Tumblr is bringing back nudity, reversing the infamous 2018 porn ban

Tumblr is bringing back nudity, reversing the infamous 2018 porn ban

Worried about the role Elon Musk will have in ruining Twitter? It looks like everyone’s old favourite social media platform is trying to lure back in its user base.

This week, Tumblr announced that it will revisit its content guidance rules, allowing nudity back on the platform.

“We now welcome a broader range of expression, creativity, and art on Tumblr, including content depicting the human form (yes, that includes the naked human form),” a Tumblr staff post announced.

Content that includes “nudity, mature subject matter, or sexual themes,” is allowed once again.

It’s not a full-on return to the days of porn being allowed on the platform though, as it goes on to state that “visual depictions of sexually explicit acts remain off-limits on Tumblr.”

Why is this decision so big for Tumblr?

Tumblr was in its heyday as the premier online blog platform in the early 2010s. It was a hivemind of popular culture GIFs, emotional outpourings, and… porn.

Porn was a crucial part of many Tumblr users’ experience, but in 2018, the site banned all nudity from the platform.

New CEO, Jeff D’Onofrio, arrived and removed all “photos, videos, or GIFs” or explicit material as well as “illustrations that [depict] sex acts.”

It was a catastrophic decision for Tumblr.

Mark Lennihan/AP
David Karp, third from right, Founder and CEO of Tumblr, reacts as confetti flies during the opening bell at Nasdaq, Thursday, July 11, 2013 in New York - Mark Lennihan/AP

In 2013, at the height of its popularity, Tumblr was bought by Yahoo for €1.1 billion.

Within a year of the porn ban, Tumblr lost 30 per cent of its visitors and was sold for a paltry €3 million.

From a billion to millions in six years. Was the porn ban the main culprit? It certainly had its part to play.

An alternative safe space

At the time of the decision to ban explicit content, a massive part of Tumblr’s user base was LGBTQ+ communities.

Just a casual scroll through Tumblr would reveal an endless slew of GIFs and screenshots from TV shows and films with queer followings. It was a hub for people to communicate with communities they couldn’t find in person. Naturally, it attracted queer people from all over the globe.

For some of the people in those queer communities, Tumblr was a place to find porn that suited their interests.

But for a very vulnerable group, it was a place to share their sexually explicit experiences.

Bebeto Matthews/AP
Yahoo and Tumblr are displayed on a computer screen in New York. - Bebeto Matthews/AP

Many transgender people found a home in Tumblr for them to post stories, share information and explore their transitions together. By the new rules, a lot of the content trans accounts were sharing counted as explicit.

“Tumblr’s ban sent a clear signal to trans communities that they were no longer welcome,” Oliver Haimson, Assistant Professor of Information at University of Michigan wrote in a paper on Tumblr’s role in trans communities.

The ban wasn’t entirely up to Tumblr. The platform was put in a difficult position.

A month before the ban, Tumblr had been removed from Apple’s iOS store because of reports of child pornography on the platform.

Tumblr led a crackdown on explicit content that led to many people arguing their acceptable content was unfairly deleted.

At the time, there was a lot of media flurry around the explicit content on the site. However, data from the era suggests only 0.1 per cent of the site’s content was explicit.

Nonetheless, Apple wasn’t budging on its ban. It was only when Tumblr instated the porn ban that it was allowed back on the Apple store.

The damage was done though, and the demise of Tumblr was already written in the stars. Falling users as people migrated to Twitter and Instagram had been a problem for a while and the porn ban was the final nail in the coffin.

It’s unlikely Tumblr will ever fully bring back porn though as CEO Matt Mullenweg explains.

“That said, no modern internet service in 2022 can have the rules that Tumblr did in 2007,” Mullenweg says.

“I do hope that a dedicated service or company is started that will replace what people used to get from porn on Tumblr. It may already exist and I don’t know about it. They’ll have an uphill battle under current regimes,” he details.

But with Tumblr bringing back nudity and Elon Musk seeming intent on tanking his latest purchase, could Tumblr have a renaissance round the corner?