A tumblr ban hot take

Anyone remember that time that Google tried to ban adult content on Blogger, and then took it back three days later?  No?

Tumblr announced that they are banning adult content, starting on December 17.  According to their policy,

Adult content primarily includes photos, videos, or GIFs that show real-life human genitals or female-presenting nipples, and any content—including photos, videos, GIFs and illustrations—that depicts sex acts.

The policy includes additional exceptions for breastfeeding, health-related situations, political speech, and nudity in art.

This morning I saw a lot of doom and gloom about the ban, which I would deem justified.  Most obviously, this hurts sex workers and erotic illustrators, who may be using tumblr as a source of advertising or income, and are now being evicted.  But more broadly, it’s a big concern for fandoms.  Although not all fans are interested in erotic art, fandoms are interconnected communities, and you can’t just excise the adult content without affecting everyone.  It is likely that entire fan communities will just get up and leave.  There is precedent for this in Fanfiction.net and LiveJournal.

I don’t even follow fandoms, but I am worried because fan communities are such a huge chunk of Tumblr that I expect it to affect everyone on the platform.  And I have to say, I’m not on Tumblr because it’s, like, a good product.  I’m on Tumblr because other people are on Tumblr.

I’ve been saying for years that Tumblr is terrible and everyone should get off Tumblr.  And maybe this is an inappropriate time to talk about it, as if I were happy about Tumblr’s ban, which I’m not.  But I do think that one of my specific critiques of Tumblr is relevant.

The problem is that Tumblr makes it very easy to find, follow, and interact with other tumblr blogs, and relatively hard to do any of that outside of Tumblr.  Tumblr has a news feed, which only includes tumblr blogs, and cannot include any other blogs.  The core of Tumblr is its reblogging system, which will endlessly push new tumblr blogs into your face (even if you don’t want to see them, even if it constitutes harassment), but will never do the same for other blogs.  And it makes sense.  Tumblr wants you to engage with other people on the same platform, and would frankly prefer if you spend as little time as possible engaging with people outside of their platform.

Among ace bloggers, there’s a well-known divide between the WordPress folks like me, and the Tumblr folks.  The Tumblr folks are often drowning in unwanted attention (forever locked in that flame war, The Discourse), while the WordPress folks often languish for lack of attention.  It’s a common strategy for the WordPress bloggers to have associated Tumblrs to advertise content.

But personally I don’t see it as Tumblr vs WordPress.  Rather, it’s Tumblr vs RSS.  RSS allows me to make a customized feed so that I can follow content on almost any platform.  While the Tumblr folks are stuck looking only at Tumblr, I am free to scroll through content on Tumblr, Tumblr, Blogger, people’s personal websites, or anywhere.  So, hypothetically, if I were following a tumblr blog with adult content, then they could just announce that they’re moving to another platform, and then I would switch my feed to continue following them.

So I would say that part of the reason Tumblr’s ban is so painful, is that people aren’t just losing their platforms, they’re losing their communities.  We’ve forgotten how to hold together communities that stretch across multiple platforms.  Social platforms like Tumblr definitely have their advantages, but how much better it would have been if those advantages could somehow be shared by people not on the platform.  Unfortunately, it’s more in Tumblr’s interest to encourage dependency on a resource that they can take away from you at any moment.


  1. says

    Regarding BR’s take, it’s refreshing to see someone who is brutally sex positive. I see a lot of people talking shit about sex positivity these days and it makes me feel like something important is going to get lost.

    On news of the announcement, Tumblr’s stock price went to hell. What’s amusing about that is apparently investors or their consultants have an idea how much money the site has made off allowing horny content. But if tumblr had ever wanted to play it safe, they could have curtailed that horny money ages ago, which would make a transition like this a lot less painful for them.

    As a prelude to the big shutdown, they started using AI the other day to auto-flag posts as potentially naughty. The robots weren’t smart enough and flagged lots of cute cats and random anything. But at the moment, all the flags have disappeared on my blogs. Did they give up on the bot-flagging? Does that say anything about what’s happening on the 17th?

    I’m not as pissed about the ban as BR and many others, but I don’t know a lot about the struggles of the people who will be hardest hit. Even while I am and am close to LGBTQIA people, we’re all too shy to be part of the show-yo-ass school of participating in the movement. Like literally nobody I personally know would even post a pic of themselves kissing anyone, let alone take their shirt off. And as for selling sexy products and services, I don’t know anyone who does that either.

    All that’s to say me and mine aren’t losing anything we’d notice, so I don’t feel it as viscerally. But I agree with BR in principle, even if I’m unlikely to delete my tumblr in protest.

    As to your take, that’s the first mention I’ve seen of the tumblr/wordpress ace divide. What I have noticed is that the ace people I’ve interacted with here seem more thoughtful than the ones on tumblr. Which is partly the long form writing and slower pace on wordpress would make it easier. But also the most unreasonable statements of tumblr aces are promoted by aphobe types through reblogging with appended mockery, so they are disproportionately more visible. That discourse is a horrid mess.

    You know what social media sites really need the most? True blocking. Blocks that make it possible to insulate yourself from hostile bullshit. The sites would be more peaceful and stable, and could host utterly antithetical communities without fuss. But that would reduce the ways they can monetize connectivity, so they can’t have that. Instead they have a sidebar that suggests to jewish people they might be interested in following literal nazis they’ve already “blocked.”

  2. says

    I accidentally linked the wrong thing in the OP (now fixed), but I meant to link to the fanlore wiki on the tumblr ban. There are many examples of blogs just being deleted without notice, before Tumblr even made the public announcement. Including blogs that were just text. And presumably that’s just the stuff that the wiki editors had heard about. It’s awful all around.

    As you might expect, pornography is not very common in the ace tumblsphere, but it’s really not that many steps away. I know of several ace illustrators who make nsfw art, and I would guess that well over half the people are involved in a fandom of some sort. LiveJournal used to be a hotbed of asexuality too, before their purge, and now it’s mostly dead. This hurts everyone on the platform, even people who might think they’re immune.

  3. says

    I have some comments dropping on this tomorrow or the next day. My take is: you’re making a mistake to trust cloud services unless you’re the one enforcing a TOS on them.

  4. says

    Also, the value proposition of these ‘free’ cloud services is entirely based on a nebulous theory that someday they will be able to monetize their user base. Investors in cloud services need to see the plan and see that it is likely to work – otherwise you have things like photobucket offering ‘pro’ and becoming a nonentity.

  5. says

    @GreatAmericanSatan the flag warnings have disappeared for me also, but now signficiant numbers of recent posts are being hidden on public facing tumblr pages (so that you can only view the posts if you click on users profile from the dashboard or have a direct link), but there’s no way to tell which is which unless you do line by line comparisons. It’s unclear if this is intention or if it’s just tumblr staff being bad and breaking something in the code, since there’s been no official announcement, so who knows at this point: /

    @Siggy I see the comparison between RSS vs. tumblr for certain uses, but I’m not sure the way many current tumblr users use the platform is really directly comparable to RSS. While RSS is great for passively following original content sources, it’s not suitable for iterative curating and re-publishing content from 3rd-party sources to create more and more refined feeds, which is what I see as tumblr’s greatest strength. RSS also tends to not be so great for image/gif/video based content. In that light, twitter might be a more apt comparison with it’s retweeting feature, in terms of ease of iterative curation and multimedia support – if it weren’t for the infuriatingly short text restrictions which make it unusable for the kind of fanfic and meta posts that fan communities need.

    I’m also curious now about some of the mastodon / fediverse platforms, but I feel like they are not quite entry-level enough to become a mainstream alternative.

  6. says

    i was testing the limits before the flags disappeared and i reblogged something of mine that was a bit nsfw. it got flagged and i deleted it. but just now i went to check on my blog there (thx sennkestra) and found it got undeleted? shit is hella weird.

  7. polishsalami says

    I’ve never been part of Tumblr, but it seems that the Nazis there are being left alone. Welcome to 2018.

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