Tumblr Ban Flags Non-porn Content, Including ‘Steven Universe’ and ‘Simpsons’ Memes

On Dec. 17, Tumblr will remove all adult content from its platform, erasing the work of thousands of fan artists, shippers, pornographers and just about anyone with “female-presenting nipples.”

The new terms and community guidelines ban users from uploading “real-life human genitals” and “any content, including images, videos, GIFs, or illustrations, that depicts sex acts.”

Started in 2007 as a microblogging platform, Tumblr became a haven for fan and otaku culture, which used the site to share, blog and reblog memes and artwork featuring their favorite characters. Tumblr users were rightfully concerned when, in 2013, Yahoo bought the platform. NSFW material was soon erased from search results, though not removed from the site. The latest update is likely a direct reaction to Tumblr’s removal from the iOS App Store for “child sexual abuse material.”

“As Tumblr continues to grow and evolve, and our understanding of our impact on our world becomes clearer, we have a responsibility to consider that impact across different age groups, demographics, cultures, and mindsets,” Tumblr CEO Jeff D’Onofrio posted on the site in response to the backlash. “We spent considerable time weighing the pros and cons of expression in the community that includes adult content. In doing so, it became clear that without this content we have the opportunity to create a place where more people feel comfortable expressing themselves.”

Users have countered that banning NSFW material on Tumblr is over-censorious, throwing out sex-positive pornographic material rather than improving filtering and moderation to eliminate the child pornography that prompted the Apple ban.

But setting aside the advisability of Tumblr’s decision, the purge of adult content has had some unexpected, and funny, side effects, especially as the platform’s algorithm has done its best to “flag” content it deems ban-worthy.

Tumblr’s new policies continue to allow nude art sculptures, depictions of breastfeeding, “health-related situations” and “nudity related to political or newsworthy speech,” though the numerous examples of erroneous flagging suggests the blunt force approach taken so far will prove completely inadequate for making such fine distinctions.

As it turns out, the algorithmic flagging isn’t even particularly good at singling out “female-presenting nipples,” as Twitter user Alisa demonstrates:

Tumblr foresaw these issues, writing in their announcement post, “We’re relying on automated tools to identify adult content… we know there will be mistakes, but we’ve done our best to create and enforce a policy that acknowledges the breadth of expression we see in the community.”

So far, based on the overwhelming false ban flags, it seems Tumblr’s best is not good enough.

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