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.