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Tumblr to crack down on violent and ‘unwanted’ sexual content

Image credit: Dreamstime

The popular microblogging and social media platform has announced its new guidelines, which explicitly ban violent, hateful and ‘unwanted’ sexual content, including ‘deepfake’ pornography.

Tumblr was bought by Yahoo in 2013 – a highly unpopular decision with its users – after which it suffered a $712m (£551m) fall in value. The network was later acquired by US telecommunications giant Verizon.

The platform is known for hosting communities of users with shared interests, such as film and comic book fans, who share and ‘reblog’ content. Much of its content is adult-oriented, with TechCrunch estimating that 22 per cent of inbound and outbound Tumblr traffic is pornographic. Although the site has continued to defend free expression, in February 2012 it banned blogs which advocate suicide, self-mutilation and eating disorders.

In March 2018, the company announced that it had discovered 84 accounts connected to the Russian government which were being used to peddle misinformation in the run-up to the 2016 US presidential election. The accounts were deleted and reported to law enforcement.

Now, following growing concerns about the explosion of manipulated sexual images over the past year, many leading content-sharing platforms such as Reddit have laid down rules explicitly banning non-consensual sexual images. Now, Tumblr is introducing a far more comprehensive and strict set of guidelines for these images and other controversial content, which come into force on 10 September.

“We believe in a free and open internet, but we can’t ignore that the internet is being exploited by hate groups to organise, recruit and radicalise with horrifying efficiency,” a blog post said. “Updating our Community Guidelines and internal procedures is necessary to address a very real threat to members of the Tumblr community.”

The guidelines forbid content inciting hatred of disadvantaged and minority groups – such as hate symbols – and encourages users to report this hateful content. However, the guidelines state that “mean, tasteless or offensive” posts which do not encourage hatred and violence should instead be ignored or challenged.

“Posts that generate open, constructive debate are always welcome here. A heated conversation about race or gender identity in media is not hate speech, nor is a factual, educational history of Jim Crow,” Tumblr said in its statement.

Tumblr is also banning violent and inappropriate sexual content. This will cover glorification of school shooting perpetrators, violent threats and explicit depictions of torture and mutilation, including bestiality. It forbids the “unwanted sexualisation or sexual harassment” of others, including ‘creepshots’ and ‘deepfake’ pornography: images automatically manipulated to place an individual’s face on the body of an adult-films actor.

“Posting sexually explicit photos of people without their consent was never allowed on Tumblr, but with the invention of deepfakes and the proliferation of non-consensual creepshots, we are updating our community guidelines to more clearly address new technologies that can be used to humiliate and threaten other people,” the blog post said.

Content breaching these guidelines will be removed; Tumblr says that it has increased the size of its moderation team to review reported content.

Social media companies come under increased pressure to clamp down on misleading and abusive content, including by governments. Recently, a number of leading websites (including Facebook, Spotify, and YouTube) have taken the decision to block far-right conspiracy theory peddler Alex Jones of Infowars amid controversy over the proliferation of hateful and misleading content online, which has been associated with instances of real-world violence.

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