On Monday, Tumblr announced that it will ban “adult content” from its social network starting December 17. But the ban will penalize the site’s thousands of LGBTQ artists, educators, sex workers and others fans as well.
Tumblr’s move was foreseeable: Last November, Apple briefly removed Tumblr from its App Store because of child sexual content. This January, the US congressional Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) will hold websites liable for when users post any content seen as promoting sex work. Eager to avoid prosecution, Tumblr and other sites are purging all sexual content.
An estimated 20% of Tumblr’s current traffic comes from people seeking adult content. So Tumblr’s decision will make the site more advertiser friendly while effectively killing off one-fifth of its user base.
Its automated system for detecting adult content is currently flagging pictures of sand dunes, women sitting on desks, wrestlers and other non-explicit content. Thus, it’s hassling far more than just posters of adult content.
this just in: tumblr thinks sitting on desks is inherently sexual pic.twitter.com/RdPjG1SCbV
— lacey | hbd magnus 💖👑 (@komhmagnus) December 3, 2018
While Tumblr may retain its large fandom and social justice communities who use it to connect and share artwork, the ban will essentially harm user who’ve amassed hundreds of thousands of followers through a shared love of erotic art and images celebrating sexuality. Meanwhile the site will still allow posts glorifyig white supremacy.
Here are five communities that’ll be most harmed by Tumblr’s adult content ban.
1. Sex workers: Paid cam sites are predominantly cisgender. Tumblr allowed trans and gender fluid cam performers to easily share videos clips to viewers who’d then purchase private webcam sessions.
Now these sex workers will only have Twitter and Instagram to market themselves, potentially leveling their audience base and income, especially since Facebook-owned Instagram has recently banned any mentions of sexuality.
2. Sex educators: Vox.com reports that Tumblr’s new policy allows “nudity for the purposes of sexual education.” But sex educators are doubtful that Tumblr’s flagging system will be able to adequately tell between a photo illustration showing how to conduct a self-breast exam and a shot of a female breast (especially since Tumblr’s new policy forbids “female-presenting nipples,” whatever those are).
Right now, Tumblr’s young user base can easily find helpful art and images on the ABCs of kink, douching, genital piercings, fisting and many other sexual practices (all with helpful infographics or videos).
But these images could easily get flagged, providing little incentive for unpaid educators to go through the hassle of undergoing a separate resolution process for every image flagged.
3. Artists: Tumblr artists of all sorts regularly post their drawings, photographs and short videos. Some of these artworks were erotic — showing undressed people or drawings of fictional characters embracing. More importantly, many of them were overtly queer, creating an affirming space for LGBTQ sexuality.
Tumblr allowed these artists to share their work with thousands. Artists would commonly direct fans to Patreon and other donation sites where their passions could turn into actual paid careers.
But with Tumblr banning their content en masse, these burgeoning artists will no longer be able to access their wide networks of fans, leaving them to try and attract patrons elsewhere.
4. Body-positivity activists: Tumblr’s adult content allowed niches to form around genderqueer people, big-bodied people, older people, people with disabilities and others — bodies typically excluded from mainstream adult sites. Seeing these bodies helped normalize their presence in online space and reaffirmed the sexiness and dignity of marginalized people.
Now that nude images of these people will be wiped out, so too will a growing movement of those who embraced nakedness as a newfound form of pride.
5. Everyday users: Considering that an estimated one-third of all women and two-thirds of all men watch adult content, Tumblr was filled with thousands of users who enjoyed this content without ever posting it themselves. These users had Tumblr sites of their own, re-posted other non-explicit content and connected with other users while enjoying the site’s sexual content.
Posters of other non-adult content — like political memes, historical artwork, insightful quotations — gave followers numerous reasons to regularly tune in. But many posters of such content have already left the site, tired of having their archives wrecked by automated tools that mislabel their posts as “adult.”
The new Tumblr will make many of these users less engaged, knowing that it can only ever offer a censorious PG-13 experience, leaving a sea of dead links and inactive users in its wake.