Tumblr should reverse its pornography ban

Tumblr is a “place to express yourself, discover yourself and bond over the stuff you love. It’s where your interests connect you with your people.” That is taken verbatim from Tumblr’s website. But on Dec. 17, Tumblr will no longer honor the spirit of their own motto. They have announced that all “female-presenting nipples” and “sexual acts” would be banned from the website indefinitely.

Photo credit: Unsomnus

There’s a lot to be said about how absurd it is for Tumblr to shoot itself in the foot like this. It was, after all, the perfect website for people to explore their sexualities. Images, GIFs, art and erotic literature could be posted and shared under the comfortable option of anonymity. Researchers found that over half of 130 million Tumblr users engaged with adult content on their pages. Flatly put, adult content helped build Tumblr into the multibillion dollar company that it is today.

If Tumblr wants to purge most of its users and turn itself into a digital wasteland, that’s their business. What matters here is that Tumblr’s decision hurts people. It hurts adult content creators, who came to the website for the freedom to curate something original. Tumblr was a place where even amateur creators could produce something beautiful and earn a significant following of supporters. This stood in contrast to the algorithmically-suggested porn found elsewhere on the internet. Tumblr’s creators were diverse. Erotic literature, hentai, voice acting, virtual reality and comics are just some examples of what used to be a vibrant market on Tumblr. These creators could also monetize their content via donations or Patreon and earn a living.

Tumblr’s purge has effectively made these creators digitally homeless. For many, their product is their income in addition to their passion. They have invested time, effort and money into their business. Currently, Tumblr refugees are flocking to places like Newgrounds and Twitter. Pornhub has made a public invitation to attract them. However, creators will inevitably lose followers in this transfer. Some will not be successful in rebuilding at all.

Tumblr’s betrayal has ruined a corner of positive and equitable sexuality. Unlike the male-dominated, heteronormative mainstream porn industry, Tumblr was home to a more representative range of sexualities. Half of the website’s users are female, according to Pew Research. And Tumblr’s adult content reflected that “Tumblr allowed us all, women especially, to curate our own visual sexual stimuli. We had agency over what type of porn we wanted to consume because Tumblr gave us the freedom to express our tastes in whatever pastiche we found arousing,” said Elle Chase, a certified sex educator and former Tumblr user.

Additionally, Tumblr’s ban further marginalizes communities that have few other places to go. The LGBT community used to laud Tumblr for helping them discover their identities and connect with like-minded users.

“On top of LGBT porn on Tumblr being primarily shared by the LGBT community themselves, it’s complimented by a culture that affirms and uplifts shared feelings and values,” said UAA student Liz Rangel. “Watching a video on Pornhub is not the same as NSFW GIF sets and [fanfiction] based on real gay experiences and fantasies.”

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As we can see, Tumblr’s staff clearly doesn’t care about this core value on their platform. Tumblr used to be a space for sexually non-normative communities as well. Whatever your body type or fetish, there was probably a Tumblr page for you.

There has been plenty of speculation as to why Tumblr decided to make this horribly regressive decision. Some point to a Nov. 16 incident where the Apple Store removed the Tumblr app, citing the discovery of child porn on Tumblr. But recent evidence casts doubt on this being the reason. A former staff engineer, who recently left Tumblr, told Vox that the porn ban was “in the works for about six months as an official project.” The real reason likely had to do with the fact that Tumblr is owned by Oath Inc., itself a subsidiary of Verizon Communications. Verizon is unable to sell advertisements alongside porn.

Tumblr submitted itself to an attitude of sex negativity that has plagued American culture for decades. It’s a culture where sex is bad. Where puritanical crusaders condemn porn as a “public-health crisis.” Where attempts to improve the diversity and inclusiveness of online sexuality is overlooked by arrogant snobs. Where creative platforms are too fearful of controversy to protect the freedom of their users.

It’s a culture where we are more offended by nudity than school shootings.

Tumblr can still reverse this. Its users have yet to abandon ship completely. Trust between the company and its users will take a long time to be repaired, but reversing this policy sooner is better than later. If Tumblr carries on with this ban, it will find itself famished in a content vacuum within a year. By then it will find no clemency among the creators and consumers that it betrayed on Dec. 17.