Media & Entertainment

Tumblr Banned Porn in December of 2018 and Chased Off Its Most Vulnerable

Image Credit: Photo by Andras Vas on Unsplash

In December of 2018, Tumblr made an announcement: effective December 17th, all adult content would be banned from the site. The company had its reasons of course. Shortly before that, the Tumblr app had been pulled from Apple’s App Store because illegal images featuring minors had been discovered on the site. This problem is not unique to Tumblr, as awful content circulates in some capacity on just about any site that allows video and image content to be uploaded by a user base. However, Tumblr took the unique step that many others haven’t by completely banning any and all adult content, as opposed to just trying to increase their screening or security protocols.

Of course, we’re not here to discuss the morality of what they did. We’re here to discuss the ramifications, and it’s not pretty. According to The Next Web, traffic to Tumblr dropped more than 17% the month after they banned adult content, losing more than 100 million page views. That’s a lot! And for a site that is primarily monetized based on the size of its user base, it’s certainly not good news.

But, who did they lose? We took a closer look at our question about Tumblr usage and compared weekly+ users of the site in Q4 of 2018 compared with Q1 of 2019 to find out.

In our first bit of unsurprising news, male users went down. In Q4 of 2018, weekly users of Tumblr were pretty evenly split between men and women. Now, it’s trending closer to 60/40 female to male.

In addition, Tumblr lost a bit in its tech-savvy category. On the surface, this may seem innocuous, but anyone who has worked in digital adoption research will tell you that consumers of adult content are often the best indicators for which technologies are coming up next. The reason? The pornography industry tends to be among the leaders in tech adoption. For a recent example, look no further than virtual reality, which was immediately adopted by the pornography industry. Unsurprisingly since December’s announcement, Tumblr’s biggest loss in the tech-savvy community is among those who say they own or intend to own a VR product.

But, it’s not just the issue of pornography that Tumblr is contending with, it’s also what its new strict policies may imply about the company and how it is monitoring its user base. In Q4 of 2018, 51% of weekly Tumblr users were very concerned about data privacy, which was about in line with the baseline established by the average US consumer. In other words, even those who were worried about their data privacy felt comfortable using Tumblr regularly. Now, with increased stringency on content, that number has fallen to 43% so far in 2019, while those who have no concern about data privacy increased.

On the surface, this may not seem meaningful, but in context with Tumblr’s legacy as a safe place for sex positivity for marginalized communities, it becomes clearer: Tumblr users who felt safe openly expressing themselves at the site are fleeing, perhaps because they feel that this new content policy means that they are being tracked more closely. That makes people–particularly marginalized communities–nervous.

And for the last bit of evidence that this is having the strongest impact on marginalized communities, look no further than the below chart. Use among people who identify as straight is completely unimpacted. But for those in the LGBTQ community, the user base has been more than halved.

It’s very easy to scoff at the concept of Tumblr banning adult content. I know, because I was guilty of it myself. “Oh no, where will people find free pornography on the internet now?” was a common sentiment that was expressed at the time, as though Tumblr was making some sort of bold choice that amounted to plugging a dam with a piece of gum. But, taking a deeper dive into Tumblr’s ban reveals how shortsighted of a decision it was.

Tumblr was a space for marginalized members of the LGBTQ community, where the “adult content” was often directed at people who couldn’t find like-minded communities on the mass-consumed, often heterosexual and male-driven pornography sites. It was a community that stressed sex positivity for groups of people that see the mainstream telling them that their preferences were lesser.

In a move aimed to increase the site’s security, Tumblr ended up destroying a safe area for its most vulnerable user base. This isn’t a joke about porn consumption. It’s a tragedy for young LGBTQ people looking for allies online.

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