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Tumblr (Partially) Reversed Its Nudity Ban

· Updated on March 23, 2023

Four years after Tumblr’s infamous ban on NSFW content, the company is doing a partial about-face. Tumblr is now reversing its ban on content containing nudity. Outright pornography, however, is still not allowed.

The announcement came with an update to the blogging platform’s Community Guidelines on November 1. “We now welcome a broader range of expression, creativity, and art on Tumblr, including content depicting the human form (yes, that includes the naked human form),” the company wrote.

“So, even if your creations contain nudity, mature subject matter, or sexual themes, you can now share them on Tumblr using the appropriate Community Label so that everyone remains in control of the types of content they see on their dash.” The Community Labels are a recent feature—essentially tags for content that some users might find objectionable.

The guidelines go on to clarify that “sexual themes” still does not cover pornography. “Visual depictions of sexually explicit acts remain off-limits on Tumblr.”

Prior to 2018, Tumblr had been a haven for adult content, particularly for LGBTQ+ folks and sex workers. However, the Trump administration passed the FOSTA/SESTA in 2018, which in short made internet companies liable for the content their users posted. The stated goal of this legislation was to combat sex trafficking. The result was companies—including Craigslist, Pornhub, and very nearly OnlyFans—pulling adult content altogether, making it harder for sex workers to maintain an independent income. In practice, FOSTA/SESTA has created conditions that increase a sex worker’s vulnerability to trafficking.

When Apple tightened up its App store requirements in response to the new legislation, Tumblr announced a wholesale NSFW ban, which included nudity. Specifically, it barred content showing “real-life human genitals or female-presenting nipples, and any content … that depicts sex acts.” The phrase “female-presenting nipples” was lambasted at the time, quickly becoming a meme.

To enforce these rules, Tumblr turned to automated content moderation. According to The New York Times, many LGBTQ+ users reported their content wrongly flagged and removed, particularly users sharing post-transition photos.

As a result of all of this, Tumblr’s traffic dropped off dramatically. Originally in 2013, Tumblr had been bought out by Yahoo for $1.1 billion. Following the mass exodus, it was sold off in 2019 for a mere $3 million.

So does the reintroduction of nudity mean that a full reversal of the porn ban may be on the horizon? Not likely. We are still living in a post-FOSTA/SESTA world, and as Tumblr’s CEO Matt Mullenweg explained, app stores and credit card processors are still “anti-porn.”

“I do hope that a dedicated service or company is started that will replace what people used to get from porn on Tumblr,” he wrote in a September blog post. “It may already exist and I don’t know about it. They’ll have an uphill battle under current regimes, and if you think that’s a bad thing please try to change the regimes. Don’t attack companies following legal and business realities as they exist.”

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