In a move that will fundamentally change how its platform is used, blogging site Tumblr announced on Monday that it will ban all adult content starting Dec. 17. The shift in policy comes after the Tumblr mobile app was removed from Apple’s iOS App Store because of a child pornography incident, as reported by The Verge.
Banned content includes: photos, videos and GIFs of human genitalia, nipples (only if they’re “female-presenting,” which brings up a slew of issues), or any media that shows sex acts, including illustrations. Tumblr will exclude nude classical statues and political protests that feature nudity from the ban, as well as text — meaning written erotica is still permitted on the site. Nudity is acceptable in illustration and art as long as it doesn’t depict sex acts. Breastfeeding and after birth photos are also excluded.
After the ban goes into effect on Dec. 17, one of Tumblr’s many algorithms will flag and delete posts containing explicit content. In the interim, the platform is emailing users whose content has been flagged to notify them that it will soon be hidden from view. Pornographic posts will be set to private, meaning they can’t be reblogged again.
If a mistake is made and something is flagged and deleted that shouldn’t be, users can appeal to Tumblr. Users who run adult blogs can export their content before Dec. 17 to save their content before the ban takes effect. The Verge reports that explicit blogs can remain on the platform, with heavy censoring for all visitors.
From Tumblr’s FAQ:
What if my blog (not to be confused with posts) was marked as “explicit” before December 17, 2018?
Blogs that have been either self-flagged or flagged by us as “explicit” per our old policy and before December 17, 2018 will still be overlaid with a content filter when viewing these blogs directly. While some of the content on these blogs may now be in violation of our policies and will be actioned accordingly, the blog owners may choose to post content that is within our policies in the future, so we’d like to provide that option. Users under 18 will still not be allowed to click through to see the content of these blogs. The avatars and headers for these blogs will also be reverted to the default settings. Additionally, posts from these blogs are kept out of search results.
In a Monday blog post by Tumblr CEO Jeff D’Onofrio, he wrote, “It is our continued, humble aspiration that Tumblr be a safe place for creative expression, self-discovery, and a deep sense of community. As Tumblr continues to grow and evolve, and our understanding of our impact on our world becomes clearer, we have a responsibility to consider that impact across different age groups, demographics, cultures, and mindsets. We spent considerable time weighing the pros and cons of expression in the community that includes adult content. In doing so, it became clear that without this content we have the opportunity to create a place where more people feel comfortable expressing themselves.”
D’Onofrio also said, “There are no shortage of sites on the internet that feature adult content. We will leave it to them and focus our efforts on creating the most welcoming environment possible for our community.”
However, creators who make a living from sexually explicit are seeing similar removals across the web, including the subscription-based website Patreon suspending adult content creators after changing its NSFW content policies following pressure from payment processors. Effectively, these policies shut sex workers out of their own livelihoods, making it increasingly more difficult and dangerous for them to be paid for their content — or even have their work seen by potential buyers, employers and fans.
For all that Tumblr wants to talk about fostering community, porn has long been part of that community, and this change has been met with anger from many who’ve enjoyed the platform as a safe space to discuss sex, post explicit art and photography, or even just enjoy free porn.
Samantha Puc is an essayist and culture critic whose work has been featured on Bustle, The Mary Sue, SheKnows, The Tempest, Rogues Portal, and elsewhere. She mostly writes intersectional pop culture analysis with a particular focus on representation of LGBTQ and fat characters in fiction. Samantha is also the co-creator of Fatventure Mag, an outdoors zine for fat women and non-binary creators who are into being active, but not into toxic weight-loss culture. She lives in Rhode Island with her spouse and cats.