Farewell, Tumblr

I downloaded all my Tumblr posts and deleted my account last month. Looks like it was a wise move, and a reminder of the perils of placing too much of your online existence on someone else’s property.

The #Pornapocalypse has officially claimed Tumblr.

Bacchus, the proprietor and scribe of ErosBlog, was the first in my newsfeeds to bear the tidings:

It’s official: Tumblr has banned porn, effective December 17, 2018. Rest in obscurity, Tumblr.

What exactly is Tumblr banning? Here’s what the article linked above has to say on the matter:

Is adult content allowed on Tumblr?

Starting Dec 17, adult content will not be allowed on Tumblr, regardless of how old you are. You can read more about what kinds of content are not allowed on Tumblr in our Community Guidelines. If you spot a post that you don’t think belongs on Tumblr, period, you can report it: From the dashboard or in search results, tap or click the share menu (paper airplane) at the bottom of the post, and hit “Report.”

What is “adult content?”

Adult content primarily includes photos, videos, or GIFs that show real-life human genitals or female-presenting nipples, and any content—including photos, videos, GIFs and illustrations—that depicts sex acts.

What is still permitted?

Examples of exceptions that are still permitted are exposed female-presenting nipples in connection with breastfeeding, birth or after-birth moments, and health-related situations, such as post-mastectomy or gender confirmation surgery. Written content such as erotica, nudity related to political or newsworthy speech, and nudity found in art, such as sculptures and illustrations, are also stuff that can be freely posted on Tumblr.

What will happen to my adult content already on Tumblr?

We will send out email notices to members of the Tumblr community whose content has been flagged as adult. If your post has been flagged as adult, it will be reverted to a private setting viewable only by you. If you want to learn more about how to see those posts, see this help article.

As always, please make sure the email associated with your Tumblr account is one you use regularly. It’s how we get in touch when we need you!

My content was flagged as adult, but I don’t think it should be. What should I do?

If you feel that we have categorized your post incorrectly, you can appeal this decision using the button on the post in question. Please note that this process is only possible to complete on the web or the Tumblr Android app version 12.2 or later to review your flagged content. If you are on iOS, please use the web to appeal for now.

Read more about how to review your content and appeal here.

What if my blog (not to be confused with posts) was marked as “explicit” before December 17, 2018?

Blogs that have been either self-flagged or flagged by us as “explicit” per our old policy and before December 17, 2018 will still be overlaid with a content filter when viewing these blogs directly. While some of the content on these blogs may now be in violation of our policies and will be actioned accordingly, the blog owners may choose to post content that is within our policies in the future, so we’d like to provide that option. Users under 18 will still not be allowed to click through to see the content of these blogs. The avatars and headers for these blogs will also be reverted to the default settings. Additionally, posts from these blogs are kept out of search results.

You can check and see if your blog is marked as explicit per our old policy in your visibility settings. If you think your blog has been erroneously marked as explicit, learn how to appeal here.

Needless to say, there has been some amusement, and bewilderment, at what exactly a “female-presenting nipple” is. But on a more serious note, the content filtering is being done by an automated system across the whole of Tumblr. And, as is invariably the case with automated systems trying to determine what is ‘offensive’ content, it isn’t really working that well.

Petrana Radulovic, writing at Polygon, had a look at some of the automated system’s decisions:

It’s so botched that completely innocent posts are coming up as flagged. Seems that if it’s vaguely flesh-colored or has shapes resembling humans, the post might be marked as inappropriate. All this nice fan art? Flagged.

This heartwarming moment on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood? Not for young eyes.

Though Tumblr insisted that art and sculpture would be protected, its algorithm says otherwise.

Even if the content doesn’t contain any humans, it’s suspect.

Many posts depicting LGBTQ individuals have also reportedly been flagged. This, and likely other family-friendly content that’s marked explicit, appears to be the result of the algorithm’s incompetence versus a deliberate measure on Tumblr’s part. The labeling has been wildly inconsistent across the board, but nothing can be confirmed.

Oh so poetically and ironically, an article on censor bots that accidentally declared desert pictures as pornography also got flagged.

As I mentioned at the top of this blog post, I downloaded all of my Tumblr content and deleted my blog last month, because I could see that the writing was on the wall. (On the plus side, Tumblr does provide a means to take your content with you. On the minus side, that could mean downloading a lot of data, if, like me, you’ve been using and posting to Tumblr for a long time.)


This is the culmination of the process that has been underway, in fits and starts, ever since Tumblr ceased to be an independent operator following its acquisition by Yahoo. At first, it was just ‘glitches’ that happened to block posting of content containing adult links that Tumblr/Yahoo didn’t approve of. But in the last year or so, it became a lot more blatant.

Bacchus, from ErosBlog, has chronicled each turn of the screw. First, they blocked adult Tumblr blogs from non-logged in users and those who were logged in but in Safe Mode (enabled by default).

Put it another way: Verizon/Yahoo/Tumblr is sweeping the porn Tumblrs under the rug, or to put it another way, is locking it inside their walled-garden data silo. Your porn Tumblrs will no longer be a part of the open web. They will become invisible to the broad universe of everyone who is not (a) already a member of the Tumblr community and (b) willing to be logged while they surf their Tumblr porn so that their porn surfing habits can be more readily tracked and aggregated across all their different devices, IPs, VPNs, and fap sessions.

Then they removed adult blogs from the view of the search engines.

So it is now official. The ghetto walls are up and the gates are closed. The adult-Tumblr community is no longer part of the open web. The #pornocalypse has claimed another social media victim.

At this point, most links to Tumblr content became next to useless; if you’re not signed up and logged into Tumblr, you’ll be dumped at the sign-up / login screen. The Internet Archive might have copies of some content in its Wayback Machine, but that is fragmentary and incomplete.


I decided enough was enough when I realised that Tumblr had stopped offering RSS feeds for blogs within their walled garden (as it now is.) Some that I’d plugged into my feed-reader of choice beforehand still worked, but attempts to add more Tumblr blogs either produced no RSS feed or one that didn’t work.

I’ve been on Tumblr since 2013, and in that time I made a lot of friends and discovered some really good artists and creators. Sadly, because I decided to mark my blog as ‘adult’ just in case, it was corralled into the ghetto by Yahoo, and by Verizon who bought both Yahoo and AOL and smashed them together to create Oath (dumb name). A lot of people who I followed over there will now be effectively homeless unless they had the foresight to buy a domain name and web hosting for their own site.

It could have been a lot different. Part of the reason why so many creators of adult and erotic content joined Tumblr was because they were willing to tolerate NSFW material at a time when the other social networks were busily cracking down on the same content and the people creating it.


I’ll leave the last word to Bacchus, who wrote this in 2013:

They are quietly and dishonestly hostile to adult content in general and to adult marketing and self-promotion in particular, even when that marketing complies with their community guidelines in every particular. Which is a nice intro to this morning’s sermon on The Catechism of Bacchus:

  1. Tumblr is, at the end of the day, a blogging service.
  2. As I’ve been saying since at least 2004, blogging services suck.
  3. This is Bacchus’s First Rule and it remains the rule: Anything worth doing on the internet is worth doing on your own server that you control.
  4. You will be tempted to ignore The Rule because of social media network effects.
  5. You may even feel forced to ignore it, because you can’t get enough attention on your own platform.
  6. When you disregard the rule (and everybody does, even me who wrote it) you will get burned.
  7. Count on it. Plan for it. The Pornocalypse Comes For Us All.