Tumblr Reverses Its Pornocalypse – For Now

tumblrsettingsOver the last few days the internet as been mightily stirred up thanks to Valleywag “breaking the news” that Tumblr had effectively hidden all 2 million-plus porn blogs. It had removed the “erotic” tag along with numerous other porny tags and inserted a robots.txt file that hid any blogs marked “NSFW” or “adult” from all search engines.

I say “breaking the news” because Bacchus from Eros Blog had actually discovered this in May.

Violet Blue gave a good rundown of the censorship in her Znet column and, as the news spread across the web, a lot of Tumblr users got very, very pissed off. Cue the hashtags, the emails, the angry posts.

After several confusing and contradictory statements from the people at Tumblr (including this July 19 post from Tumblr’s CEO David Karp), today we get the news that they have pretty much backtracked on the whole thing. They’ve merged the “adult” category into the larger “NSFW” category, have removed the robots.txt problem and made the tags visible again. Tumblr are now saying they have no problem with porn, it’s just that they want to make sure anything adult is properly marked as such so those with filters can use them.

Oh, and they don’t want to host “spammy commercial porn sites” owned by “not-so-nice people” or have blogs that engage in “harmful behavior like bulk linking to/from commercial porn sites”.

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With regards to the former, I welcome it. Tumblr has essentially just said: we don’t mind porn but we want it labelled so it can be filtered by those who don’t want porn. And ONLY by those who don’t want porn. This is assuming, of course, that Tumblr isn’t going to hide everything again once the fuss has died down.

This, right here, is how the entire internet needs to deal with porn. Self-classification by the people who make it with NO SUBSEQUENT DISADVANTAGE for doing so. This takes away the vagaries of “community standards” definitions and unchecked, inconsistent, complaints-based censorship by bots or low-paid “apprentices” who “know it when they see it”. After my experience asking Vimeo for their definition of “pornography”, this move by Tumblr shows the way.

Way back when I got started, it was how adult sites showed we were responsible – we put the ICRA and RCA tags in our code, so filter software could find our sites and filter them. It meant we could make porn for people who wanted to see it and those who didn’t could use software to filter it out. I don’t see why Vimeo can’t do the same, creating an “adult” rating for their videos and giving users the option of making their own choices.

That said, Tumblr’s attitude to (and definition of) “spammy commercial porn sites” needs to be examined.

I have only just started to use Tumblr. I’ve stayed away from it until now for a number of reasons. Using it violates Bacchus’ first rule – if it’s worth doing, host it yourself. When you rely on other people for hosting or a service, you are then vulnerable to their rules and the possibility that you could lose it all at the stroke of a pen (see the tearing of hair that followed Tumblr’s announcement). Unfortunately, the rise of social media and all the traffic that flows from it has meant we’re often forced to use third-party services, even if only casually. Hence, the Bright Desire Tumblr.

On top of that, Tumblr has perplexed my old-school porn brain. You can’t put ads down the side of it and their terms forbid affiliate advertising. So, being the evil porn queen that I am, why would I use it if I can’t make money from it? And – in theory – the desire to use Tumblr as a way to get free hosting for affiliate advertising is exactly what the CEO was talking about when mentioning “spammy porn sites”. Fair enough, I guess.

The problem is this: in creating the Tumblr for Bright Desire, am I being “spammy”? Am I “not-so-nice”? I’m not putting affiliate links on that site but I am advertising my own paysite by posting gifs and pics from Bright Desire that I hope people will share. It’s a way of getting my site in front of people who might like my content. If I’m doing this for self-promotion rather than the simple “love” of sharing porn images, does that mean I’m violating the terms?

And consider this: the images I’m posting are licensed to me, chosen by me and authorized to be shared in what I consider to be a promotional manner. I also have the 2257 documents for those images.

Compare this with the millions of Tumblr porn blogs that post unlicensed, unauthorized, un2257’d images without so much as a link to where they came from. It doesn’t matter that their terms state you can’t post copyrighted content; Tumblr is built on stolen, unreferenced porn. People don’t hesitate to copy and share an image they like and to build giant blogs and traffic bases from that. If I may get a little Grandma Scrotum about this, in my day you didn’t do that. If you wanted to make a porn site you absolutely had to buy a licence for that content. At least, that was the case until the porn tube sites came along and obliterated the rest of the business with rampant piracy.

(By the way, you’ll note in Tumblr’s terms that they forbid you from uploading sexually explicit video because “hosting this stuff is fucking expensive” and they recommend you use xHamster instead. No mention of making sure the video is yours to begin with.)

So I do find the comments regarding “commercial porn sites” to be a little perplexing. In theory, if you were posting porn with affiliate links underneath it, at least that porn would be licensed and authorized for use. And if I am posted licensed, watermarked content from my own commercial porn site, surely that’s better than it being stolen and shared with no gain for me? Again, it would be nice to have a more expanded definition as to what Tumblr doesn’t want.

All of this wouldn’t be an issue if I could host the Tumblr software on my own domain. That way I could take advantage of the tags, the reblogging and the easy platform without having to dance to the tune of a major corporation. I’m actually hoping that the new release of WordPress will have a reblogging feature which -for me – would remove the need for Tumblr in the first place.

The Tumblr adventure is just another episode in the ongoing clash between porn and the increasingly corporatized internet. In just the last month I’ve had issues with Blogger, Vimeo and with Google Plus (an ongoing drama that I’ll blog about soon), all of them determined to expunge adult content from their services. Unfortunately the internet’s public and social spaces are all owned by private companies that want nothing to do with porn and it means that adult content is being forced into a ghetto, starved of traffic and discriminated against. As someone who believes in freedom of speech and who is trying her hardest to make a better kind of porn, it’s an ongoing source of frustration. At least this latest move by Tumblr is a small sign of hope.

If you do have a Tumblr blog and want to move to your own hosting, Violet Blue wrote this guide for how to move to WordPress from Tumblr. And this page has a tutorial on how to make a Tumblr-style WordPress blog. And if you go with a free WordPress theme, make sure it’s from WordPress.org or WordPress.com as a lot of other free themes contain malware.

Image is from Bacchus’ Eros Blog.

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