident — an indication that Tumblr’s decision to remove all porn from its site is a related move: “[P]osting anything that is harmful to minors, including child pornography, is abhorrent and has no place in our community. We’ve always had and always will have a zero tolerance policy for this type of content.”

Vox.com consumer technology reporter Kaitlyn Tiffany recently wrote that a former Tumblr engineer had informed her that the policy change had been in the works for six months, but that Tumblr’s corporate overlord — Verizon — had “pushed it out the door” after the app-store expulsion.

“The real problem was always that Verizon couldn’t sell ads next to porn,” Tiffany wrote.

The reaction to Tumblr’s announcement has been overwhelmingly negative. Many of the platform’s users are artists, porn producers, sex workers, or fans of one or all of the above. The site, which boasts 34.4 million daily posts in 18 languages, has always emphasized visuals and has been known for its adult content since its founding in 2007.

The Washington Post ‘s Eli Rosenberg described Tumblr’s decision as “ending one of social media’s last major refuges for explicit sexual images.” Vice reporter Beckett Mufson referred to site as “the best social network on the internet for porn.”

Hard data backs up Tumblr’s X-rated rep: In 2016, researchers at Bell Labs and two Italian universities estimated that nearly 22 percent of Tumblr users seek out porn on the site and another 28 percent are inadvertently exposed to explicit content while there.

Given those numbers, it’s reasonable to wonder whether the site is dooming itself to extinction.

It doesn’t help that Tumblr’s new algorithm is already flagging non-pornographic images for review, including Garfield the cat and Mario, the popular Nintendo character.

Then there are those who use Tumblr as a central element of their business model.

Coverage in both the Daily Beast and HuffPost noted that Tumblr’s purge deprives sex workers of an advertising venue, further exacerbating a life-threatening situation among a population that was already reeling from the federal government’s ongoing war consensual commercial sex.

It’s no small irony that December 17, the date on which Tumblr will officially institute its cleanse, marks the 15th annual International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers.

More broadly, as BuzzFeed reporter Katie Notopoulos lamented, Tumblr’s decision is another step in the “march to the digital grave” for the freewheeling “old internet” that emerged in the late 1990s and early ’00s.

Tumblr was a haven for female-centric porn and adult content that catered to various marginal groups. It offered every flavor of kink under the sun, including, as Notopoulos noted in her story, outré oddities such as famous cartoon cows having sex and a genre called “unbirthing,” in which “something — usually a cartoon furry — shoves another cartoon furry back up its vagina.”

Tough titties, says Jeff D’Onofrio.

“Bottom line: There are no shortage of sites on the internet that feature adult content,” the Tumblr CEO observed in his December 3 statement. “We will leave it to them and focus our efforts on creating the most welcoming environment possible for our community.”

About Stephen Lemons

Stephen Lemons is an award-winning investigative journalist with more than 20 years of experience covering everything from government corruption to white-supremacist gangs. In addition to Front Page Confidential, his work has appeared in Phoenix New Times, the Los Angeles Times, Salon.com, and the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Report magazine.

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