December 13, 2018

Tumblr Took A Step Against Porn, But Is It Enough?

Earlier this week, Tumblr announced that it would be removing all “adult content” from its site.  The decision comes shortly after Apple removed Tumblr from its App Store because of child pornography being shared on the social media site.

Is this a major victory? Or are there aspects of this decision that should make us pause? Also, just how big of a problem is pornography on Tumblr?

Saying that Tumblr has a pornography problem would be an understatement, and I mean a SERIOUS understatement. In recent years, Tumblr has gained a bit of a reputation as a hub for pornography.

In 2017, a group of researchers studied the pervasiveness of pornography on the site. Their findings were shocking. At the time, Tumblr had approximately 130 million users, only 0.1% of which uploaded pornographic content. However, this small contingent had a major impact.

22% of all Tumblr accounts followed this small pornography faction – meaning 22% of all Tumblr users were consuming pornography on Tumblr. Also, 28% of users did not follow a pornographic account, but followed one of the 22% that did – meaning 28% of Tumblr users were unintentionally exposed to pornographic content through features such as reblogging. In total, pornography appeared in the social media feeds of 50% of Tumblr users.

These numbers become even more troubling once age is accounted for. Thirteen percent  of users who were unintentionally exposed were under the age of 18. Even 10% of the consumers were under the age of 18. Therefore, 23% of Tumblr users who have been exposed to pornography through the site were under the age of 18.

A common myth NCOSE has been debunking is that only boys/men struggle with pornography. This is not true. Many women struggle with pornography, and this Tumblr study’s findings agree: “on aggregate the gender distribution of consumers reflects the gender distribution in the overall population”. Gender only makes a difference with respect to age, where it was found that primarily younger women view pornography whereas pornography use by men is also prevalent among older ages.

All of this suffices to say: Tumblr had a major pornography problem with over half of the site infected by it. Also, 28% of users (a significant portion under 18) are being unwillingly exposed to pornographic content through the site.

But now, Tumblr has announced that it will remove this pornographic content. This is good news because we  know about the serious public health crisis pornography is creating in society. So, should we be celebrating this change as a small victory? Not quite.

While this certainly seems like a positive step forward, there are two areas of concern:

Tumblr’s definition of pornography may be too narrow.

While much pornographic content will be removed, it is unclear whether drawings will remain. Tumblr is know for it’s fandom/fanfiction community – including many users who post sexual drawings of their favorites characters from shows, movies, and cartoons. Also, the site will continue to allow written “erotica”. This too is troublesome because usually this content is highly pornographic and sometimes even more violent and degrading than visual pornography. It also tends to target a female demographic with messages that normalize or glamorize intimate partner violence – such as in the popular “erotic” fan fiction later published in the novel After.

Verizon has a history of not improving their products

Many people may not be aware that Tumblr is currently owned by Verizon. Verizon has been consistently behind-the-game when it comes to social responsibility regarding sexual exploitation due to its failure  to remove pornographic content. Verison was named to our 2018 Dirty Dozen Watchlist. While we hope Verizon will make improvements, especially in light of Comcast’s major changes, we foresee a major battle ahead of us.

In conclusion, here are three major takeaways from this Tumblr decision to remove pornography.

  1. Pornography was/is a serious issue on Tumblr with half the website’s account being exposed to this content, many unwillingly.
  2. The proposed change will likely allow a significant portion of degrading pornographic content to remain on the site.
  3. Hopefully this is a signal that Verizon will get their act together, but we will continue to fight no matter what.

TAKE ACTION: Thank Tumblr for Its Step to Remove Pornography and Ask Them to Restrict Illustrated and Written Pornography as Well

 

National Center on Sexual Exploitation

Founded in 1962, the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE) is the leading national organization exposing the links between all forms of sexual exploitation such as child sexual abuse, prostitution, sex trafficking and the public health crisis of pornography.

Further Reading

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