Tumblr, the microblogging site which offered a happy medium between anonymity and creative expression, is now banning the very content which built the site: Not Safe For Work (NSFW) material and adult-oriented content. A directory for such material was created in 2010, alongside other directories for topics like art, fashion, and photography. The site was seen as a safe haven for promoting creativity and connection and was an alternative to searching riskier sites for adult material.
It was a safe place for users to explore and share their interests without judgment.
In 2013, after being acquired by Yahoo, Tumblr underwent some initial changes to curb the availability of NSFW content. A complicated filtration system was introduced which seemed to erase such content. Yet, those familiar with the site were able to bypass the system and find the material they wanted to see.
The changes didn't stop there. Once acquired by Verizon, the site's 'safe mode' became standard and essentially blacklisted content deemed 'inappropriate'. Although the feature could be disabled, many users had to offer explicit consent when they wanted to view 'inappropriate' material. This created an added barrier and made users feel uncomfortable.
Tumblr fell victim to the corporate world in which pornographic, sexual content is sanitized and pushed under the rug.
Despite these changes, Tumblr claims to be curating a welcoming environment, but the content it is now blocking was the sole reason many felt welcome on the site in the first place. It was a place for women to be the creators, rather than the objects of adult, pornographic material. It allowed people to feel safe exploring their sexualities and desires through anonymity and choice of content. Whether the content was in the form of photographs, videos, GIFs, or stories, it was not the mainstream content found on traditional pornography sites.
There was no 'standard' view of the human form. Tumblr catered to all and all felt welcome.
Although the changes won't take effect until December 17th, many users have had their content flagged since the announcement. A machine-learning algorithm has been implemented to detect adult content and warn users on whose sites they appear. Without the added verification from human eyes, many users have seen non-adult content flagged as inappropriate. Examples include a crochet candle and an artist's drawings of dinosaurs and dragons which have appeared in books. Even a photo of Alex Ovechkin of the Capitals sleeping with the Stanley Cup was deemed NSFW. Although many have appealed the flagging of their content, the algorithm poses a greater threat to Tumblr's most important community.
LGBTQ users of Tumblr feel this decision and algorithm will harm their community and hurt the content they create.
When at first this group felt welcome, they now feel alienated. Not only did members find a safe place to talk about their issues, but Tumblr was also the most diverse site in its content offerings. A place of self-discovery is now turning into a place of shame. The algorithm has deemed tags associated with the LGBTQ community, like #bisexual, #gay, #queer, etc. as NSFW. What does this tell the LGBTQ community? That their sexualities are being deemed unsafe and too adult for children to consume.
Tumblr is headed in the same direction as the internet overall: an unwelcoming space for sexual content now forcing users to self-censor or risk being banned from the site.
Erasing the very people who built Tumblr and found their communities online when real-life people ignored them will cause irreparable damage.