The Death of Tumblr

Tumblr will ban 'female-presenting nipples' and other content beginning December 17, 2018. Photographer and writer Nate 'Igor' Smith is a longtime Tumblr user whose work straddles the boundaries of art, editorial, and adult. Here, Nate explains why Tumblr's decision to censor is devastating for the Tumblr's longtime users, and the rest of us. — XJ

THERE WAS A TIME when Tumblr was my favorite place to post photos. It was a social network that you could customize in so many ways that you could create a blog or a mood board or hide a secret project behind a password protected gate. It was used by so many people in so many different ways. You could posts .gifs on Tumblr before they worked on Twitter and you could post uncompressed images that looked good on desktop or smartphone without having to know any code.

I used it as a great place to post images that I could then send to Twitter to get around Twitter's terrible compression and constantly flowing feed. I used it as a place to organize my images because of Tumblr's tagging system. I could search for a person or subject or send someone a link to just a specific tag so they could see all my favorite photos of juggalos for example. It was a fantastic tool and my most popular social network until Instagram really exploded.

My career as a photographer took off right around the same time as Twitter and Tumblr and Tumblr really felt like a place where I could post my more personal work alongside my more commercial stuff. I would shoot digitally for my clients and then post my 35mm work to Tumblr's fantastic film photography community. My road trip photos didn't feel out of place with my nude work on Tumblr. The band photos I shot for Rolling Stone didn't feel strange next to the outtakes of work that I shot for Hustler or Playboy. My nightlife work for the Village Voice worked with the snapshots of my friends that I took with a point and shoot camera. The journalism I shot for Vice worked with the terrible Dos and Don'ts I also shot for Vice.

The photographer Corwin Prescott put it perfectly when he said "I think the saddest part for me is Tumblr was the only place that all my work could be displayed side by side."

His Tweet featured gorgeous photos of a buffalo in the fog and a mountain reflected in an icy pond next to two equally beautiful erotic images. Tumblr was a perfect place for us, photographers who crossed the line between commercial and adult work many times over.

Tumblr had some problems of course; content was constantly posted and reblogged without a source, tags like "#thinspiration" became upsettingly popular and porn was everywhere which was clearly a problem for a social network that had a younger audience. But it was also a place for people to explore their sexuality and gender and find adult materials without blame and find communities of people dealing with issues they were going through. Like Facebook with "Fake News" and Twitter with Nazis Tumblr faced these issues with the grace of a pigeon nubs for feet.

When Tumblr was sold to Yahoo! for over a billion dollars in 2013 Yahoo! did what they do best, they destroyed the company. I don't really want to go through the history of Tumblr's downfall, there's plenty of stuff you can read about it, but let's skip to 2017 which is when they lost me.

Last year Tumblr started filtering "adult" blogs. Instead of giving you an option to mark specific content adult or not, they just marked any Tumblr account with nudity as adult and the only way you could view these Tumblrs would be to log into your Tumblr account and turn off "Safe Search". This meant anyone without a Tumblr account, or without being logged into one, wouldn't be able to see anything I posted. So that means sharing to Twitter was done and it meant I could no longer send people links to my work via Tumblr. It gutted me. That was the end of Tumblr for me.

A year later I decided that I should maybe go back to Tumblr. I wasn't going to share that stuff with Twitter anymore, but I had 20,000 people following me on Tumblr and I felt I could post the occasional post for them. I didn't update a lot after that, but it was actually fun to see feedback from Tumblr because the few people left were actively engaging with my content. I had missed Tumblr.

In March of 2018 a bill called FOSTA-SESTA was passed. The House was called FOSTA (Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act) and the Senate bill was called SESTA (Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act). They passed with wide bipartisan support and were hailed as some great achievement in stopping sex trafficking. In reality what they did was destroy the Internet as we know it.

The bills make websites liable for sex trafficking and child pornography on their platforms. Meaning if someone uploaded child porn to Tumblr, then Tumblr could be responsible for that. (This also had major implications for consensual sex work because a platform like Craigslist is liable for escort ads published on their site. I could write a much longer article about that, but for the moment we are talking about Tumblr.)

In November Tumblr was kicked off the Apple Store because of child porn reports and less than a month later Tumblr decided that they would shut down all adult content on the site (meanwhile Twitter is still filled with Nazis) including "female presenting nipples". It's like killing a fly with a rocket launcher.

I went to my Tumblr today and I found that the majority of my posts over the last couple years had been flagged. They missed some stuff, but more often the flagged things that weren't adult. They flagged women in underwear, "male presenting" nipples, and even images of alcohol and smoking. Clearly some of these were a mistake like an image of my friend eating ice cream and Tumblr has created a review process, but if click to "Learn More" about the review process it opens up blank browser window. Impressive.

This has been a disaster for Tumblr and instead of fixing their platform, it's just putting the final nail in their coffin. I have been wrong about a lot of things in my life, but I would be very surprised if Tumblr is as relevant as MySpace a year from now.

If you have a Tumblr with adult content (or really any content) make sure you download or export your Tumblr before December 17th.

If you want to enjoy some of the incredibly offensive things that Tumblr flagged please enjoy this Twitter thread at least until Twitter blows itself up a few months from now…