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Tumblr Reminds Us Why Creators Need to Own Their Platform, Part Three

Almost like clockwork, every couple years Tumblr gives us another example of how if you don’t own your own platform, you don’t get to decide what you can say.

In 2014 Tumblr stole away URLs and gave them to brands, and in 2016 it was Tumblr auto-deleting content in response to bogus DMCA notices.

Now Tumblr has decided to ban the content that is really the only reason for Tumblr to exist in the first place.

From The Verge:

Tumblr will permanently ban adult content from its platform on December 17th in a move that will eradicate porn-related communities on the platform and fundamentally alter how the service is used. The ban includes explicit sexual content and nudity with a few exceptions, the company tells The Verge. The new policy’s announcement comes just days after Tumblr was removed from Apple’s iOS App Store over a child pornography incident, but it extends far beyond that matter alone. “Adult content will no longer be allowed here,” the company flatly stated in a blog post published on Monday.

Banned content includes photos, videos, and GIFs of human genitalia, female-presenting nipples, and any media involving sex acts, including illustrations. The exceptions include nude classical statues and political protests that feature nudity. The new guidelines exclude text, so erotica remains permitted. Illustrations and art that feature nudity are still okay — so long as sex acts aren’t depicted — and so are breastfeeding and after-birth photos.

After December 17th, any explicit posts will be flagged and deleted by algorithms. For now, Tumblr is emailing users who have posted adult content flagged by algorithms and notifying them that their content will soon be hidden from view. Posts with porn content will be set to private, which will prevent them from being reblogged or shared elsewhere in the Tumblr community.

The worst part about this isn’t the ban; it’s that Tumblr is inept at automation, and they are bound to screw this up.

In the past Tumblr has taken down an entire account in response to the most ridiculous DMCA notices, and now they same inept programmers are going to be building porn checking bots.

To reiterate the point I and others have repeatedly made, if you don’t own your online presence you’re just malprogrammed bot or one bogus DMCA notice away from being shut down. It doesn’t matter if your content is on WordPress, Blogger, Tumblr, FlickrYoutube, etc, if it is someone else’s platform then you’re still at risk.

This time around it’s going to kill Tumblr. The first to go will be all the communities that the prudes don’t approve of, and everyone else will follow them to greener pastures as the bots block more and more content.

That is going to lead to a feedback loop; as the ineptly programmed bots drive people away, traffic will go down, leading to more programmers being pulled for other projects. This will increase the number of bot errors, forcing more to depart, and so on.

Edit: And the bots are already screwing up.

Tumblr signed its death warrant today. The best it can hope for now is that someone will by the husk afterwards and revive a pale shadow of its former glory – you know, like what happened with Digg.

RIP Tumblr

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Mike Cane December 4, 2018 um 10:22 am

Eh. There are plenty of pr0n sites. Any one of them could set up a blogging platform.

Straker December 5, 2018 um 8:44 am

I don’t think Verizon cares that they’ve essentially killed off Tumblr. They’ve realized by now that the platform can’t be monetized and it therefore has no value to them. Making a big show of banning adult content just gives them an opportunity for a little virtue signaling before the inevitable end.

Nate Hoffelder December 5, 2018 um 12:36 pm

What I have heard elsewhere is that Verizon didn’t think it could sell ads next to porn. That doesn’t really make sense, though; lots of orn sites have adverts.

What they really should have done was start charging users. That’s not on Verizon, though; they just inherited the problem when they bought Tumblr’s parent company.

Straker December 5, 2018 um 1:49 pm

The problem with ads, at least as the platform is currently structured, is that they’re so easy to ignore. They appear as posts on your dashboard and it’s a simple thing to just scroll on past them. I’ve been on Tumblr for five years and I don’t think I’ve ever clicked on an ad.

Regarding charging users, I think you’ve got a point. I believe a significant portion of the people who were posting NSFW content would have been willing to pay a nominal fee, say $5/month. That might also have helped get rid of the phony bot-created accounts that have plagued the platform for the past couple of years.

Nate Hoffelder December 5, 2018 um 2:03 pm

$5/month is more than gets from the basic service tier, and almost certainly more than they get from the ad-supported users.

The Rodent December 9, 2018 um 12:32 pm

It’s not really about porn versus not-porn on Tumblr. I follow several artists on Tumblr (via RSS mostly) who are definitely not posting porn. And I keep hearing Tumblr stories (with proof) about "image P gets tagged but image Q doesn’t", where P is some innocuous thing, but any human who looked at both images would only tag Q as being possibly NSFW. Of course artists are going to get fed up and go elsewhere… Like this:

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