Tumblr Ban on Adult Content May Be Final Straw for Site

In 1964, the United States Supreme Court was presented with the case of Jacobellis v. Ohio, involving the alleged obscenity of a film. In an opinion from Justice Potter Stewart, he stated that he would not attempt to define what was considered obscene, rather stating, “I know it when I see it.” In 2018, this same sentiment is being echoed by the Yahoo-owned social media platform, Tumblr, in its decision to ban adult content.

In a divisive and shocking move by the site, Tumblr has announced that all of the site’s adult content will be removed effective December 17. This comes as a response to the site being a source for illegal pornographic content. Most recently, the Tumblr app was removed from the App Store in November over allegations of child pornography.

Tumblr CEO Jeff D’Onofrio addressed the allegations in a statement saying, “posting anything that is harmful to minors, including child pornography, is abhorrent and has no place in our community. We’ve always had and always will have a zero-tolerance policy for this type of content.”

In a separate post, the platform outlined exactly what it will be considered adult content. According to Tumblr’s updated guidelines, “Adult content primarily includes photos, videos, or GIFs that show real-life human genitals or female-presenting nipples, and any content—including photos, videos, GIFs and illustrations—that depicts sex acts.” Once in effect, the Tumblr algorithm will flag content deemed as adult and revert the privacy setting of the post to only viewable by the user who posted it.

The post continued to say what sort of content would still be permitted, providing examples of exceptions to the ban such as “exposed female-presenting nipples in connection with breastfeeding, birth or after-birth moments, and health-related situations, such as post-mastectomy or gender confirmation surgery… erotica, nudity related to political or newsworthy speech, and nudity found in art, such as sculptures and illustrations.”


Courtesy: Flickr


Though many applauded the site for taking action to keep pornography away from minors and toughening up their previously lax approach to sexual content, especially after a 2015 lawsuit in which Tumblr was sued for allowing a revenge porn tape of a woman when she was 17.

Those like law professor Mary Anne Franks, are for the ban stating, “If five years ago they had gotten a handle on nonconsensual pornography or the child pornography issues, maybe they wouldn’t have to resort to something so extreme.”

On the opposite side of the argument, some feel that it is an extreme change and its broad strokes approach won’t work towards meeting the goal of eliminating child pornography. A petition by a Not Safe for Work (NSFW) artist online, who cried for Tumblr to “rescind their adult content ban,” has been created and has garnered nearly half a million signatures in less than a week.

Those in the sex work industry, like cam girls and porn stars, see the move as detrimental to their line of work, seeing as Tumblr’s lax regulations and filters for explicit content made it a platform conducive for hosting their videos and advertisements. There is now a sense of panic in the community over where they will take their work once it is completely banned, ironically, on International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers.

Some have argued this change in being harmful to many in the LGBT community who rely on the site for representations of sex that aren’t available in mainstream media. Many have cited the platform as being beneficial in aiding youth in discovering and exploring their sexuality through sexualized content and discussion spaces.

Other online communities that feel targeted by this ban are those that post nude images in the effort to promote body positivity. By sharing such content, users aim to create a dialogue surrounding the existence of different body types and foster a dialogue of acceptance for those not typically represented in society on a mass scale. Under the new regulations, it promotes the notion that a naked body is inherently pornographic and explicit; to which many have taken issue.

The overall reaction to the decision by users has not been a positive one, with many citing this as censorship and the final straw for their use of the once safe space sex-positive site. With decreased popularity in user-ship since its peak in 2014, Tumblr now faces serious threats of decline as many threaten to abandon the site as a result of the ban. With explicit content gone and so many communities being left Internet-homeless, the next big question is: Where will they go now?