And why this decision leads to a further rejection of the free Internet of the 2000s.

Getty Photos
Getty Photos

On December 3, Tumblr microblogging service management announced a ban on all content with a rating of 18+. From December 17, images, videos and gifs with human genitals, sexual acts or female nipples will be sanctioned. The only exception will be artistic or educational images, but only if they “cannot be confused” with real illustrations of an erotic nature.

Introduced in 2007, Tumblr has become a new home for online refugees from other services, having built up a powerful community of adult content lovers. Some published their artwork, others laid out candid photos for earnings, and others used the service as a warehouse for storing the best scenes from porn movies. However, external difficulties and internal problems have led Tumblr to abandon the culture within itself.

New home for lovers of erotic content

In 2007, 20-year-old American David Karp launched his brainchild – Tumblr. The word “brainchild” is quite appropriate here, because next years fans of the service will call Karp “Daddy” in chorus, and he modestly dismisses and threatens to shut down Tumblr as a joke, if users do not refuse this nickname.

That was the time of the youth of modern social networks – Mark Zuckerberg was just getting used to his status as a technological superstar, Twitter authors triumphed that 60 thousand messages were published on the social network during the day, and Live Journal was considered the capital of bloggers. Created in the United States in 1999, it became the birthplace of dozens of communities of interest, and the topic of sex did not stand aside. Various fandom erotic stories were posted daily there, ranging from Harry Potter to anime. And in the neighboring blogs, the authors published pictures or their works of sexual tone.

In May 2007, LiveJournal management blocked about 500 blogs on suspicion of posting content with child pornography, incest and rape. Numerous communities came under attack, including a group of fans of Harry Potter, access to which was allowed only for adults, various artists and fandom communities. By December 2007, when the service license was transferred to the Russian company SUP Media (the future Rambler & Co), the various authors seriously revised their attitude to the project and decided to immigrate.

David Carp Getty Photos
David Carp Getty Photos

Immigration did not happen immediately: the authors continued to post text fandom stories in the LiveJournal and talk about sex and erotica, but the visual content moved to the DeviantArt online gallery. Life on two fronts continued until the authors learned about Tumblr. Unlike LiveJournal, he had nothing against adult content or the publication of photos protected by copyright. Moreover, compared with the decrepit immigrants from the 1990s, Tumblr looked modern and comfortable.

Soon the refugees saw another advantage of the new service – unlike LiveJournal, for integration into local communities it was not necessary to join the group and deal with its old-timers. Tumblr saved users from this task with the help of tags that allowed them to quickly move between topics of interest without unnecessary conversations with other users.

The David Karp project has not yet had its own face, and the pioneers, using their accumulated knowledge, created their own Tumblr policy. This led to an influx of LGBT activists into the service, who, according to their stories , were not allowed to speak on other platforms. In Tumblr, they laid the foundation on a par with other users.

External problems and internal disagreements

By 2011, the Tumblr audience had reached 28 million people, and dozens of different communities inside, including on the erotic theme. Karp treated adult content with understanding and did not create any obstacles to publishing it until it was child porn or scenes of real rape.

Liberal attitude to erotic content allowed users to post their own photos of a sexual nature. Someone thus earned: in 2016, a resident of China under the pseudonym Yu Yu (You You) said that in two years of erotic publications in Tumblr more than 80 thousand people subscribed to her. She did not monetize the blog, although she admitted that it was quite real.

When Tumblr became interested in buying Yahoo !, many users rushed to “bury” the service. They believed that a giant takeover would lead to repression against adult content lovers. In May 2013, the transaction was successfully completed, the price for the acquisition of Tumblr with the preservation of all employees amounted to 1.1 billion dollars. At that time, a record deal for a company that owns a social network that bypassed Instagram purchase for a billion dollars in 2012.

Tumblr page for anime
Tumblr page for anime

Hurrying to dispel user experiences, Karp promised not to further influence the development of erotic communities within the project. However, shortly thereafter, “Safe Mode” appeared in Tumblr, when turned on, all publications with a rating of 18+ disappeared from the tape. But by default it has been turned off for now.

In 2014, Tumblr reached a peak of activity – every day more than 106 million posts appeared on the site , but at the same time, the project first faced public accusations of improper content moderation.

In January 2014, 15-year-old Tallulah Wilson committed suicide in London . As the investigators found out, for the past few months, she has been browsing Tumblr blogs on self-harm and suicide.

The mother of the deceased commented on her daughter’s suicidal mood with the words that her daughter “entered a world where the boundaries of fantasy and reality are blurred.” She called on advertising campaigns to stop cooperating with sites where they post posts on suicide and violence against themselves, “to stop this poison from spreading.” Head of the Ministry of Culture of Great Britain Maria Miller sided with the victim, demanding from Tumblr and Facebook to strengthen measures to combat such content.

Dissatisfaction with the promotion has also grown within the company: despite the huge popularity, Yahoo! So it was not possible to solve the main problem ofTumblr – the lack of a sustainable monetization model. And in June 2017, Yahoo! swallowed up Verizon Communications. Less than half a year after this, Karp wrote a farewell post on his Tumblr blog and left the CEO’s chair.

Waiver of sex communities amid Apple pressure

In November 2018, Apple removed Tumblr applications from the AppStore after moderators discovered content with child porn in the service. According to representatives of the platform, a number of prohibited images managed to slip through the check filter, but soon the content was deleted. The application did not disappear from Google Play.

It was a loud story, which was preceded by several events. In February, Tumblr automatically switched all users to “Safe Mode”, which hides erotic content from the tape, including artistic and educational content. This happened without a direct warning, and many did not immediately see the connection between the lack of familiar content and the new policy of the platform. The mode was turned off only manually.

Verizon Communications’s involvement with Tumblr’s sexual content was reflected in a more positive way. In August and October, the service revealed to the police data from two users who distributed child porn on the site. Around the same time, the leadership banned the posting of posts that were aimed at pornomics, stirring up hatred and glorifying shooting in schools.

Jeff D'Onofrio at the Tumblr Office CNBC Photo
Jeff D’Onofrio at the Tumblr Office CNBC Photo

It is not known exactly why in December the leadership of Tumblr announced the introduction of a ban on adult content from December 17. “There is no shortage of content sites for adults on the Internet,” said new CEO Jeff D’Onofrio. Something like that was once said by Steve Jobs, in which Apple has already taken porn with rejection: “Guys who want porn, can buy a phone on Android.”

Tumblr outlook without adult content

“It’s ridiculous to watch them try to block something that even remotely resembles adult content, given that it was partly because of this that the platform became popular,” commented the decision of Tumblr management Abigail Sin. She used the platform to view blogs with erotic content and publish her own work of a sexual nature, and now she is looking for a new place to promote her work.

Almost immediately after the news about the Tumblr solution, service users began to complain about the actions of the automatic algorithm for finding content for adults. Sometimes he blocked images where there was nothing forbidden – for example, a photograph of a seated girl in stockings, a frame with a homemade vase or an artistic illustration.

Blocked content authors may file a complaint in support of Tumblr, but technicians do not always side with users. Moreover, after the entry into force of the official ban on adult content, the number of calls to technical support will increase dramatically, which will lead to delays in responses.

In a conversation with the Motherboard, the porn actress and activist Kitty Stryker stated that the Tumblr decision to ban erotic content would be a huge blow to the LGBT community.

For many, this is the only place where we could find porn, which represents us, created by independent authors outside of racism, transmysine and the industry of disapproval of fat people. Tumblr was a place where our content existed without having to follow the restrictions on misogyny and male domination.

Kitty striker
porn actress, LGBT activist

Verizon Communications’s motives are vague, but giving up erotic content may attract new advertisers to Tumblr. For many years, erotica, scenes from porn films and hentai illustrations on user blogs scared off advertising partners, but now the current owners of the platform will have the opportunity to build relationships in new ways.

The main question is whether the authors will be able to retain the audience – according to the analytical service of SimilarWeb, in 2017 about 20% of Tumblr users visited the site in search of adult content. For comparison, about 7% of users of the platform are interested in the themes of books and literature.

Meanwhile, users of the service publicly share thoughts about the future of Tumblr – few of them are optimistic.

In her column on the fate of Tumblr, journalist Katie Notopoulos (Katie Notopoulos) wrote that blocking porn in the service marks another sign of the death of Internet culture in the 2000s. Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Tumblr – these projects were created by people putting freedom of speech in priority, but as it turned out, this freedom has a downside.

Under the sunset of 2018, Facebook is drowning in scandals due to interference in the presidential election in 2016, and for Russian advertisers, the social network introduces new hard and fast rules. Twitter is trying to defeat the domination of the ultra-right inside, and the founders of Instagram leave their project, as Karp once left. Now the reverse side of freedom touched and Tumblr – a service that has grown, including due to a loyal attitude to erotic content, refuses it.

Our digital life is our real life, and the Tumblr digital culture is a real culture. Without this, we will lose entire communities, friendships, communication methods, jokes and artifacts. Perhaps we should never have believed that all this would last forever – unless we still tweet when we are 75 years old? But [at the same time] the march to remove the Internet of the 2000s seems to be moving much faster than the march to improve today’s Internet.

Katie Notopoulos
Senior Editor, BuzzFeed Online