Editorial, Opinion

EDITORIAL: Tumblr’s excessive adult content ban is the wrong answer to child pornography scandal

Starting Dec. 17, Tumblr will remove adult content from its site. SCREENSHOT FROM TUMBLR.COM

The social networking website Tumblr was home for many of us in our tween years. A lot of us probably associate the site with a world of fandoms, but it turns out that much of the content on the app isn’t so innocent.

Starting Dec. 17, the app will purge all content that is explicitly sexual or depicts nudity. The adult content ban includes “photos, videos, or GIFs that show real-life human genitals or female-presenting nipples,” according to the new guidelines posted on their website.

In some ways, it’s understandable why Tumblr feels the need to crack down on adult content entirely, instead of leaving users to employ the “safe search” button when they see fit. The safe search button relies on an algorithm to weed out explicit content that can’t be accurate 100 percent of the time, and adult content could slide through the cracks and onto the timelines of people, maybe young users, who don’t want to see it.

There’s no shortage of websites offering pornography online. Tumblr probably thinks that people who want to access that kind of content will still be able to find it elsewhere, while not putting people who want to be on Tumblr for other purposes — to be part of fan communities or share artwork — in a position where they have to choose between staying on the website or avoiding NSFW content. That’s understandable to an extent.

But Tumblr isn’t going about this the right way. Do they need a better regulation system? Yes. Do they need to ban all adult content? Absolutely not. It’s not up to Tumblr to decide what is and isn’t for “adults,” potentially censoring content that could be educational or could simply not be explicit at all. These new guidelines will limit ideas, and they’ll limit what people can and can’t learn.

And in cracking down on certain cases of nudity, banning female and not male nipples, Tumblr is reinforcing these societal standards that just don’t make sense.

Tumblr says that images of female nipples related to breastfeeding or birth-related moments will be permitted, but breastfeeding is stigmatized because nipples are stigmatized. Banning images of female nipples, yet permitting them in cases where they are associated with breastfeeding, does nothing to help remedy the problem that mothers face: being judged by others for breastfeeding and prevented from breastfeeding in public.

These things occur because people are frightened by the sight of female nipples, and Tumblr is only perpetuating that stigma.

The only reason Tumblr is taking action against explicit content now is because their app was taken off the Apple App Store after child pornography was discovered on the platform last month. The company should absolutely do everything possible to respond to content permeating on its platform that is harmful to others, as child pornography clearly is, but Tumblr can clear its platform from porn that violates standards of safety without using a sweeping gesture to harm the wrong people.

What Tumblr should have done — and what every other content website that is open to the public now has the opportunity to do — was commit the resources to hire rigorous content monitors. Instead, they went for a quick fix, disregarding the business implications that could come if a fifth of their base drops off.

The app should work on perfecting its safe search feature and making sure explicit content doesn’t affect people who don’t want to see it, rather than removing that feature and attempting to ban porn entirely. This way, artists and creators whose work features nudity will not be penalized as a result of this new policy.

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