Ever wonder what it would be like for a website or platform to suddenly just pull the plug on an enormous swath of its users? Not just one or two thought criminals (such as, to pick at random, American Renaissance), or even a few dozen or hundred users, but a massive purge? Well, you are about to see such an act, arguably for the first time.
On December 3, the micro-blogging platform Tumblr announced that in one fortnight, on December 17, all “adult content” will be permanently removed from its site.
What is Tumblr? It’s just one of the most popular blogging platforms on the planet. So popular, in fact, it often ranks as one of the most popular websites on earth. Moz, at the time of this writing, placed it as number fourteen, putting it higher than Amazon.com.
Tumblr is like a cross between Wordpress and Twitter. You create your own account/site, which is yours, but is still on the Tumblr platform. The structure of site is such that it is best used for visuals (photos, videos, GIFs, memes) as opposed to longform writing (as in the case of Wordpress) or pithy quips and jokes (as in the case of Twitter).
Founded in 2007, for a while it was the “it” platform to be on. I set one up in high school because, well, all the cool kids were doing it. During my first week of college, I mentioned to another freshman that though I was not on Facebook, I did have a Tumblr, to which he replied, “God, you are such a hipster.”
Over the years, Tumblr became best known for three things:
1) It was the original incubator for what we now call “Social Justice Warriors.” Back in 2011, if you wanted to find political opinions expressing outrage about how absolutely everything was unforgivably racist, Tumblr was the place to find it (Great example: “Yo, Is This Racist?”).
2) Fan blogs. Fan blogs are centered around one celebrity, TV show, or what have you, and they just post a lot of photos and GIFs related to the theme and blather on about how much they like it; similar to the teeny bopper magazines of yore.
3) Porn. As some of you may have guessed when I noted that Tumblr was a very visual medium, it always lent itself well to porn clips, erotic (or simply explicit) photography, and the all-important GIFs.
Just how much of Tumblr is porn? I doubt anybody knows for sure, but the short answer is: “a ton.” (VDARE.com is only posting pictures of Tumblr girls in bikinis, but they are overdressed by Tumblr standards.) One report on the announcement put it this way:
Since its launch in 2007, the platform has been a popular host for explicit blogs, sex worker websites and porn-centered communities who relished having a safe, unrestricted space to call their own…
… not only was explicit content from that community a key driver of Tumblr’s initial success, it has been essential to the site’s longevity, as countless other more advanced social media networks and apps have saturated the market and chipped away at the company’s share. That Tumblr still exists is due, in no small part, to the loyalty of adult content creators who are now being told that their posts — the bulk of Tumblr’s content — are no longer welcome. (emphasis added)
[Tumblr Latest Site to Crack Down on Porn, by Amelia McDonell-Parry, Rolling Stone, December 3, 2018.]
Set aside, for just a moment, however you feel about porn, its purveyors, and its connoisseurs. What Tumblr is doing here is really quite incredible. It is purging from its rolls one of its most defining and popular aspects—the ability to post porn.
There are hundreds of thousands, if not more, of loyal Tumblr users who have been running porn-centric blogs for years—some for more than a decade. They have built up voluminous archives to their liking, and in many cases amassed huge followings of folks with similar, shall we say, “tastes.”
Then, one day, Tumblr announced that in fourteen days it will all be gone. It is not just that users will no longer be able to post porn, it is that all porn that has been posted will be deleted—and the WayBack Machine preserves precious few Tumblrs, and in general is bad at preserving photos and videos anyway. Archive.org volunteers are trying: see The frantic, unprecedented race to save 700,000 NSFW Tumblrs for posterity |Volunteers are scrambling to download up to 800 terabytes of content from Tumblr’s adult-themed community before it disappears from view on December 17, By Sean Captain, Fast Company, December 12, 2018.
Imagine if your Twitter were deleted not because you did anything that violated their terms of service, but simply because Twitter one day decided to change its rules for posting and found that essentially all of your tweets were in violation of their new rules, so gave you two weeks’ notice and then blew it all away.
Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Tumblr users are now essentially in that situation. Again, however you feel about porn, it is a bit sad. Imagine working on a blog for ten years and then just having the plug pulled.
Tumblr is doing this for a few different reasons. The biggest is that they never really got good at keeping child porn off the platform in any kind of permanent or comprehensive way.
But other important factors were:
1) They had a hard time keeping spam porn Tumblrs—run by bots seeking to generate revenue for whatever porn site—at bay.
2) They just did not really want to be known as a platform largely used for porn. For years it has been easy to find lists across the web about the best Tumblr porn out there (e.g. here and here)—and those lists could be found on prominent and well-read websites, mind you. One them was Salon.com, which normally agonizes about "sexy profile pics".There has also been the understanding for a few years now that if you are looking for good porn, the best place to go hunting is Tumblr.
man... tumblr actually had some good porn this sucks— Brandy Jensen (@BrandyLJensen) December 3, 2018
Corporations, regardless of size, are certainly prone to making sudden and dramatic changes in course—and this is one such example.
But what makes this so interesting, and noteworthy, is that there is essentially no chance this change will make Tumblr’s user base happy. Tumblr has, in effect, grown tired of one huge segment of its users and is purging them. You might even say they are abolishing this user base, and hoping to Elect A New—and better—one.
The two questions that arise are:
1) Where are all the pornographers going to go?
2) Will Tumblr find a new and equally sizeable user group to make up the difference, or will they shrink into irrelevance, or even fold?
In the case of the pornographers, I suspect that they will in time find a solution. As with Dissident Rightists, pornographers face all kinds of deplatforming and social stigma, and tend to find ways around it. (It helps that they, unlike us, have money to throw at problems).
For example, the pornography industry now has an equivalent to Patreon (OnlyFans.com), as they knew Patreon would give them the boot in no time. When individual pornographers are told by banks or realtors to take a hike, the pornography industry as a whole networks and helps each other out. When legislation is being considered that would clamp down or regulate pornography, the industry includes previews in their DVDs asking viewers to call their representatives to protest—and they tweet about it aggressively as well, to their typically huge armies of followers.
As for Tumblr, only time will tell.
Let us all hope, however, that things end badly for them. If Tumblr crashes and burns because of this, Silicon Valley will assuredly take note that summarily purging a huge set of users of a certain service—and out of the blue at that—can come with very bad consequences.
While you might not like being compared to porn aficionados, from the bird’s eye perspective of the staff at tech giants, Thought Crime and porn have much in common: both have large user bases that the company finds embarrassing, both face repeated calls from outsiders to ban said user base completely, and both are seen by many as an inherently unsavory, or even criminal bunch.
If Tumblr goes the way of MySpace because of this new move, Twitter will be much less likely to forever ban every troll and pepe on Twitter.
So, let us pray for hard times at Tumblr. And remember, no matter what, one day the powers that be really can just pull the plug—just ask BoobsAreCool.Tumblr.com.