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tumblr’s NSFW ban: money, boobs and betrayed users
Ysabel Gerrard1, Helen Thornham2, Elena Maris3, Crystal Abidin4, Kat Tiidenberg5, Nicholas-Brie Guarriello6
1University of Sheffield, UK; 2University of Leeds, UK; 3Microsoft Research New England, USA; 4Curtin University, Australia; 5Tallinn University, Estonia; 6University of Minnesota, USA
tumblr used to be known for their laissez faire approach to sexual content and their lax content moderation rules, an approach they themselves called “a live and let live” philosophy. Yet, in early December 2018, the platform announced a new plan to ban all “photos, videos, or GIFs that show real-life human genitals or female-presenting nipples, and any content [...] that depicts sex acts”. The decision generated backlash from users and the broader public and was seen as disproportionately burdening already marginalized groups of people (i.e. LGBTQIA youth, NSFW (not-safe-for-work) artists, and sex workers). This panel combines five theoretically and methodologically diverse papers by five international scholars (the UK, US, Australia, and Estonia) with a demonstrated track record of researching tumblr. The first paper analyzes tumblr’s content moderation and corporate rhetoric pertaining to the ban, interpreting it as a “sexist assemblage". The next two papers study public backlash to the ban – on news media (Paper 2) and Twitter (Paper 3) – exploring the placement of blame and algorithmic imaginaries involved. The fourth and fifth papers focus on the users for whom tumblr was an important tool and source of revenue (non-English speaking users in Paper 4 and sex workers and NSFW artists in Paper 5), analyzing their pre-ban strategies for monetizing and audience management, and their post-ban workarounds and responses. This panel begins a discussion about the unfolding and as-yet not fully understood social consequences of tumblr’s NSFW ban.