A ban on adult content could spell trouble for Tumblr

4 Dec 2018

Tumblr app on an iPad. Image: AllaSerebrina/Depositphotos

The decision made by Tumblr to permanently ban adult content on its platform has caused some consternation among its users.

In a move that will drastically change how the platform is currently used, Tumblr yesterday (3 December) announced that it would permanently ban adult content. The decision comes after Tumblr was removed from the iOS App Store over the discovery of child abuse imagery sneaking past existing filters on the platform.

The company said that all pornographic or adult content will be banned from 17 December, with existing content falling under that category set to private. CEO of Tumblr, Jeff D’Onofrio, said the company’s actions are “out of love and hope for our community”.

New rules

New guidelines state that users cannot upload “real-life human genitals or female-presenting nipples”, including a strict ban on images that look photorealistic. Tumblr added that posts featuring nudity that are “artistic, educational, newsworthy or political” can be acceptable in some cases and may not necessarily result in removal.

The company said: “Examples of exceptions that are still permitted are exposed female-presenting nipples in connection with breastfeeding, birth or afterbirth moments, and health-related situations, such as post-mastectomy or gender confirmation surgery.

“Written content such as erotica, nudity related to political or newsworthy speech, and nudity found in art, such as sculptures and illustrations, are also stuff that can be freely posted on Tumblr.”

Tumblr is giving users until the ban’s start date to appeal but, according to the company, it is serious about the decision. “Adult content will no longer be allowed here. While we do not judge anyone for their desire to post, engage with or view this stuff, it is time for us to change our relationship with it.”

User criticise Tumblr content filters

While Tumblr has created some leeway in its new community guidelines, there are many pre-existing examples of how its content filtration system can make the wrong call. One Twitter user, @ErikaMoen, pointed out that the photos flagged from her blog included an image of a vase.

D’Onofrio admitted there would be errors along the way as the ban comes into force. “We’re relying on automated tools to identify adult content, and humans to help train and keep our systems in check. We know there will be mistakes.” Users on Tumblr who post adult content or erotica can also export their work before the ban comes into effect.

It remains to be seen how such a ban will play out over the next number of months, but criticism of the decision is almost certain to continue.

Tumblr app on an iPad. Image: AllaSerebrina/Depositphotos

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects