The internet is home to a plethora of destinations offering adults-only content. But soon, Tumblr won’t be one of them.
The microblogging platform announced Monday that it is banning adult content. In, naturally, a Tumblr post, Chief Executive Jeff D’Onofrio said the move was meant to promote “a better, more positive Tumblr.”
The move appears to stem from a recent dispute Tumblr had with Apple’s iOS App Store. The Tumblr app was not available as of Nov. 16, news site the Verge reported, and a post from Tumblr indicated it was related to an issue with the filter the site used to automatically remove child pornography.
“Every image uploaded to Tumblr is scanned against an industry database of known child sexual abuse material, and images that are detected never reach the platform. A routine audit discovered content on our platform that had not yet been included in the industry database,” Tumblr said in the post.
Monday’s announcement said the ban on adult content will be enforced beginning Dec. 17. But many people are already seeing their content flagged — including posts that don’t appear to run afoul of Tumblr’s new community guidelines.
In his announcement, D’Onofrio had warned this might be a problem. The company is using a digital tool, not human moderation, to assess posts.
“Filtering this type of content versus say, a political protest with nudity or the statue of David, is not simple at scale,” he wrote in the post. “We’re relying on automated tools to identify adult content and humans to help train and keep our systems in check. We know there will be mistakes, but we’ve done our best to create and enforce a policy that acknowledges the breadth of expression we see in the community.”
A Tumblr spokesperson noted in an email that if users believe their posts were incorrectly flagged, they can appeal for a human reviewer to take a look.
Users also took issue with the language in the new community guidelines; specifically, the stipulation that “female-presenting nipples” would not be allowed. Instagram has a similar policy, which that company’s CEO said in 2015 was also a result of App Store policy. An article on Tumblr’s Help Center says content showing nipples in the context of breastfeeding, birth, mastectomies, gender affirmation surgeries and other health-related scenarios will still be allowed.
On Twitter, people decried the move as misogynist and overly puritan.
Another concern: Tumblr has a thriving community of transgender and nonbinary users, many of whom aren’t sure at which point their nipples take on a gender identity.
Tumblr was founded in 2007 and gained prominence in the following few years as people migrated from LiveJournal, Fanfiction.net and DeviantArt. (Casey Fiesler, an assistant professor of information science at the University of Colorado-Boulder, published a visualization of this shift in a Q&A on Slate.)
Yahoo acquired Tumblr in 2013 for $1.1 billion, though without a clear vision for its future or growth. Three years later, Yahoo concluded that it…
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