Why Tumblr’s Porn Ban Doesn’t Come As A Surprise

A Look On The Collateral Damage For Sex Workers

On Monday, December 7th, Tumblr announced to crackdown on all sexually explicit content, starting December 17th, which is also the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, and they already started flagging so-called adult content. Or what their A.I. algorithm thinks it could be offending. The ban includes explicit sexual content and nudity with a few exceptions. The new policy is a punch in the face of one community they hosted for 11 years now, since Tumblr was founded in 2007: the sex worker community.

The big porn purge was already expected in 2013 when Tumblr was acquired by Yahoo for $1.1 billion. But, back then former CEO Marissa Mayer calmed everybody down and sexually explicit content has continued to thrive on Tumblr. But now the axe is fallen, after the corporate overlords at Verizon bought them out in 2017 and moved them 7 months ago into Verizon’s Oath unit. After Tumblr’s A.I. algorithms failed to filter out child porn in November and the app was quickly removed from Apple’s App store as a result of this (it remained on Google Play), the company chose to go for the nuclear option and will start to ban all pornographic images, GIFs, and videos on its site.

To be clear: Child abuse imagery has obviously no place anywhere, and Apple was well within its rights to stop distributing an app containing it. But Tumblr’s announcement to ban all porn came as a surprise. Especially because there are many people suggesting it might be the beginning of the end for Tumblr, as the platform largely is identified with porn. And there is truth behind this. According to a study, published in January 2017, there are just 0,1 % of Tumblr’s user accounts posting porn on Tumblr, but there are roughly a quarter of Tumblr accounts on the platform to consume porn. That’s a large portion of the whole user-base: roughly 30 million active accounts.

On first view, the ban is supposed to protect children by cracking down on child porn.

According to The Daily Beast:

But Laura Dilley, executive director of the sex-worker advocacy group PACE Society, said the number of welcoming environments for her constituency is dwindling. In the wake of FOSTA/SESTA — an anti-trafficking bill that lead to the closure of several sex-work forums — sex workers are increasingly being “pushed to the margins and pushed off the internet,” Dilley said.
“Sex workers share important info on Tumblr like providing folks with education, and resources, and really just much-needed community, which is hard to find when you’re in a stigmatized profession like sex work,” Dilley said.

According to GIZMODO:

Liara Roux, a sex worker and activist, told Gizmodo that her first reaction to the news that Tumblr would no longer allow people to post adult content “was one of betrayal.” Tumblr has “for a long time been a place where people who are sex workers or people in the queer community especially have been able to build spaces where they can like cultivate these very niche communities and promote their work,” she said.

Tumblr gave people a perfect place to find and maintain communities. It was a safe place to curate your interests and find others who liked the same things. Tumblr was one of the places sex workers and NSFW artists could share their content and run their businesses safely while creating an own fan base. Many people made a living using Tumblr and they fear that this is over now.

Vex Ashley, an independent porn maker, says in her love letter Porn on Tumblr — a eulogy:

I started out as an alt porn model, stripping and masturbating on web cam, then set up my own independent porn project, Four Chambers, right there on Tumblr. 6 years later, I’m screening my films around the world and it’s my full time job.

She ends her letter with the sentence:

Thank you for the time we had, we have to preserve what space we have left.

But, what space is left? If sex workers open accounts on Facebook or Instagram to promote their work, the accounts will be quickly removed. Twitter is less strict about nudity, but you will encounter problems in building an audience due to the fact that Twitter is shadowbanning NSFW posts.

It looks like a purge of porn stars, cam girls, and other sex workers from mainstream social media websites is going on. Reddit is still a safe heaven, but as the company is no longer in the hands of its founders and is owned now by Condé Nast Publications, the crackdown on porn seems to be a matter of time.

And there is a lot of speculation about the reasons for that. FOSTA/SESTA, an anti-trafficking bill that led to the closure of several sex-work forums, is mentioned very often. And there is also a lot of talk about the general mindset of Silicon Valley Executives bowing their heads to Mike Pence’s Eternal Christian Republic, reflecting the American tendency to get more offended by the sight of a “female-presenting nipple” than by guns, hate speech or violence. Some of that might be true, but the real reason is more simple, but obvious and it is: money!

All these platforms are not run by NGOs, they are run by companies and the only measurement for the success of a company is profit. As simple as that. And all these millions of people consuming adult content, and all these tens of thousands of adult content creators, do only one thing to these companies: They produce traffic that they can not monetize. They call this kind of content “not-brand-safe” content, because no brand wants to see their ads next to sexual explicit pictures and video clips. And what is a social network that can’t make money off of their users and content? Nothing. Remember, the only reason why Yahoo famously bought Tumblr for more than a billion dollars in 2013, was as an infusion of people to sell ads to. But roughly a quarter of these users only consume porn and not-brand-safe content. They are literally “dead capital” for Tumblr and others. That is the reason why they have to leave and why also Twitter and Reddit will follow. Mark my words.

But this is only an explanation, not a solution for sex workers. And they need to have access to social media, as this is the world we are living in today. If your brand or product doesn’t exist on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter, it will not sell at all. But sex workers are cut off from the ability to advertise their products exactly at the gateway to their potential customers: social media.

So, the basic rule is: Users generate content. Content generates traffic. And traffic generates ad revenue. Why not build a NSFW social media platform that follows that logic and that logic only?

If there are only social media platforms that are not able to sell ads for “not-brand-safe” content, why not building a platform who is able to monetize, because there are more and more sex workers and NSFW artists, waiting for a platform where they can do the same as their counterpart small entrepreneurs in mainstream are already doing: Shooting some sponsored posts for a reasonable budget to drive traffic to their NSFW versions of Etsy, eBay or Amazon.

Sharesome, a new NSFW social media platform is exactly doing that right now and sex workers see it as a valuable solution and move already there. The platform welcomes adult content creators:

Unlike other social media platforms, Sharesome is built for adult content. On Sharesome, we will never block or ban your account because you posted stuff that was too sexy. We love sexy!
Sharesome offers you a variety of ways to express yourself, whether it is by posting videos, statuses, links, photos, or GIFs, and especially we want you to advertise your already existing websites, paysites or camsites.

While still being in Beta, the platform already doubled their userbase in the last week, after Tumblr announced their crackdown on porn. And thousands of content creators opening accounts there:

This influx of new users follows an Open Letter of Sharesome’s CEO Tudor Bold to Tumblr’s CEO Jeff D’Onofrio, ending with the words:

Sharesome is a site that welcomes all the people that you just kicked off your platform. You gave them time until December 17th to export a backup of their blog to save their years of work. Meanwhile we will develop an import tool, so they can move to us, and we leave you with all the white supremacist Nazi blogs — because we ban that kind of shit.

So, it looks like alternatives are approaching and are about to be build. Sharesome states in their info for their content creator program:

We know it’s frustrating to build an audience on social media (like Instagram or Twitter) and then your account gets blocked or shadow-banned, over, and over, and over again. That’s why we build Sharesome as a place where we welcome everyone who creates sexual oriented content and wants to promote it. The adult industry needs a “Facebook for porn”. Let’s build it together.

Tumblr has just adopted a policy that destroys communities who are among its greatest fans. Seems that this will not happen to Sharesome because it is built to support these communities. And the problem isn’t about agreeing on what kind of content to allow on a platform, it is about wanting to be a positive place for diverse communities like sex workers, NSFW artists or the LGBTQ community. Therefore it is important to make a difference between visuals of consensual sex in a BDSM context and images that contain sexual abuse. Maybe A.I. algorithms can’t do that, but humans can.

Disclosure: I am an investor in a blockchain company, which has an ownership stake in Sharesome.