Tumblr Porn Ban Leaves Artists And Fans Seeking New Platforms

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On Monday, Tumblr will officially ban and remove all adult content from the platform. It leaves the community without many options, even the users who aren’t just there for the porn.

When the news was announced that Tumblr would be removing all adult content from the platform, people were upset, even outraged. Although Tumblr said that this move was in the works for the past six months, users can’t help but draw a connection to the iOS store having recently removed the Tumblr app because Tumblr was hosting child pornography.

One woman anonymously told Kotaku that she felt relieved after the adult content ban was announced. In October, her boss received an email that included a nude picture of her taken when she was a minor. It was hosted on Tumblr. As of Monday, it will be gone.

“I reported them on October 1st,” she wrote via email. “Those links were in my hands and active for three months. I tried reporting them as child pornography, private content posted without my permission, and harassment, but I received the same standard email response every time. ‘We’ll respond as quickly as we can … Please don’t ask your friends to report the same issue … they’ll clog up our system. I asked the detective I’m working with if I should start a mass outreach with my friends on social media but they recommended I hold off. Tumblr did not and still has not responded to me directly, not even via reply on those original reports.”

Kotaku reached out to Tumblr for comment on their handling of reports of revenge porn, child pornography, and the impending adult content ban, but they did not reply before publication.

Although this woman said that she knows that the pictures of her are on the internet forever, the knowledge that they’re finally off Tumblr gives her some peace of mind. The problem is that the adult content ban is not just about child pornography, but all pornography. As a result, it comes at the price of disrupting some people’s livelihoods, like the people who draw and sell erotic art.

Not all of the erotic artists who spoke to Kotaku about Tumblr are anticipating a major change to their business once adult content has been banned. Some also draw non-horny art and plan to market that art on Tumblr. For others, some of their art is sexy, but not necessarily explicit, so they may not have to worry about the ban.

Still others have already created accounts on other platforms. Still, though, Tumblr was once a reliable way to post art of all kinds, talk to your audience, and add to your portfolio, all in one place as opposed to on multiple different platforms. That’s about to change.

“Currently I’m using Twitter as a base of operations,” Jess, also known as Jespassinthrough, told Kotaku. Although he doesn’t rely on Tumblr for his livelihood, he’d only just been discovered by the thriving artist community on the platform a few months before the ban was announced. Now he has to pack up shop. Twitter allows for more fan interactions than Tumblr did, but users can’t write long-form blog posts with announcements.

“In an ideal world, we’d have a site like Tumblr with a dedicated gallery page, tag and search system, chat, asks, the ability to format posts, and customisable blog pages. Or at least that’s my idea of ideal,” Jess said.

“Sexual expression is an important aspect of being an adult and it’s important that we have a space to explore it to understand ourselves and our lovers. Unfortunately, our options are limited.”

None of the artists or Tumblr users who spoke to Kotaku to denied that pornbots had become a presence on the platform. One of them said that they hadn’t seen pornbots, but they also keep their blog private. Another said that although the bots didn’t bother them personally, they did encounter them from time to time.

Many artists were eager to say that steps needed to be taken to remove the bots, and that those steps should have been taken a long time ago. But no one thought that banning all adult content was the right step, even the people who have been trying to call attention to the problem for years. One user said that their indirect contact with the child pornography on Tumblr was what had led them to try to take action.

“There have been many people (including me), both involved in fandom and not, trying to draw attention to the huge problem with child porn and porn bot accounts on the site—including ways to bypass reporting the blogs to Tumblr and go directly to police/authorities—in order to force Tumblr staff to act, with pretty much no results,” a Tumblr user called Sadie told Kotaku. They began using the site in 2011, when they were a young teenager.

Over the past eighteen months, Sadie said that they slowly became more and more aware of a “slow invasion” of “pornbots,” spam accounts that just post pornography. These accounts also follow normal accounts, then reblog their content, adding pornographic images the repost, as well as links to porn sites. Sadie has since been part of a group of Tumblr users attempting to draw attention to this spam, and also to the much more troubling issue of child pornography.

“There are a lot of posts floating around Tumblr instructing people on how to report not only to Tumblr, but to actual law enforcement (like this one and this one and this one),” Sadie wrote.

“It’s been a loosely-coordinated effort, in the sense that we all agree that child porn and pedophilia are really bad things that are illegal for a reason and should be stopped.”

Still, Sadie doesn’t think that banning all adult content will necessarily change things for Tumblr. More likely, it will just drive everyone off the site.

“It’s going to be throwing the baby out with the bathwater,” Sadie said. “It will probably have some effect, yes, but (as we’ve seen in the past few days) the new content-ID/flagging system is not quite working properly yet, to put it kindly.”

“In the shadowbans/mini purges, it wasn’t child porn or pornbots that were being targeted—it was educational things, SFW things, and completely random things.” Some users are now also saying that the pornbots that this flagging system is intended to target are getting around the algorithm by tagging their posts “SFW.”

These changes have farther reaching effects than just people who make erotic art. Game developer Robert Yang was the unwitting owner of what was apparently the biggest gay porn blog on tumblr.

After December 17th, all that content will be gone. Yang has previously struggled to find platforms that will sell his games, which aren’t pornographic per se, but do deal with sex and sexuality in an explicit way. Cobra Club, a dick pic simulator, used to upload all the dick picks players took in-game to a Tumblr account. Now, that won’t be possible.

“Tumblr has spent more than 6 months doing the maths around this,” Yang said. “And like a lot of platforms, they’ve decided it’s cheaper to destroy communities and force out vulnerable people, rather than investing resources in targeting the actual problems.”

“It’s easier for them to make a broken bot that randomly flags images for adult content, rather than to involve the community to come to a mutually-beneficial solution. It’s always ‘cheaper’ for them to ban everyone rather than to help someone.”

As far as moving to other platforms goes, the options are paltry. A lot of artists on Tumblr moved from DeviantArt, and now say they are loathe to go back. Twitter compresses high quality pictures, and doesn’t let you mark individual posts as not safe for work. There are workarounds, but they’re tedious to use and not natively supported by the platform.

New blogging services like Are.Na and Pillowfort are more welcoming to adult content, but are still in their infancy. Websites like FurAffinity and Hentai Foundry are pornography specific, but moving platforms at all means sacrificing a portion of your audience.

Some people are opting to stay on Tumblr just because that’s where their audience already is, but will also be hosting their artwork elsewhere. No one thinks it’s unreasonable of Tumblr to have rules about adult content, but this specific change is going to be massively disruptive to people who’ve been using Tumblr for years.

Many of the people who spoke to Kotaku about the impending ban have been using Tumblr for nearly a decade, or longer. One user, Kim, said that the Tumblr ban reminded them of Strikethrough, a similar event in 2008 where LiveJournal purged several adult oriented fandom communities.

“I know I’m reacting to it differently than younger people are,” Kim said. “If Strikethrough sparked the creation of Archive of Our Own as a non-profit archive that takes fandom seriously, and more importantly, the fight against censoring adult fanworks seriously, maybe we’ll see the birth of a non-profit run by fans social networking site.”

Because so much of the content being banned is pornographic in nature, it’s easy to dismiss these fears as frivolous. Porn’s all over the internet, right? But the people who are affected by Tumblr’s choices don’t have many other places to go to sell their artwork. Also, many Tumblr users have explained that the type of erotic art that flourishes there offers something different and outside the mainstream.

Tumblr’s reputation for being a social justice haven didn’t mean that people weren’t horny. They just made porn for themselves, the porn they wanted to see but couldn’t find. Losing all the adult content means losing that entirely.

Yang believes that the sticking point here is that “society doesn’t think of this as a problem,” and that people have put a lot of faith into corporations whose bottom line isn’t about the users, but about the profit. The internet is now a part of our public and private lives. It’s where we share what we ate for lunch, and where we find the things that get us off.

“Maybe the tech industry needs to pay their damn taxes, those taxes need to fund public research [about how tech impacts our lives,]” Yang said. “Make free expression on a corporate-owned internet a Bigger Deal.”

The woman who reached out to Kotaku to say that she was relieved that the revenge porn of herself would be removed with the ban also said she isn’t sure that taking away all the adult content is the best way to keep people like her safe.

“Everyone on and off the internet needs to be better at helping victims, whether it be helping them heal or helping them seek justice,” she said. “Censorship is a band-aid, not a solution. Censorship is temporarily permissible in my opinion if you’re working on fixing the larger issue. But if you just plan on censoring all adult content without real action to fix the child porn and revenge porn issue … that’s just bullshit.”

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