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Tumblr is Dead to Fandom?

How will Tumblr’s new guidelines affect fans online?

Happy Christmas Eve to you all, or happy holidays, or maybe just happy Monday. It’s been exactly one week since Tumblr’s ban on porn (or ‘adult content’) came into effect and it seems has there been a lot to talk about.

What Happened?

On the 3rd December 2018, Tumblr’s ‘Staff’ account posted an update announcing that the site would no longer be allowing “adult content” to be posted to the blogging platform. In their official Community Guidelines page, more detail was given, explaining that specifically visual adult content (such as videos, images, and GIFs that depicted sexual acts or nudity) would be banned. However, written content (such as erotica), and some nudity (for example, medical or political posts that feature breasts) is still acceptable.

Screenshot of Tumblr's post announcing the ban.

So, why has Tumblr done this? After so many years of adult content floating freely around the site, with seemingly no issues? Well, it seemed to start with Apple.
In November of 2018, Apple removed the Tumblr app from its App Store due to instances of posts featuring child sexual abuse being found on the app. Tumblr, then, panicked about losing this strain of users and retaliated with haste. Since announcing the ban in early December, Tumblr has now been added back onto the App Store and is once again available to download.

Image of iPhone app screen.

Understandably, this change came as quite a shock to many Tumblr users, and even many who aren’t. Tumblr has long since had a reputation on the Internet to be the place for porn to thrive. Many users that utilize the site for sex work would be losing profit from a popular avenue (0.1% of Tumblr’s userbase were labeled as ‘producers’ of pornographic content in this 2016 study), and even more users will lose a place where previously they have been freely able to explore their sexuality and identity through adult content (the same study found that 21.54% of Tumblr’s users were ‘consumers’ of this content).

How Does This Relate to Fandom?

Tumblr has been somewhat of a central hub for fandoms online since the early 2010s, and millions of its users are fans that are looking to connect with other fans through the sharing of transformative and discursive work on their favourite subjects. Not only has Tumblr been known for its pervasive adult content, but it is also widely known online for its use by fandoms. As a blogging site, Tumblr’s unique usability allows patrons to create content (be it audio, visual, or written), share it with the use of tags, and follow others with similar interests, as well as send public and private messages and comments to each other.

And, as many know, where there is fandom, there is often porn. Similarly to Tumblr, fans have long been infamous for their use of explicit (or ‘NSFW’) content to explore their fandoms, such as erotic slash fiction, fan art, and even risqué cosplay, and posting it online. For some, these methods of creative expression were ways to explore themselves, as well as the things they loved. It was a way for fans to create a space where they could anonymously create relationships and lives they wanted online, in a safe environment.

Now, because of the changes made by the site, many fandom members on Tumblr were concerned that these safe spaces for expression and exploration would be taken away completely, and that their lovingly-created content would be deleted.

What Was Predicted?

After the announcement at the beginning of December, and before the ban came into action, many scholars and experts in the field of social media and fandom were predicting what they believed would happen after Tumblr banned its porn.

All of the predictions seemingly included the idea that fans would be migrating to other sites wholly and completely, despite any other site having quite the same appeal as Tumblr. Sites such as PillowFort.io were suggested and passed around on Tumblr prior to the ban, however Pillowfort – a recently-launched blogging site – is currently still in beta, and last week tweeted that the site “isn’t ready to handle” that number of new users yet. So perhaps the introduction of a brand-new alternative to Tumblr was not as readily available as previously thought.

In 2002, FanFiction.net (a well-known site that allows users to publish their own fanfiction and share with others in the community) did a similar thing to Tumblr; they banned NC-17 (otherwise known as ‘mature’) content. And, as found by Casey Fiesler, after this move, there was a large dip seen in the use of the platform by fandoms. Clearly, this move was not enough for a mass migration, because during these early days of digital fandom, there was, frankly, nowhere else to go.
However, in 2012, LiveJournal (another sort-of blogging site used by fans) was exhibiting some issues for users, and at the same time as their users decreased, users of AO3, and Tumblr started to grow.

So, in a way, we have seen this all before. While Fiesler described in a Twitter thread her pessimism on the subject, describing how Tumblr’s policy change could be “the final nail in the coffin” for fandoms on the site, she also explains that:

In the time between the ban being announced, and being implemented, there was a large amount of discussion about what the fate of Tumblr was to be. And many perceived this to be that of a death or an ending. The #TumblrIsOverParty hashtag was trending on Twitter after the announcement, and it was believed by many that any adult content existing on the site was to be removed, as were accounts who posed adult content on the regular. It was all very 21 December 2012, if you ask us.

What Actually Happened?

As mentioned, it has been exactly a week since Tumblr has enacted its ban on visual adult content, and in the end, it did what it said on the box.

On the 17th of December, when the ban was activated, there was an organized boycott of Tumblr by its users for the entirety of the day, however, it is unknown how many users actually took part, and whether Tumblr’s staff took any notice whatsoever.

On the 17th also, Tumblr uploaded another post to clarify that they were not, in fact, deleting all content and users from the site – as everyone had expected them to – but just that they were hiding the flagged content and users that had posted said content from anyone except themselves. So, in effect, if you were to search for your favourite explicit blogs now, you would be met with pixelated profile photos and much of this:

Screenshot from a protected Tumblr profile.

Which, we can all say, is much better than losing years’ worth of uploaded content altogether.

What Now?

So, Tumblr has officially made a start, shall we say, on its porn problem. In some ways, the “problem” is not a problem at all. For some, Tumblr was a way to explore yourself in all avenues. It was a place to challenge your views and create a sense of identity in the work of others and yourself freely, without restriction. This included fans, and while the porn ban was not meant to target fan content specifically, fans have of course been affected.

However, in many other ways, Tumblr’s porn problem was a big one. The site was even known across the web for its porn bots, who would send messages to users and infiltrate every post with links to pornographic content, as well as its selection of communities with more controversial, and even illegal, interests. And for the site to attempt to tackle this problem, in any way they can, is a start.

And as for the fans, who knows. As mentioned earlier, written adult content (i.e. erotica) is still unafflicted and will be left, which leaves fanfiction in the safe zone, for now. Also, some illustrations will be left untouched (excuse the pun), so our best guess is that for the most part, fandoms on Tumblr may continue to exist as they did, with little change. Whether this changes in the future, with more platforms for fans to migrate to, there is always that possibility. And, as said by Fiesler:

“Fandom’s fate is not tied to Tumblr’s…. Fandom has burned brightly since long before the internet, and no single platform will even get close to snuffing it out.”

Thanks for reading! Check us out on Twitter for more regular updates on the Tumblr situation in relation to fandom, and we will see you next time!

Fantasia Blog

 

Sources:

Dym, B., Fiesler, C., 2018. Fandom’s Fate is Not Tied to Tumblr’s. Slate [online], 5 December 2018. Available from: goo.gl/j9gPqR [Accessed 20 December 2018].

Fiesler, C., 2018. [Thread] Tumblr is banning adult content… Twitter [online]. 3 December 2018. Available from: goo.gl/sgbSwR [Accessed 20 December 2018].

Kelly, H., 2018. How Tumblr’s adult content crackdown could alienate users. CNN Business [online], 4 December 2018. Available from: goo.gl/ncLnya [Accessed 20 December 2018].

Ohlheiser, A., 2018. Before Tumblr announced plan to ban adult content, it was a safe space for exploring identity. The Washington Post [online], 4 December 2018. Available from: goo.gl/ZVi7dU [Accessed 20 December 2018].

Pillowfort.io., 2018. Hello everyone… Twitter [online]. 13 December 2018. Available from: goo.gl/mrJbNT [Accessed 20 December 2018].

Schwedel, H., 2018. Why Did Fans Flee LiveJournal, and Where Will They Go After Tumblr? Slate [online], 29 March 2018. Available from: goo.gl/1joNcB [Accessed 20 December 2018].

Tumblr Staff., 2018. A better, more positive Tumblr. Tumblr Staff [online]. 3 December 2018. Available from: goo.gl/f8eQoA [Accessed 20 December 2018].

Tumblr Staff., 2018. Hey Tumblr-. Tumblr Staff [online]. 17 December 2018. Available from: goo.gl/WUpsjk [Accessed 20 December 2018].

 

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