The death of pornography on Tumblr is near. Come Dec. 17, 2018 Tumblr will no longer feature adult content on their platform. The politics of porn aside, Tumblr’s decision to ban adult content is at odds with its reputation of self-expression; censorship of this kind will inevitably lead to its death.
At the height of its popularity, an estimated 11.4 percent of the site’s most popular blogs featured erotic content. While platforms such as Twitter and Snapchat are secret hotbeds for porn, Tumblr has openly made it part of its identity. “[Pornography] is just not something we want to police,” Tumblr’s founder David Karp said on the Colbert Show in 2013.
The ban is aimed at genuine problems within the site’s ecosystem. Porn bots are more visible, spamming popular post with advertisements for porn sites. Last month, Tumblr was removed from the App Store due to child pornography. CEO Jeff D’Onofrio reasserted in a public statement on Tumblr, “Posting anything that is harmful to minors, including child pornography, is abhorrent and has no place in our community.”
To clear the air, porn is certainly not inherently positive; it can be used to demean and harm just as easily as it can be used for sex-positive self-empowerment. However, removing adult content does not get rid of the issues harmful porn inevitably leads to.
Unsafe and destructive pornographic content will continue to exist with or without Tumblr. It is possible to monitor harmful pornographic content without eliminating all content indefinitely.
This move hurts those who depend on and support Tumblr’s uncensored content and business model most. Independent sex workers who have built businesses through the site and members of the LGBTQ community are worried about losing a safe space to connect and educate.
Given the site’s reputation, it should come as no surprise when users of the site met the new rules with aggressive backlash. With censorship in mind, users have voiced concerns on why white supremacist groups aren’t regulated to the extent pornography has been since the reveal of the ban. Furthermore, many find specifics of the ban to be laughable, particularly its sexist qualifier against the posting of “female-presenting nipples” and its reliance on a buggy algorithm to remove offending images.
The backlash this move is receiving is indicative of another problem Tumblr faces: its decline. Tumblr’s growth has fallen from 32.8 percent annual growth in 2014 to 6.5 percent for 2018. When the ban takes effect, it is estimated hundreds of thousands of blogs will be shut down. Memes on the site in the past two weeks have revolved around Tumblr being inevitably deleted after the ban.
Tumblr is more anonymous than Facebook, more personal than Twitter and hosts a weirder user base than both combined. It has built its community around open self-expression, exploration and anti-shame. Part of self-expression and sex-positive education is being validated in enjoying sexual experiences with other consenting adults. The ban on porn is an oxymoron and takes a massive step back from this mission.
When Tumblr goes through with the blanket ban, the death of the site is imminent. What made Tumblr different from other social media platforms was that it allowed uncensored self-expression. With censorship implemented, what made Tumblr Tumblr will cease to exist and the platform will be irrelevant.