Tumblr Censoring Innocent Users Following Child Pornography Scandal

Tumblr, the social media website that was once the home of online sexual liberty, announced their decision to completely remove all adult content from their domain following a recent child pornography scandal.

As of December 17th, the company will fully utilize their auto-detection algorithm to flag any content deemed explicit by their artificial intelligence’s standards. It appears the censorship process has already begun accidentally removing innocent posts with absolutely no ties to sexuality, which has rightfully disturbed users.

The blanket ban was supposed to target all sexual content and nudity, regardless of adulthood, consent or context (with exception to breastfeeding and nude classical statues), after the site was famously removed from Apple’s iOS App Store last month after their “routine audit” of their pornography database failed to detect the pedophilic material.

To reinstate their position on the world’s most successful app store, the site has opted for a total crackdown, which will require more in costs for strict administration if done properly, instead of more crackdowns on underage exploitation while protecting legal content. Users were able to avoid pornographic content, regardless of their legality, through the site’s optional “safe mode”, which will now be the new norm once this complete prohibition of pornography goes into full effect.

Even illustrations containing sex acts and material with “female-presenting nipples” are subject to removal, privatization or an added content filter depending on the administrative whims of the site’s gatekeepers. Only drawings with asexual portrayals of nudity, for some unspecified reason, appear to be kosher. The company also announced all user posts will be eligible for an appeals process that will likely be conducted by the site’s administrators, not an independent overseer ensuring due process.

“Adult content will no longer be allowed here,” the company declared through a recent statement. “While we do not judge anyone for their desire to post, engage with, or view this stuff, it is time for us to change our relationship with it. We recognize Tumblr is also a place to speak freely about topics like art, sex positivity, your relationships, your sexuality, and your personal journey.”

“We’re committed to helping build a safe online environment for all users,” the statement continues, “and we have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to media featuring child sexual exploitation and abuse. As this is an industry-wide problem, we work collaboratively with our industry peers and partners like NCMEC to actively monitor content uploaded to the platform. We want to make sure that we continue to foster this type of diversity of expression in the community, so our new policy strives to strike a balance.”

Can blanket bans, conducted by asexual non-humans, even achieve this balance? According to The Verge, the puritanism of the site’s robots have gone so extreme they’re considering vases, seals, fish, dolls, tunnel climbing, abstract comics and seaweed to be forms of sexual content, as shown in the tweets below. One of these very same users cited how obvious sexual play toys like dildos go undetected from the watchful eye of saint_tumblr_administrators.exe.

This didn’t go unnoticed by the company. “We know there will be mistakes,” said Tumblr CEO Jeff D’Onofrio in a published blog post. “Computers are better than humans at scaling process — and we need them for that — but they’re not as good at making nuanced, contextual decisions. It will be an evolving process for all of us, and we’re committed to getting this right. We’ve given serious thought to who we want to be to our community moving forward. We’ve realized that in order to continue to fulfill our promise and place in culture, especially as it evolves, we must change.”

But is this change fundamentally against online liberties? The free marketers will argue Tumblr is a private company that, unlike the government, can go about its censorship process however it likes. Whether it’s admirable gatekeeping restricting revenge porn or child exploitation, which infringes upon the consent of those within the material, or legal risque material of consenting adults, this supposedly neutral platform isn’t so neutral when its judge, jury and executioner for whether content is too problematic.

After all, this is the anarchist-capitalist ideology of Verizon, Tumblr’s parent company, who recently installed Ajit Pai as FCC chairman which granted their ISP restrictive censorship abilities through the removal of net neutrality. Why wouldn’t this mentality be passed down in their justification? Hiring workers to vigilantly secure these sexual liberties while also reporting instances of trafficking minors just cuts too much into their bottom line. Blanket bans against all people are surely more cost effective than principled bans against the right people.

Even big tech’s most unaccountable institutions, such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and its subsidiary Periscope (where journalists from Slate found a hub of pedophiles preying upon minors), maintain a principle of allowing degrees of sexual liberty on the platforms so long as it’s between consenting adults and meets their varying safety guidelines. The pedophile epidemic infests all these sites and yet the all-powerful iOS app store selectively targets Tumblr, resulting in a countered-overreach towards prohibition to ensure their stable profit. The results will only drive perpetrators further into the dark web and leaves these children unreported elsewhere. Talk about creating an unsafe space, especially when this happens to come out on International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers.

This is all before we get to the merits of their decision. Censorship by government is often universally deemed a tyranny, yet considered a right of the unregulated private market. Listen to any PragerU video and you’ll hear the rhetoric of “capitalism is moral because it’s a consensual trade between parties” which, if we’re talking literal cartoon exchanges of apples for oranges, cookies for cash or just consensual sex, this is a no-brainer value. PragerU, keep in mind, is the same free market devotees who sued YouTube, a market entity, for their very same censorship efforts via demonetization, which their ideology enables. Suddenly when the market has the upper-hand on capital, coercing users to adapt to arbitrary standards or fuck off, this trade without due process or consumer protections isn’t so moral.

While readers should laugh at this irony, they inadvertently raise the question of why fundamental human rights such as free expression (which is at the root of pornography) should start and end at the public square? The only difference between a monopoly of government and a monopoly of privatization is its underlying financial support, one handled through democratic gridlock and the other through swift despotism. We can’t deny these platforms wield the influence of millions across the world, surpassing the bordered restraints of the world’s most efficacious governments. Shouldn’t such power come with not only great responsibility on the part of authority, but great decentralization to curb their violation of rights?

Even if we grant Tumblr’s banning of illegal porn is conducted with absolute pitch perfect accuracy — which is an admitted impossible reality—any form of abrupt justice, no matter how precise, isn’t just by its nature of a classified process without representation or a standard of proof deemed authentic by an impartial arbiter. The private market doesn’t deal with the annoyance of principles which, through an independently-run counsel, would give their users and administrators a fair shake. Instead it’s the company’s way or the highway, subject to change any ol’ day, at any time, without a voice for the consumer inscribed in inked charters. These one-way relationships also seem to always lean towards destruction of the sex work industry to cover their financial behind.

Earlier this year, after the passage of the “Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act” and “Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act” (FOSTA/SESTA bills), the federal government showed their hand at the intimidation tactics the public sector can wield against sex workers. The laws forced Backpage.com to be seized by law enforcement and forced websites like Craigslist and Reddit to remove entire sections of their domain dedicated to allow prostitutes the right to sell their services.

Tumblr allowed sex workers the ability to report of abusive clients in certain areas, how to file their taxes and a general blogging spot to express their work, whether done on film or any random hotel. Now their hub for protecting their marginalized community, which made up 22 percent of their millions of users, has been corrupted almost overnight. “D’Onofrio pays lip service to Tumblr’s history of permissiveness regarding sexual content,” writes journalist Mathew Olson, “but the newly-posted Help Center guidelines are especially telling of the struggle to come.”

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