Ten years ago, while everyone from Facebook to Twitter were still coming up with revenue streams (that we were ensured would never entail selling our information) they also began limiting and banning content based on nudity or sexual content.
Meanwhile Tumblr founder David Karp was sitting at a SoHo coffee shop thinking about porn.
Karp was waiting for the writer of Gawker Media’s porn blog, Fleshbot, Lux Alptraum and at the time Karp was overseeing the relatively new and still growing microblogging platform. Karp outlined his vision for what Tumblr could do for porn, and what porn could do for Tumblr in return.
Alptraum in The Verge earlier this week said, “Back when Tumblr was a scrappy startup housed in the offices of Frederator Studios — the company behind Adventure Time — this sort of attitude made sense. Like many tech companies that built their business atop a mountain of user-generated content, Tumblr embraced a “business in the front, party in the back” model of presentation. Casual browsers — or corporate investors — could come to Tumblr and see a clean, friendly site that promoted creativity and connection, while savvy users knew that with the tiniest bit of digging they’d be able to uncover all the smut their heart desired.”
For a time, the article suggests this balance worked out well. In 2013, TechCrunch reported that a full 11.4 percent of the top 200,000 Tumblrs were adult-oriented, and adult sites were sending Tumblr a sizable amount of traffic. Porn helped build Tumblr’s empire, and Tumblr gave porn fans a safe playground to explore their interests, one that enabled them to check out hot smut and hardcore porn without having to venture to the darker, more unpleasant corners of the internet.
Ever since Karp departed the company after it was acquired by Yahoo in 2016—porn on the site has come under scrutiny especially since many of them did not know about the proliferation of porn.
Over at PlusZahra Zsuzsanna Stardust says, “In removing sex and nudity entirely from the platform, Tumblr’s new policy misses the fact that sexual subcultures are a crucial part of public life and contribute to critical social conversations and meaningful political alliances.”
Over time, Tumblr has become a haven for fanfiction writers, artists, sex workers, kinksters and independent porn producers who have built subcultural community networks by sharing and discussing their user-generated content.
Tumblr’s definition of what constitutes permissible adult content fails to recognize the value of this kind of work. It separates sex from politics, preserves a class-based distinction between art and pornography, and limits representations of female nudity to reproduction and health.
The result is the loss of a dynamic cultural archive and the unnecessary sanitization of public space.
Photo art courtesy of the author.