It’s no surprise that many Tumblr users were furious when notified in early December that all NSFW and ‘adult’ content would be banned on the 17th. Online buzz was expected. Irate rants on Tumblr? Of course. When I saw an article about it in the Sunday New York Times, I concluded that this was a much bigger deal than I originally understood it to be. That said, reading yet another piece that called the situation (and the likely dissolution of countless Tumblr blogs) the “Tumblr Diaspora” seemed like it might be going a little too far.
As it happens, I’m a Tumblr refugee myself, migrating to another blogging platform (here) only a couple weeks ago. I’ve visited (and still do) many Tumblr blogs showcasing terrific comic art, vintage illustration, films noir, classic cinema and edgy fashion photography. The platform’s built-in archive feature encouraged deep browsing. Since it was so easy to set up and use, and was part blog — part social media with an enormous following, Tumblr seemed like a logical place to park my domain.
But I didn’t linger very long, as it turned out.
Even a casual visitor could recognize that Tumblr hosted a lot of adult content. I mean, a lot. There’s nothing wrong with that. Frankly, I like some saucy material, and favored a few go-to stylish figurative arts and fun retro-kitsch sites, all tastefully curated with a connoisseur’s care. But it didn’t take much exploring through linked posts to encounter altogether different content. As in, the kind that can make your eyeballs melt right in their sockets. Once again – there’s nothing wrong with that. Well…some of it. It’s just not my thing.
But that thing is one thing when you’re just a visitor and another when you’ve got a Tumblr blog of your own. You don’t have to go looking for troubling content. It’ll find you. And that’s part of the problem. Though I was only up at Tumblr for about two months, more than a fourth of my growing number of followers were likely porn bots with gibberish names, no avatars or content and popping up two or three at a time. Still others were wall-to-wall hardcore porn gif blogs, similarly following in two’s and three’s, which ought to make anyone suspicious.
Tumblr claims to host over 450 million blogs, though how many of those are really active, who knows. Monthly visitors top 550 million. That’s a lot of traffic, ripe for monetizing, and since Tumblr isn’t subscription or fee-based and basically free, all those bloggers and visitors are essentially freeloaders (myself included, mind you). We need to keep in mind that Tumblr bloggers and blog visitors aren’t a ‘community’ or customers or clients. Technically, they’re product. They’re what Tumblr or any platform like it can sell. Tumblr’s parent, Oath Inc., and its parent Yahoo and its parent Verizon want to make money off their $1.1 billion cash purchase (and presumably pay back some of the $712 million write-down taken in 2016). If they’re not going to charge bloggers a couple bucks a month, then they have to sell online advertising. In a big, big way. But how many consumer product marketers, dining chains, automakers, airlines or insurance companies want their family-friendly ads sandwiched in between fetish blog posts or, worse, links to offshore porn sites?
So, did I leave Tumblr and move elsewhere because I’m a fussy prude offended by some sexy content? Not at all. Actually, my own taste floats somewhere between a PG-13 and a ‘soft-R’ if you want to use movie ratings, and this blog is bound to showcase the occasional saucy visual…already has, depending on your point of view.
Then, did I leave in protest, refusing to be complicit in Tumblr’s censorship of its community, some with Tumblr blogs for years? No. I support sensible self-regulation, though people often let me down on that count. And I consider Tumblr a business, not a non-profit institution, government agency, arts foundation or charity, so they can more or less do whatever they want.
No, I left simply because the very things that Tumblr (and many of its bloggers, by the way) would like to see purged were already infesting my site…and I’d only been there about two months. Hopefully we’ve all become much more aware of the insidious power and reach of aggressive spammers, hackers, troll farms and bots during the past two years. Once Apple kicked Tumblr off, I suspect that management had to promise prospective advertisers something more proactive and aggressive in order to provide a reliably benign environment for paid marketing messages. Did Tumblr go about it the right way? Definitely not. Shoving Nazi propaganda, hate speech and abusive sexual content out the digital door shouldn’t mean sanitizing everything from Renaissance masterpiece paintings to museum quality art photography…or even silly collectible paperback covers, vintage girlie magazines or quirky cult films. But on Tumblr’s vast scale, it’s not as if they could hire a few interns to scan queued posts for objectionable content. Algorithms will flag what they’ll flag, and at some point it makes more sense to purge damn near everything and rebuild from there. After all, with 450 million blogs, Tumblr can afford to lose millions of blogs and still be a very attractive advertising venue. Frankly, a much more attractive venue.
Honestly, I was sorry to leave Tumblr. There’s a funky sense of a community among many Tumblr bloggers. But it seemed to me like only a matter of time before something not merely naughty but downright nasty would infest my fledgling blog. Call me a coward if you like. Or what I really am…just another Tumblr refugee.