Tumblr’s Porn Ban


In early December, Tumblr’s so-called ‘porn ban’, a censoring step to prevent the posting and sharing of ‘adult material’ was announced to be enacted on the site from December 17th. The rules in place were announced following the app’s removal from Apple’s iTunes store following a child pornography incident. In their letter explaining this new ban, Tumblr highlighted their partnering with child protection organisations to ‘protecting our children from abuse, and through these partnerships we report violations of this policy to law enforcement authorities’ as evidence of new steps taken to prevent further violations. Tumblr defined ‘adult content’ as any explicit sexual content and nudity, with few exceptions. The ban directly targets the visibility of female nipples in particular, yet permits nudity pertaining to political protests, photographs of breast feeding and medical treatments on women’s bodies, and artful depictions of a nude form. It is content depicting explicit sexual ‘acts’ which are to be expelled.

Given the backlash and controversy surrounding Tumblr’s history with pornographic material this move is somewhat understandable, albeit late. However, the step to remove all sexual material, including consensual content begs one to question whether a ubiquitous ban is necessary, and even the removal if all porn is an effective use of this resource. More than 5 years ago when I frequented the site, content romanticising and glorifying self-harm and eating disorders were inescapable on the site. It was almost impossible not to come across some of this material despite active attempts to avoid it, and this remains true. I logged back into the same account I first set up in 2011 and a search for terms relating to both of these behaviours. Unlike in the past, a warning now comes up directing users to various organisations trained to help those in times of crisis. However, it is easy to then view search results regardless, and find yourself in amongst these posts with access to a community in which this is normalised and encouraged.

Of course it’s hard to monitor the content that spreads on the site, but a similar search seeking anything concerning sex produces in a much milder set of results, edging on the PG-13 at most. This step to ‘protect’ the youth does so in a way that fails to identify and tackle the true, problematic (to use the word this site taught us all) underlying issues. It’s hypocritical and naïve to take steps such as the ban and partnerships with protection organisations as examples of what can be done to protect children. The ban itself screams of being extremely reactionary; the removal of all potentially offensive material only goes so far as to ‘protecting’ the young users of the site, yet mutes the criticism facing the blogging platform.

Furthermore, this ban will obviously not signal the end of young people accessing ‘adult material’. Instead, the removal of this access will inevitably lead to people seeking this material elsewhere, potentially leading them to much more hardcore and intense sites with low access requirements. Porn itself is not the problem here, although its existence on Tumblr was widespread, it was more often than not more tasteful and artful depictions of sex than one would come across anywhere else online. Furthermore, if the issue relates to protection of children on the site, it would be more logical to implement an age-restricted material viewing barrier instead of a complete ban.

It’s now likely that current users will simply leave the site, now no longer to access more of the appeal to many young users. Tumblr being unique from other sites in that you can follow and like as much nudity and porn as you want without your pals being able to see. Twitter and Instagram both have the same age restrictions to Tumblr, in addition to similar policies. Nudity on Instagram is completely banned, whereas on Twitter material can be posted but often flagged as sensitive material, a step a user can do on their own prior to posting. It’s clear that there isn’t an example of a site that has yet to create fully successful guidelines, but it’s doubtful this act from Tumblr will actually benefit the children in the way it professes to.

[Stacey Anderson – @staceyanders0n]

[Image credit: Anonymous]

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s