Welcome to This Week in Fandom, the OTW’s roundup of things which are happening. Today is a bit of a special edition–we’ll be talking exclusively about the continuation of The Tumblr Purge.
Yesterday, Tumblr made an announcement that, as of December 17th, 2018, it would ban “adult content, including explicit sexual content and nudity.” Tumblr’s new community guidelines specify further that “Certain types of artistic, educational, newsworthy, or political content featuring nudity are fine,” but things like “female-presenting nipples” are not, which has inspired some satirical memes.
Several major news outlets have published articles about this turn of events. The Washington Post stated that Tumblr has a long history of being a home to NSFW material: “For years, Tumblr has been known for the sex-focused subcultures active on the image-forward service: Those sharing and making explicit fan fiction and art, amateurs and hobbyists, and LGBT erotica and pornography.”
Motherboard reported on how Apple’s app store regulations may have been responsible for the decision, as well as the similar policies for other websites and apps: “With its massive distribution and strict rules, Apple’s App Store has had a broad homogenizing and sanitizing effect on the internet.”
The Verge links the change to something else, the Oath unit of Verizon, the parent company that ultimately owns Tumblr: “Since Tumblr was founded in 2007, it has largely turned a blind eye to adult content. The company has tried to shield it from public view through Safe Mode and more stringent search filters. But in recent months — and under the ownership of Verizon’s Oath unit — it began to consider removing content more aggressively.”
BBC News points out that the adult content on Tumblr is different from adult content on many other parts of the internet, which makes this change a greater loss: “Unlike typical pornography sites, which overwhelmingly cater to men, and serve an often narrow definition of what is attractive, Tumblr has been a home for something else – content tailored at vibrant LGBT communities, or for those with tastes you might not necessarily share with all your friends.”
The Guardian agrees that marginalized people will be those most affected by the change: “But for some in the LGBT community and also the sex worker community, there were concerns. They said Tumblr, founded in 2007, was where they felt comfortable expressing themselves because of the allowance for explicit adult content.”
Ironically, December 17th is International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers.
There are pushback efforts in place. A change.org petition has been started in an effort to get Tumblr to reverse its decision. As of the time of writing, it has over 100,000 signatures. Tumblr users are also planning a Log Off protest on the day the changes will go into effect.
Between now and December 17th, Tumblr will be flagging all content deemed inappropriate by its algorithm. However, the algorithm is making a lot of mistakes. It even appears to have accidentally flagged its own policy change announcement post.
And as for the fans and other users who are just trying to figure out to handle this? There are lots of advice posts floating around, like this one, for how to handle the situation. People are sharing directories of where to find each other on other sites, like this one. There are also numerous alternatives to Tumblr being discussed, with Dreamwidth and Pillowfort appearing to be the leading contenders, though the latter apparently may not be permitted to host adult material at their current domain. Some people have even asked whether the OTW might create a social media site people could migrate to, but the answer to that is, unfortunately, no.
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