The quiet death of Tumblr porn
New rules aim to keep NSFW and Adult blogs walled off from other content
It may be awkward for CEO David Karp to admit, but reportedly, 10 percent of Tumblr is porn.
It may be awkward for CEO David Karp to admit, but reportedly, 10 percent of Tumblr is porn. Andrew Burton/Getty Images

Yahoo's billion-dollar gamble on Tumblr continues to irk the blogging service's faithful — this time because new restrictions will make it more difficult for adults to find adult-themed material. Yes, Tumblr is buttoning up and slipping on its SFW pants, which means it's cutting down on errant nipples and genitalia images popping up in your feed.

Tumblr, which according to some calculations is 10 percent porn, is out to prove itself a legitimate business that's more than the cool kid on Yahoo's growing block. A few months ago the service rolled out in-Dashboard advertising, despite Tumblr CEO David Karp's early reluctance to embrace ads as a viable revenue stream.

In an appearance on The Colbert Report earlier this week, Karp told Colbert that he's reluctant to distinguish between NSFW content and the more artistic stuff that's made Tumblr the go-to for creative types and wannabes: "We've taken a pretty hard line on freedom of speech, supporting our users' creation, whatever that looks like, and that's just not something we want to police," said Karp. "When you have somebody like Terry Richardson, or any number of talented photographers, posting tasteful photography, I don't want to have to go in there and draw the line between this photo and this behind the scenes photo of Lady Gaga and her, uh, her nip."

Instead, Tumblr is putting the onus on its users to help police nudity, asking them to label their blogs in two categories on their settings pages (if applicable): NSFW and Adult. According to Tumblr's new guidelines, "NSFW blogs contain occasional nudity or mature/adult-oriented content," whereas "adult blogs contain substantial nudity or mature/adult-oriented content."

If you choose not to flag your blog this way while still posting "Blurred Lines" screengrabs, Tumblr will hunt you down and flag you later. When that happens, your newly NSFW blog will be less visible to other users. And Tumblr users simply won't like having way less users looking at their stuff. (Although, to be fair, you can file for a review if you feel like your blog was flagged NSFW by mistake.)

As you can see, Adult blogs are essentially being silo'd off into their own nether region: If you want to get your Tumblr porn fix, you won't be able to search through the hashtag index. You can only follow them directly. According to the Daily Dot, some iPhone users are reporting that a few Tumblr hashtags are already unsearchable and coming up empty. Among the more controversial: #gay, #lesbian, and #bisexual, although it's unclear if this is related to the new restrictions. (As the Daily Dot noted, "The #gay tag is hardly likely to be any more "Adult" than the tags for #girls and #anime, which used to be full of NSFW content." So there's that.)

Annoying? For some, sure. Inevitable? The writing was on the wall.

On one hand, the new restrictions should make Tumblr feel like a less-spammy place to spend your time online. On the other, it erodes the "anything goes" digital libertine principles that made the blogging service a big draw to that desired 20-something demographic Yahoo wanted in the first place.

So: The Yahoo-ification of Tumblr that users feared in the first place is nearly complete. Perhaps that's why, as a small token to its users, Tumblr now lets you take animated GIF selfies. Just be sure to cover up.

Chris Gayomali is the science and technology editor for Sometimes he writes about other stuff. His work has also appeared in TIME, Men's JournalEsquire, and The Atlantic.


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