The Implications Of Tumblr’s Ban On Adult Content

Published on December 11, 2018

Tumblr made the news earlier this week when the popular blogging platform announced that it would ban all adult content from its website. The social network would be implementing a bot software to determine what adult content looks like to remove it from the site. Posts that are flagged by the bot would be given a warning to the user that posted the original content. Though the policy change doesn’t technically go into effect until December 17, the bot has already started crawling the blogging website for posts that it *thinks* may contain pornography. That’s just the problem though, is that it’s already not performing like it’s supposed to.

A Failed Bot

Users have reported that the anti-pornography bot has already begun flagging posts. The posts that it flags, though, are more often than not completely devoid of any explicit content. For example, see this list that Buzzfeed curated of posts that have been flagged. Tumblr clearly has some work to do before strictly implementing the bot in the next ten days.

However, the announcement has sparked controversy in other ways. People have begun to question whether the move really had the users interest at heart at all. When Tumblr was removed from the iOS store last month because child pornography somehow made its way onto the site, the company needed to act fast. The decision to ban all adult content is, in some ways, a response to that. Apple has not stated whether or not it will reinstate Tumblr’s place in the iOS store.

What Does This Mean For The Rest Of Tumblr?

The real issue at hand isn’t necessarily that Tumblr will no longer be a haven for adult content, but that the company is trying to dictate what adult content is. Clearly the bot isn’t working properly in the first place, but how will the site determine what artistic works are allowed and what aren’t? How will this decision impact the growing sex positive movement, the same movement that brought Kanye to the PornHub awards earlier this year? Beyond those issues, if the company can use an all-encompassing solution such as a bot software to fix its problems, why can’t the website further monitor hate crimes and, you know, nazis.

Tumblr isn’t the first social network to ban adult content. Companies like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have bots that crawl for the same type of content. The issue, though, is that Tumblr was created to be a place for artists to share their work with a like-minded audience. Banning adult content puts the website’s inherent purpose into a grey area, it also means dictating what is and isn’t art. It’s understandable that the website would want to take issues like child pornography seriously, but the implications of the adult content ban mean that larger groups of people would be marginalized in that process. With roughly 20% of its users there to interact with adult content, how will Tumblr manage to save face in the wake of this policy change?


Julia Sachs is a former Managing Editor at Grit Daily. She covers technology, social media and disinformation. She is based in Utah and before the pandemic she liked to travel.

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