InternationalOpinion

Deleting porn won’t solve Tumblr’s darker problems

The site is riddled with structural problems that can't simply be banned into oblivion

Sometimes, your own worst enemy is yourself, and right now, Tumblr is learning this the hard way.

A couple weeks ago, the mobile app vanished from the App Store due to child pornography that slipped through the app’s content filters. In response, the staff team announced that there will be no more pornographic images on the site starting December 17. This might sound like a good (if somewhat over the top) way to solve the child pornography problem, and for another website, it might have been.

But this is Tumblr, a raging dumpster fire of a website. The staff have never been good at reining in its dark side, and this ham-fisted attempt is no exception. While the announcement made by the Staff team claims they’re “laying the foundation for a better Tumblr,” there are a number of concerns about what Tumblr is (and isn’t) getting rid of.

First, many take issue with treating porn that only involves adults the same way child pornography is being treated. Tumblr was a popular marketing venue for sex workers for years not only because it allowed adult content freely, but also had features that allowed sex workers to protect themselves. These included the ability to turn off anonymous messages or close inboxes entirely. It was a safe place for adults to find and make porn outside of an often exploitative industry.

But those days are over. Under Tumblr’s new guidelines, no explicit images are allowed, meaning sex workers will likely be leaving the site in droves.

Second, there’s the issue of what constitutes “pornographic” content. Part of Tumblr’s announcement which raised quite a few eyebrows is their ban on “female-presenting nipples” (i.e. breasts). “Male-presenting nipples,” on the other hand, remain noticeably absent from the new policy.

As many users have pointed out, if you zoom in on a nipple enough, there’s no way to tell who it belongs to and how much fatty tissue surrounds it. In the past few days, satirical memes of women in business suits giving presentations about nipples have arisen, mocking both the pseudo-woke phrasing of “female-presenting” and the idea that a male nipple is inherently different from a female nipple.

Another double standard created by the new policy is one between pornographic images and erotica. In short, images are banned, but written porn is still allowed. The problem with this is that child pornography circulating the site in written form won’t be targeted by the algorithm at all. At the same time, harmless and non-exploitative work (like fan art of adult fictional characters) will be subject to the algorithm.

By banning all pornographic images — regardless of how old its subjects are — and ignoring other forms of child exploitation, Tumblr is creating a site that’s both hostile to the fan communities that make up a large part of its user base, as well as allowing predators to keep creating child pornography in different forms.

Speaking of predators, there’s a host of other issues that Tumblr seems happy to ignore. Search up “porn” on Tumblr, and you will now find nothing.

Search up “white genocide,” “pro-ana,” (as in pro-anorexia) or “anti-Muslim,” however, and you’re flooded with results.

Toxic communities and subcultures have existed on Tumblr for years, and despite heavy criticism from the general user base, nothing has been done about them. Individual blogs can be reported for hate speech or predatory behaviour, but Tumblr is notorious for not enforcing its Terms of Service and allowing these blogs to continue to exist.

The issues that Tumblr’s grappling with now have existed for years, and users have been reporting them for about as long. They shouldn’t have gone on this long or gotten this bad. Only now, as their bottom line is in danger, is Tumblr willing to do anything at all, and what they have done will do more harm than good. 

Banning all porn might stop the site from hosting child pornography, but unless drastic changes are made to Tumblr’s NSFW policy and how it’s enforced, the site will never be the “safe place for expression” it claims to be.

Christine

Christine McManus is a third year psychology, sociology and English student. When she's not writing articles, she likes going to choir rehearsal, drinking way too much tea, and snuggling with her cat, Scotty.

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