Take a moment and reflect on seventh grade as you sit in your bed scrolling through the pictures of Acacia Brinley with Sharpie whiskers, the inevitable Directioner and Belieber drama, and Harry Potter fan art, when suddenly you get the notification that someone followed you. Your wannabe pastel grunge Tumblr blog with a chibi as the icon photo has only 14 followers, so this one follower is a big deal. You see the url name is deluxe-z97 and, although it seems weird, you continue to look at their blog anyway. You become shocked when you are faced with inappropriate content that your young Dan-and-Phil-filled mind was not asking for. This is just the first of many “porn bots” that will follow or message your blog. As you eventually reach the Tumblr veteran status in the present day, this has become so normal that when you get that “hey hey cutie” message with a sketchy link, you simply just roll your eyes.
If you are a native Tumblr user, then you have most likely witnessed the more adult-content side of Tumblr, whether you wanted to or not. This has always been a fault of tumblr.com, as they have always struggled to filter out the “porn bots” that plague their database and slip through screenings. However, this ongoing trouble shifted into a much more grave issue when continual accounts of child pornography being posted and shared were reported. “Every image uploaded to Tumblr is scanned against an industry database of known child sexual abuse material, and images that are detected never reach the platform,” a Tumblr spokesman said. However, this did not seem to be stopping the problem, and, although Tumblr claimed that they were taking action to stop the spreading of this material, there were no results to show for their effort.
Apple decided to take action and crack down on Tumblr’s unresolved child pornography problems by removing the Tumblr app from the iTunes App Store on Nov. 16, 2018. This came with little surprise, as Apple had made Tumblr unavailable to certain parent-controlled devices prior. In general, Apple avoids censorship of taking apps off of the iTunes App Store unless the app or content blatantly neglect to abide by the company’s policies, cause legal demands, or operate against government censorship laws. This is a rare occurrence, as Apple must approve the app being on the App Store, meaning that non-abiding apps would most likely be blocked in early stages of the app approval process.
Although Apple’s removal of the app from the App Store does not directly fix the Tumblr content situation, it has been effective in motivating Tumblr to take steps to cracking down on scanning photos before they are posted on the website. Tumblr released a statement on their Help Center Announcements page that said: “We’re committed to helping build a safe online environment for all users, and we have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to media featuring child sexual exploitation and abuse. As this is an industry-wide problem, we work collaboratively with our industry peers and partners like NCMEC to actively monitor content uploaded to the platform.” The company claimed to be working behind-the-scenes to screen content and took small steps, such as removing the toggle that allowed users to turn safesearch on or off. They also updated the app on the Google Play Store. The update description said, “We tweaked a few things under the hood, and now blogs you visit will load even faster.” The only obvious changes were the ability to change different safety settings.
One change that had some Tumblr users speaking out more than anything was the announced censorship of Not Safe For Work (NSFW) tagged posts and accounts. NSFW is used on the internet as a warning for content that is generally considered inappropriate and explicit. NSFW artists specifically felt targeted, as some people lost art that they had posted to their Tumblr accounts, while others lost their accounts with large followings, which is the main source of financial support for their artistic careers. Now, the NSFW tag does not exist when it is typed into the search bar, bringing up that dreaded message: “Nothing found here!”
Asst. Arts & Entertainment Editor