05 December 2018

Give me your banned, your flagged, your hassled bloggers yearning to post free.....

I have felt a great disturbance in the blogosphere, as if millions of voices cried out and damn well refused to be silenced.

Tumblr is one of the three main blogging platforms, the others being WordPress and Blogger (I don't count Facebook or Twitter because, though widely used, their systems and rules are oriented toward uses other than actual blog writing as I understand it).  The Tumblr user base seems to skew quite a bit younger and more radical-left than that of other platforms, and the technology is less open to interaction with outsiders than that of other platforms -- there's no equivalent of the comment threads on each post that WordPress and Blogger blogs have, for example.  I briefly tried doing a Tumblr blog once, but quickly gave up due to frustration with the built-in limitations.  Still, a lot of people like it.  There are estimated to be about 440 million Tumblr blogs.

A couple of days ago, Tumblr management announced a decision to, essentially, destroy the platform.  They declared that as of December 17, "adult content" would no longer be allowed, and the staff (or rather, algorithms) have already started flagging "explicit" posts and deleting blogs without warning.  This seems to be working out pretty much the way censorship usually does.  Innocuous art posts, drawings of animals, and even posts about minerals have been flagged.  A post about British police AI mistaking desert photos for porn was itself flagged by Tumblr's AI.  LGBT content, however mild, is especially likely to be flagged (this is not new, but will doubtless now get worse).  The algorithm even flagged Tumblr's own "suicide note" post.  But some non-sexual content such as Nazi propaganda remains unscathed.

The trigger for the new policy appears to have been a decision by Apple store to stop carrying the Tumblr app (no, I don't know what that means, and I don't care either) because of pornographic material on Tumblr, some of it genuinely nasty -- well, on 440 million blogs, any kind of content you can imagine will probably exist somewhere.  The fact that Tumblr is now indirectly owned by Verizon may also have played a role, though investors don't seem enthused about the ban.

There are quite a lot of Tumblr blogs among my regular reading, none of which are primarily dedicated to sexually-oriented material, and most of which I have never seen post anything of that description at all.  I spent most of Tuesday morning looking at those blogs, and on about three-quarters of them, the new changes were the main topic of discussion, the tone of which was a mix of ridicule and outrage.  Much erotica is as creative as any other art form, and the new rules will destroy one more safe platform for sex workers already being forced by SESTA into more dangerous ways of working.  Not a single blogger had anything good to say about the changes.

Bloggers are posting tips on saving work that may be in danger of deletion, but a major focus has been on finding a new home -- for example, apparently there's a largely-automated process for transferring an entire Tumblr blog to WordPress.  It's always possible that Tumblr will reverse course -- the Blogger platform tried something similar in 2015, but backed down within days after a firestorm of reaction from the user base.  But if the new policy stands, and Tumblr goes the way of MySpace, hundreds of millions of bloggers will be looking for a new platform.  This will potentially benefit Blogger and WordPress, but there's a growing interest in sites built and owned by users themselves, such as AO3, which cost some money to use but are at least guaranteed not to go on a mass-deletion jag just because a bunch of purse-lipped grey fossils in a shareholder meeting heard about somebody's yuri art page and freaked out.  Pressure groups, government, and corporations will never stop trying to impose the meatspace world's control-freakery on the internet, and it's surely worth a few bucks to achieve independence from them once and for all.


Blogger bluzdude said...

And thus, we can't have nice things.

05 December, 2018 05:11  
Blogger Ranch Chimp said...

That is a trip! I mean, where does the sexual limitations stop?, or whatever else? I don't know nothing about Tumblr, I see links here on your site frequently, they are usually kind of short, I only have my blog, don't use much actually. You know guy ... I'm like big support on free speech, I think we go too far overboard on political correctness and stuff. What if AI picked up certain parts of the bible, I mean, there is some bold shit it there too ... them fundamoralists would be bitchin up a storm. Hell guy, these algorithms or AI teaches itself, eh? ... well, from what I read on it. But if it keeps on teaching itself censorship, morality or related, and grows on it ... damn AI may become even worse than hardcore religion and fundamoralists, on setting rules and standards, I don't know guy

05 December, 2018 07:04  
Blogger Debra She Who Seeks said...

I'm upset about this too. I have a tumblr blog that will not escape the Day of Reckoning. Thank the fanfic gods that all my stuff on AO3 will remain safe (by the way, AO3 is in fact free for its members to post, but they do have fundraising drives twice a year when they ask members to voluntarily contribute to operating costs.)

05 December, 2018 07:05  
Blogger Harry Hamid said...

There was a lot of heavy duty bad stuff on tumblr (it was the one social media site I never checked while at work), but this seems to be throwing the baby out with the bath water.

I'm disappointed, even though I haven't spent much time there in a couple years.

It's time to shut down my tumblr page.

05 December, 2018 08:34  
Blogger Mary Kirkland said...

I've never had a Tumblr blog so I had no idea any of that was going on.

05 December, 2018 10:10  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Bluzdude: Tumblr schmumblr, people will continue to create nice things somewhere, and I will continue to have them.

Ranch: If artificial intelligence is flagging pictures of deserts and T-rex vertebrae as porn, it should probably be called artificial stupidity. But it just does what humans tell it to do. The problem here is the greedy humans running Verizon who want to do the equivalent of tearing down the library so they can put up a flashy billboard.

Debra: I hope you've got back-ups of everything on your Tumblr blog (interesting, I don't see a link to it on your Blogger blog so I guess you prefer to keep things separate). Thanks for the tip about AO3. I only started hearing about it recently so I've probably got the details a bit wrong, but it sounds like the kind of place I'd support (if I ever get a real job and some security about money). It may well be that projects like AO3 are the wave of the future. Anything linked to the corporate world will eventually be at risk of being "monetized" and thereby destroyed.

Harry: They seem to be throwing out the whole house with the bathwater. I've seen a fair bit of NSFW work on Tumblr over the years, but I never saw any of this "child porn" they talk about (of course, I tend to actively avoid anything like that). Who knows what they're really talking about or how common it is or was.

Mary: Tumblr is sort of an island unto itself and doesn't interact much with the rest of the blogosphere. I'm not surprised the blogosphere outside Tumblr is hardly aware of what's going on.

06 December, 2018 02:45  
Anonymous Zosimus the Heathen said...

I first learnt of this foolishness on Reddit, or more specifically the rather crazy Catholicism subreddit[*], where it was announced via a post with the title "There's good news to be shared, Tumblr will be banning pornographic content." As you can probably guess from its title, the person posting the aforementioned thread was all for the ban, saying in part, "While it's admittedly a relatively small step, Tumblr is a quite popular sight [sic], and getting rid of such content on there removes normalization of what's a grave offense against holy union and a perversion of sacred sex, beauty, and nature." Blech. (And to go on a bit of a tangential rant, I'm getting thoroughly fed up with all the religious folk I encounter online who go on and on about how they're suffering from a "porn addiction". That sort of thing really does seem to have become the latest moral panic in conservative Christian circles, even though there's apparently little hard evidence so-called porn addiction even exists!)

Like you and the other commenters have said, this ban sounds all very silly and ill-thought out, and I'm sure it will have all manner of negative, not-entirely-unforeseen consequences. It reminds me of this time I was staying at a hotel that had an Internet lounge, but whose computers all had some sort of online filter on them - there were all kinds of sites I couldn't access, for reasons I could never figure out (for example, a lot of the blocked sites were fairly harmless science-related ones). It was very frustrating.

I don't think I'd ever post anything erotic online myself (I've got a bunch of half-finished "fetish fics" on my PC, but they're all really, really, really weird, and no-one but me will ever read them! Bahaha!), but if anybody else wants to, I think they should certainly be able to. It'll be interesting to see what happens as a result of this decision on Tumblr's part.

*As an ex-Catholic, I often find myself gravitating towards some of the more hardcore, fundamentalist Catholic blogs, websites and message boards, mainly, I think, to remind myself why I left that faith in the first place! I can probably thank you for letting me know of the existence of at least one of the sites I now lurk on on a reasonably regular basis: the online lunatic asylum that is LifeSiteNews!

06 December, 2018 03:48  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Zosimus: I bet a lot of the knuckle-draggers and pearl-clutchers would be gloating about this, if they had ever heard of Tumblr or had any clue about various internet subcultures. Of course, to clarify why something that doesn't hurt anybody is a "grave offense", they always have to resort to nebulous made-up things like "holy union". Religious logic.

Of course if they like porn, their belief systems won't let them just acknowledge that they like porn and leave it at that. It has to be an "addiction", or Satan messing with them.

a lot of the blocked sites were fairly harmless science-related ones

They were probably showing dirty filthy sleazy pictures of T-rex vertebrae.

Ah, yes, good old LifeSite News. Even though I was never religious, I keep reading sites like that to keep up with how the enemy thinks, and to remind myself that these people exist -- that it really is that bad, I'm not just imagining things.

06 December, 2018 04:39  
Blogger Ranch Chimp said...

Your comment to Debra is so true, as far as anything linked to the corporate world would be monetized and destroyed ... you hit the nail on the head! I been pointing this out to folks for years, actually I first noticed it years ago, when we were watching a football game at a place called Busch (beer) Stadium (St.Louis), a buddy was saying how cool it was watching a game in a stadium named after beer. I told him "you won't think it's so cool, if in the future, we have corporate names on all our f'n stadiums" ... I should have kept my mouth shut, look what the f*ck we have today! But this is contaminating everything ... I mean, these corporations and banks would f*ck up a wet dream, they have no f'n class at all or are creative even, except for those they pay to do the marketing. You should see what they done to some of our neighbourhoods in Dallas, they actually tore down places that should be protected as historical, to build shit like CVS's, Starbucks, big bank branches, WalMarts, etc ... gentrified communities in and off downtown, and replaced it with such bland communities, that many folks can't even afford. I have friends in the music industry for many years, who they took their creativity and related, and bought out so much, then contaminated the art, or commercialized it ... I mean, look at some of the music industry today, that's why you HAVE to go indie label, DIY, whether film, music, etc ... movie houses/ theatres, showing the same shit on 15 to 20 screens, etc. Too long to vent here, but you know the score.

Hell guy, I didnt even know about this talk about Tumblr having porn or anything, like I said, I never even go there really, I actually thought it was something like Twitter or whatever. And if I want porn entertainment, I go to the all porn websites ... some really good stuff on them! (f'n corporations even f*ck up porn!! ... the indie porn is the best). Later guy ....

06 December, 2018 08:51  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Ranch: You got it! I saw a comedy-fantasy movie a few years ago which had a superhero with corporate-sponsorship logos all over his costume, like the cars at NASCAR have. It was funny because people can see that kind of thing encroaching all over the place.

Commercialism can sometimes be a good thing. I don't mind ads on the buses here, for example, because the buses aren't pretty or artistic anyway, and the ads help keep the bus fares down. But it just doesn't mix with culture. As soon as it sticks its nose in, it starts wrinkling that nose in disapproval at anything it fears might turn off some of the audience for ads -- and artists and writers start being censored, or worse, censoring themselves. That's one reason I won't have ads on this blog. I don't want to start worrying that I should water down what I say to avoid decreasing my ad revenue.

This is why I find the AO3 model interesting. The Blogger platform has actually been good -- no hint of censorship that I've seen since the 2015 fiasco. But if that ever does happen again, well, AO3 itself seems geared mostly for fanfic, but I can see a blogging platform working the same way. I'd be willing to pay a few dollars now and then for a platform where I can feel sure than commercial considerations will never lead to censorship.

That's terrible if historic buildings are being destroyed for the sake of profitable junk. What the hell are they thinking?

06 December, 2018 19:16  
Blogger Pinku-Sensei said...

The blogging platform where I'm seeing refugees from Tumblr showing up is Dreamwidth. There is a very active post on dw_news about it: Welcome to Dreamwidth, Tumblr folks! Of course, this isn't the first time the platform has welcomed refugees. The site was started as a refuge for English-language LiveJournal users. Once LJ became the number one blogging platform in Russian, it also became a target for DDOS attacks from the Russian government to shut down dissent, so the English-language users fled to get away from it. That accelerated when LJ's owners decided that if they couldn't beat the Russian government, they could join them, and changed their Terms of Service to be more Putin-friendly. I haven't returned to LJ since.

08 December, 2018 09:50  
Blogger Pinku-Sensei said...

Also, Re: "I saw a comedy-fantasy movie a few years ago which had a superhero with corporate-sponsorship logos all over his costume, like the cars at NASCAR have." That looks like "Mystery Men," which AV Club wrote up as a parody of superhero movies before the genre became a big thing.

08 December, 2018 10:31  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Pinku: Thanks for the link! I noticed a reference to Dreamwidth this morning while looking at a Tumblr blog, but I'd never heard of it before. Another place I need to check out.

You're right, the movie I was referring to was Mystery Men. It's so long since I saw it that I'd forgotten the title.

08 December, 2018 12:45  

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