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How not to run a website

One of the many memes made in reaction to Tumblr’s new guidelines.

Tumblr is many things: a place for creative work, a way to call others to action, a safe haven for people to be themselves and yes, a website full of “adult content.”

What does adult content mean in this case? According to the recent community guidelines update, it is real or lifelike images of sex acts, genitals and the mysterious “female-presenting nipples.” Users have complained for almost a year about the rampant wave of “porn-bots” that interact with posts, follow users and even send private messages. These bots hide behind legitimate blogs so that Google can’t find them as easily and are often full of stolen nudes.

The staff did nothing to alleviate this mess and the sole driving force for banning adult content was due to Tumblr being removed from the app store. That’s right, Tumblr’s parent company, Yahoo!, was worried about not being able to get ad revenue and finally made a move to crack down on the child pornography that had been the cause of the app’s removal. Did it work? Absolutely not.

Already, a bot has been implemented to flag explicit content on the basis of, well, we’re not sure. So far the bot has flagged posts with non-explicit art, the baby covered in peanut butter from a vine, rocks, fandom gif sets and shirtless Mario, in addition to a lot of other unrelated content. Users have gone on to test the bot by posting various flesh toned and vaguely suggestive pictures. One user posted multiples of the same silicone breast with different color and texture filters in order to see which ones would get flagged.

As with any poorly executed site change, memes have started to crop up about Tumblr’s eventual death on Dec. 17, when all adult content will be permanently banned. On-brand as always, Tumblr doesn’t notify users when their posts have been flagged and there are few with the time or patience to wade through thousands of old posts to find them.

On the day of the guidelines update announcement, posts flooded the site, linking to other social media handles and many announced that they would be deactivating their accounts entirely. The situation then took a turn for the worse when posts cropped up reporting that LGBT+ tags and unrelated tags such as the one for chronic illness were being purged completely while Nazi/white supremacy blogs, etc. were still present.

The changes also affect artists and sex workers, who rely on the site as a way to make a living, and the mass banning of adult content could leave already vulnerable populations without a source of income. The queer community has historically been considered fundamentally NSFW and inappropriate for children.

If the staff at Tumblr is choosing to go this route, it will be a disappointing but not altogether surprising move. Fan sites like LiveJournal have done this before, operating under the initial course of action of getting rid of the porn on their sites, and quickly moving to ban all content that wasn’t heteronormative and “safe” for the children.

Sites like this have never been for children, however, and it would be a simple solution to up the age requirement from 13+ to 18+ and requiring a birthday verification at sign up. Other solutions could be banning actual porn blogs and requiring a captcha that bots can’t get around.

The effects of the ban have yet to be seen but whatever happens, it will be another milestone in Tumblr’s history of being a poorly functioning site staffed by an incompetent team who are probably running a long and detailed social experiment, but that’s just my theory. Take note, future websites.