Sex Bloggers Say Tumblr Is 'as Good as Gone' After Porn Ban

"That's what tech does. It harnesses people for profitability, and then it destroys their worlds when capitalism decides we're not useful enough anymore.”

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Dec 4 2018, 3:31pm

Tumblr used to be the best social network on the internet for porn, and despite people expressing a desire to ride Venom’s tongue and fuck the clown from IT, the site’s been getting ever less horny since corporate overlords at Yahoo acquired it in 2013 and Verizon bought them out in 2017.

On Monday, Tumblr’s staff account announced a plan to shutter NSFW content for good starting on December 17. The platform's users, approximately half of which used Tumblr to watch porn in 2016, are understandably angry and sad. "Fans are now considering Tumblr as good as gone," says Futagogo, the shared identity of two sisters who coordinate a large erotic fan art community.

CEO Jeff D’Onofrio announced the change in a December 3rd blog post, writing, “We’ve realized that in order to continue to fulfill our promise and place in culture, especially as it evolves, we must change.” As per the updated guidelines, any GIFs, images, or video of “real-life human genitals or female-presenting nipples,” are on the chopping block. Any depiction of sex acts at all, including illustrations, are also out.

Tumblr plans to allow sexless nudity in art, illustration, and sculpture, but women’s photorealistic nipples will only be allowed in the context of breastfeeding and health-related situations like childbirth, mastectomies, or gender confirmation surgery. Tumblr is using an algorithm which D'Onofrio admits isn't perfect to identify banned imagery, but it's already flagging lots of stuff that isn’t even remotely NSFW.

The response to the news on social media has been overwhelmingly negative. Many have fixated on the specifically sexist language banning “female presenting nipples,” a battleground artists and activists like Lina Esco, Miley Cyrus, and Rihanna have been fighting on for years with the Free the Nipple campaign. The phrase instantly became a meme.

Tumblr has been a safe place for alternative eroticism for years, compared to Instagram and Facebook. However, D'Onofrio writes, “Without this content we have the opportunity to create a place where more people feel comfortable expressing themselves."

"That blog post is very insulting, actually," says Robert Yang, a designer who used Tumblr to archive over 100,000 CGI dick pics generated through a game he made called Cobra Club. Yang believes it's “the biggest single gay porn blog on all of Tumblr.” He continues, quoting D'Onofrio's post, "'A better, more positive Tumblr'—because people expressing consensual sexuality is worse and negative? Fuck that shit."


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As a queer artist, he isn’t surprised by the porn ban, but he is angry. “I thought Tumblr was an art-positive and sex-positive platform,” he says. “It's very depressing to see them destroy the community that made Tumblr as popular as it was. But that's what tech does. It harnesses people for profitability, and then it destroys their worlds when capitalism decides we're not useful enough anymore.”

Kat E., who runs a NSFW Rick and Morty- themed blog, says, "I'm disappointed. Not because it's another website banning adult content—that, I can handle. It's how they're banning it that's truly disappointing. Painting adult content as harmful, unsafe, and unwelcome is really insulting. It's almost as if we're getting punished alongside genuinely harmful people."

D'Onofrio argues that there are other sites for people to share sexual content, but Kat feels that they're only for companies and corporations who are "arguably the last type of people who need to be creating and distributing adult content" rather than independent content creators looking to socialize.

"Reactions so far have been just sad," says Brett Lee, who runs the porn blog addictedtofuckingandsex.tumblr.com. "Everybody kind of understands what Tumblr is trying to achieve, but they don't agree with it. " Lee's page is huge, and regularly tops 50,000 comments on posts.

He's hopeful he can rebuild his community of like-minded people elsewhere. "But it will take some time to get the same groups of people together that made Tumblr a great community," he says. He's heard buzz about moving to Reddit, which has already removed NSFW content from its official mobile apps. Futagogo has been siphoning their users to Twitter since their accounts were taken down in 2017, and noticed a surge in new followers since Tumblr announced the new rules.

"It's a classic scenario of abandoning ship, and we just look forward to see how other sites, acting as a refuge for ex-Tumblr users, will handle it," they said.

Meanwhile, the day of the changes coincides with the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. Many are pointing out the irony, since so many sex workers will be deplatformed when the new rules go into effect, which can make their jobs more dangerous.

Users on the page Sex Worker Helpfuls are advising each other that the few remaining porn-friendly sites, like Mastodon and Switter, are either full of trolls or too sparse for them to earn a living.

This move is just the latest in Tumblr’s years-long push of adult content creators and sex workers into deeper and darker corners of the site. Administrators removed content tagged “Adult” from its search in 2013, and toggled the porn free “Safe Mode” to its default setting in early 2018, for example. The wholesale porn ban is likely in response to Apple striking Tumblr from the App Store on November 16 as part of its own campaign to sanitize the internet.

VICE asked Tumblr to respond to the criticism, and a representative referred us back to D'Onofrio's blog post.

“It makes me sad about the nature of art and community on the internet,” adds Yang. “We have a fantasy that ‘if it's on the internet then it'll last forever,’ but the reality is that capitalism constantly drives the internet to eat itself, and Tumblr is just the latest example of over-policing sex across the world.”

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