In June 2017, Tumblr introduced a new version of Safe Mode, a feature the social media platform positioned as a way for users to have “more control over what you see and what you don’t.”
Turning Safe Mode on displays a filter on images that are considered “sensitive” by Tumblr, including nudity, even if it’s artistic or educational. This feature is different from the 2012 function of Tumblr’s “Safe Search,” which briefly went by the same name and de-listed adult content from search engines and Tumblr's internal search.
Previously, Safe Mode was an opt-in feature that users could turn on in their settings. Within the next few weeks, Tumblr will transition Safe Mode into the default mode for everyone.
Some adult content creators are concerned that a full roll-out of default Safe Mode will quietly push them away from view of the platform’s larger audience, and into irrelevance.
Sunday, Tumblr sent an email to all users over 18 years of age who hadn't already turned safe mode on, reminding them that the features exists. The message doesn’t explicitly state that the setting is turning on by default; only that Tumblr wants to “make sure everyone has the chance to try it out.”
“Over the next couple weeks, you might see some things in your dashboard getting filtered," the email reads. "If you like it that way, that's great. If you don't, no problem. You can go back by turning off Safe Mode any time.”
I asked a Tumblr spokesperson to clarify what, exactly, this means for users. “Over the next couple weeks, Tumblr is making browsing in Safe Mode the default for everyone 18 and older, with the option to turn it off if they want,” they told me in an email. “The change doesn't affect users under 18, who can only use Tumblr in Safe Mode."
A sex industry blogger who goes by the name Bacchus (he works under a pseudonym to protect his privacy) told me in a Twitter message that the full implementation of Safe Mode is just adding “insult to injury” for adult content creators on the site.
The site’s been a “complete loss” for adult content creators, Bacchus said, ever since Tumblr made it so that blogs flagged as NSFW were no longer indexed by search engines or Tumblr search anymore. “All this [Safe Mode update] does is make adult content even less visible INSIDE the walled garden that adult Tumblr has already become… Tumblr is dead media as far as I'm concerned, from an adult-industry perspective.”
The Safe Mode feature previously suffered from an embarrassing bug that censored LGBT content instead of actual, adult content. Safe Mode features, in general, are tough to pull off for platforms that build a user base on the premise that (almost) anything goes. Patreon’s recently updated guidelines for adult content put many users at risk of being banned and losing income sources. Tumblr previously established a lax attitude about sensitive content, and for that reason, there’s a ton of porn on the site. As TechCrunch reported, Tumblr’s “adult” posts, the top category on the site, drive more than 20 percent of clicks to Tumblr’s desktop site.