I didn’t use Tumblr very much when I had an account. When I did, I used it as an author platform for myself back when I was still a fledgling writer creating YA fantasy that I was never completely happy with. I was still arrogant as hell when I wrote a couple of posts explaining, from my perspective, what made for good fiction versus bad fiction. Gods, I was so arrogant. But I later discovered that, more and more, there was an adult community growing there as well.
Aside from being a place where one could get their rocks off, it was also a place of sexual expression. A way to appreciate new age erotic art from digital artists, a means to learn about alternative sexual lifestyles (remember #kinktober?). A platform for LGBTQ+ and people of non-normative genders who could learn that they weren’t alone, and could meet others like themselves, and learn how to explore their sexuality and identity. Women were able to own their sexuality, rather than be the object of it.
On Dec. 3, however, Tumblr began a huge cleanout of all adult content on their platform, changing their visibility to ‘private’ and essentially putting the users who uploaded it on notice. The purge began only a couple of days after Apple decided to remove the Tumblr app from their iOS store after failing to police an account that had uploaded child pornography. While there’s no argument Child pornography has no place in the community, Tumblr has taken their response in the extreme by deciding to ban all adult content entirely.
“There is no shortage of sites on the internet that feature adult content. We will leave it to them and focus our efforts on creating the most welcoming environment possible for our community,” the company told The Verge. But this is not comforting news to many of the former content creators. The reason Tumblr had such a strong community of adult content creators was partially due to the fact that it was one of the last platforms left available to the public. Despite much of the adult content consisting of pirated porn distributed for free. Facebook and Instagram have already taken the same route, and are quick to police any content they identify as ‘adult-themed’ or simply ‘not appropriate’, to put it lightly. Twitter has begun shadowbanning users whose tweets are deemed ‘insensitive content’, Patreon is hiding adult blogs, and Youtube has demonetized videos about sexual education.
Going to an adult distribution site like Pornhub is disconcerting for a number of reasons. One is that the platform is already geared more towards cis hetero men in its demographics, while many of the former content creators on Tumblr had a demographic far more different than this. Another is how LGBTQ+ content was curated, not just for distributing adult content, but as a way to reach out and communicate with others who may be struggling with their own sexual identity, providing education and guidance. Tumblr was a place where your platform could be made into exactly what you wanted it to be, and sites like Pornhub tend to be very narrow in what their platform represents. A big reason is how the Tumblr ban affects sex workers in particular. Ever since SESTA/FOSTA passed, companies have been much more unabashed to take down any spaces where sexual services have ever been offered.
This isn’t one of those moments when we’re faced with the debacle of searching for a new platform where we can share what we did before and move on. This is the moment when we’re already quite ways down that particular road when other options have already cut us off and given little else to turn to as an alternative. This is the moment when Nazis and the spewers of hate speech seemingly have more freedoms than those who provide sex education for those who have no idea where they stand. And as much as companies like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr like to preach about not allowing hate speech or violence on their platforms, it is still tolerated far more than a goddamn nipple. Even the more conservative of the public who are on the outside looking in are praising this decision as a step towards “removing that filth from the internet”.
I’m just going to come out and say it: this is not about protecting the community. You don’t pick and choose what community you represent and expect the best to happen. Good things happen because your community has chosen your platform to express themselves as they see fit to represent themselves. When you marginalize that community by taking away that voice, you spread a clear message that you care more about your own appearance to others than you do for those under your care. You confirm that your publicity is more valuable than having a platform that gives everyone a voice.
When companies do this, they always harp about how it’s for the good of protecting children or some other puritanical nonsense. It’s not. It’s protecting their brand in the fallout of bad publicity, and shutting them out only opens the way for more illegitimate platforms to continue the distribution of stolen and pirated content. If companies truly cared about their community, if parents were truly concerned about what their children saw, then the correct response should be better policing of said content. Reinforce Safe Mode, ban those who upload CP videos, get up off your asses and ban the hate speech you claim is unacceptable, and yet STILL EXISTS ON YOUR PLATFORM!!
“We’ve given serious thought to who we want to be to our community moving forward,” CEO Jeff D’Onofrio said to The Verge.
Yeah, you’re making that pretty clear.
In the end, it’s become clear that the major platforms that were supposed to be open for all have failed. Those who want to find adult content will always have a way to get it, whether it’s from some porn site or pirated from an illegitimate source. Even if you lock your kids’ phone, they’ll use their friend’s, and even if you put a filter on your computer, they’ll find a hack. And they’ll justify doing it in their heads anyway. What we need more is better education and better access, in a place where people can feel safe going there. It’s becoming clearer that the mainstream platforms will never support us. And while there are still a few bastions left that won’t turn us away, thanks to SESTA/FOSTA, it seems like only a matter of time before we lose those as well.
However, there are still some options for us. While it may not be ideal for all of the former Tumblr content creators and those who sold services, sites like Pornhub have already opened the door to welcome these people with access to tools allowing them to curate their content just as they did on Tumblr. A petition is already out to try and convince Tumblr to save the NSFW content, and prevent the ban. As of writing this, it already has over 422k signatures, and while it may not change their mind, it couldn’t hurt to try. Finally, Michael of Molly’s Daily Kiss suggests that the best option for content creators might be to become your own Tumblr and self-host your content on your own site, giving you all the control over your platform instead. Check out this very helpful post for more information on how to do this.
If you wish to share what Tumblr meant for you, you can share it in the comments below. If you happen to know of any other alternatives that are NSFW-, LGBTQ+-, gender non conforming-, and/or sex worker-friendly, please share those as well. I’m sure there are many who would be grateful to know all of their options moving forward from this.