The Tumblr War Over Adult Content

Written by Kristýna Hřivnáčová |

Having the position of a content creator on Tumblr these days is about as strong and stable as Theresa May purports to be. Already distraught by the threat of Article 13 taking away fan art, memes and mash-ups, the users of the blogging and social networking site were hit by yet another blow when Tumblr announced it won’t allow adult content on its site anymore.

A hurricane of a rather predictable dissent immediately followed. Tumblr first appeared in 2007 and has since grown into a vast net of 450 million blogs that range wildly in the regularity of posting, follower-count and content. However, as Dan Howell, a YouTuber and an avid Tumblr user more commonly known by his original alias danisnotonfire, once said,


“The five pillars of Tumblr are: aesthetics, fandoms, social justice, memes, and porn.”


According to Tumblr, its categorisation of ‘porn’ is pretty far-reaching. Under the new Community Guidelines that come into action on December 17, adult content is everything that “[shows] real-life human genitals or female-presenting nipples, and any content that depicts sex acts”.


Photo by Maria Eklind.


Although posts showing adult content in relation to politics, news, health and art are technically still allowed, many of the users have been caught by the automatic system Tumblr had put in place in order to sort through its 167 billion posts.

Some of them, such as superheroes, ballet dancers and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ himself, were obviously flagged up by mistake, but that only proves a point many users bring up, which is that the vast and ever-expanding universe that is Tumblr cannot possibly be sifted through by an automated system. It would be better off relying on its audience to mark content unfit for the website.

Immediately after the announcement, some blogs which self-marked as explicit were deleted regardless of whether or not they featured SFW content (safe for work) alongside the NSFW (not safe for work). On top of that, many tags including #depression and #ana (short for anorexia), are no longer possible to search up on the app.



The outrage at the ban has quickly evolved. It was initially proposed in response to child pornography being shared, but while everyone recognises such behaviour needs to be stopped, not many believe all explicit content deserves to be taken down.

People who have found Tumblr the only place to express themselves freely on matters viewed as unfit for regular social platforms, be it sexuality, sex work, or untraditional relationships, now feel like they’re being pushed out once more. Artists and photographers operating with nudity feel their craft is being threatened. Marginalised communities, such as the LGBTQ+ community, have flourished and thrived on Tumblr, but now fear their blogs may be caught up in the automatic filters. These include people who had no one to turn to and nowhere to learn from and found a home on Tumblr.

On another note, if bots for taking down explicit content can be introduced, why aren’t there filters for Nazism or white supremacy groups?

Tumblr @perkistani


Petitions for the freedom of expression, opportunity to continue working, and maintaining friendships made online of course began. The biggest one on is now getting very close to reaching its goal of half a million signatures. Both this petition and the variety of blogs posting with hashtags such as #protest, #petition and #December 17th show clearly that the Tumblr community, despite all its differences and internal wars, stands as united on this matter as it has ever been.

One could say that Tumblr itself might come out of this situation with the worse bruises as it could very well lose a huge chunk of its users, seeing as adult content plays a role in all five aforementioned pillars of Tumblr.


Tumblr @mismador


How successful these protestations will be is still uncertain. While Tumblr might have its sunny and optimistic side, it’s also the den of sarcasm and general disappointment with the state of the world, meaning that the belief in the ban being abolished is rather split.

If worse comes to worst, though, at least everyone on Tumblr has been reassured there is one place they can relocate. Leaving thousands of Tumblr users flabbergasted and pleased by its invitation to join their ranks, Pornhub, one of the (if not the) biggest porn websites in the world, rose to the opportunity of acquiring the NSFW content creators of Tumblr, and with the way things are currently going, I daresay they are going to get them.