without nsfw content there is no tumblr

The community that will be most hurt by the site’s rules are sex workers, who are increasingly being pushed out of platforms like PayPal and Instagram.

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Dec 7 2018, 4:37am

When Tumblr CEO Jeff D’Onofrio announced that they would be banning all “adult content” on 3 December, he may as well have been announcing the site’s shuttering. While there is plenty of content on Tumblr that is SFW, there has always been plenty that is not. Banning “photos, videos, or GIFs that show real-life human genitals” or – wait for it – ”female-presenting nipples”, means that some of the site’s most avid users will either have to leave or make serious changes. After a more mainstream boom in the early 2010s, Tumblr has been a niche platform, but a thriving one, that is partly kept alive by its “adult” community. Actual porn is a small part of the Tumblr experience, but the site has always been a platform for fans, artists and sex workers to post NSFW content.

The move will also impact the LGBTQ community, as discussed by queer people who used the site to discover who they are. That’s how I found Tumblr: when I started using it in 2010, it filled a hole for me that Myspace had left. Bored with the prescriptivism of Facebook and Twitter and scared by how exposed they made me feel, I saw Tumblr as a place to be as private as was possible online. I could customise my page, post photos, write about stuff I was into. I could also explore parts of myself that I couldn’t publicly: I was finally putting a label on a lifetime of fancying girls. So, following only a handful of trusted friends, I found other LGBTQ people to befriend. Tumblr gave me a community like no website had since Myspace, and yes, that self-discovery included some NSFW content. But it gave me the room to realise that I was absolutely, unequivocally bi, and the confidence to come out in my actual life. Some of what I consumed would be banned by Tumblr now, and it only enriched me.

I spoke to Alma, who has used Tumblr for eight years to “participate in niche fandom” and “to interact with fellow LGBTQ people”. She believes that Tumblr has always misunderstood their audience and has been known to “classify queer content as inappropriate”. She added that it makes her furious that young people who need the community “might be deprived of it”. One user wrote that the problem with family-friendly social media is that “more often than not, the ones hit the most by the whole family-friendly nonsense are marginalised groups that have no vehicles to express themselves”, citing YouTube’s banning and flagging of content featuring stuff as innocuous as two men kissing.

D’Onofrio says that Tumblr are proud to have inspired “artists, writers, creators, curators and crusaders”. With the new guidelines, which intend to create a “safe place for creative expression”, Tumblr are making it clear which creators and artists are permitted to exist on their site, and which are not. Tumblr, as I understood it, was a safe space to be gay, to explore, to be a fan. As I got older I stopped needing that, but there are plenty of people who still do. D’Onofrio says that inspired by the website’s “storied past”, presumably meaning its association with NSFW content, they have been “hard at work” laying the foundation for a “better Tumblr”. He says this as if the past of the website is something to be ashamed of, but if all D’Onofrio is referring to is Topless Tuesday, fan fic, and a thriving sex worker and LGBTQ community, the announcement leaves a bitter taste. He says that Tumblr is a place to “speak freely about topics like art, sex positivity, your relationships, your sexuality”, but fails to acknowledge that this freedom isn’t possible with this kind of censorship.

The community that will be most hurt by the site’s rules are sex workers, who are increasingly being pushed out of platforms like PayPal and Instagram. As a teenager, I followed sex workers who posted about their lives and was taught about a stigmatised industry that nobody IRL was discussing. I spoke to an NYC-based dominatrix who told me that she believes the Tumblr ban is a “direct result of the attack on sex workers through SESTA/FOSTA” as Backpage and the Craigslist personal section have gone down alongside the shadowbanning of sex workers by sites like Instagram and Twitter. She said that all of this “makes it harder to make money but also harder to stay safe, as well as creating a difficult environment to screen clients and create a secure environment to work in” she added that the Tumblr ban is part of a larger attack on sex workers, and a Findom I spoke to agreed: “Tumblr’s decision really hurts sexworkers. The places we can openly exist and market online just keep shrinking.”

The ban comes after the app was removed from the Apple store for images of child sexual abuse, which led to a sitewide crackdown on porn; it appears Tumblr are doubling down on censorship to prevent it happening again. But censorship isn’t the answer, and Tumblr believes that its AI bots are capable of doing something that most people aren’t: differentiating effectively between porn and “non-sexualised” nudity. They are not: the bots have, so far, banned images including Sebastian Stan wearing suits with no socks, a photo of Christ, and a drawing of Wonder Woman carrying Harley Quinn. Racist or abusive content has not been censored. D’Onofrio believes that “there are no shortage of sites on the internet that feature adult content”. That is true. But Tumblr’s culture is unique; users consume content that’s been posted by creators rather than stolen and uploaded onto tube sites, meaning that they can both compensate the people who create porn and “sexualised” art, and be given context alongside it.

On the surface, it’s easy to see the slow death of Tumblr as part of a move to the new internet from the old one. This is what happens to the sites we love: gone are LiveJournal, Myspace, and all those other websites that we long to return to in a world where our every move is not only publicised, but judged. But dig deeper and it’s part of a crackdown on sex workers and on sexual expression as a whole – people are punished online for honesty, and despite its pretences as a community-driven website, it turns out Tumblr was no different.

With websites like Tumblr or Myspace, we start to feel as if we own them, as if they are ours, as if we have any say about what they do to or with the parts of ourselves we choose to share. This is a cruel reminder that not only do we have no ownership over our online communities, but that the people who do don’t care about us.

This article originally appeared on i-D UK.