Who Moved My Cheesecake? How Tumblr is Making it Harder to Find Erotic Content

David Karp and Marissa Mayer both say they’re not removing NSFW content from their blogging platform, but tell that to the photographers whose work is harder to find than ever.

Who Moved My Cheesecake? How Tumblr is Making it Harder to Find Erotic Content

In the two months since Yahoo acquired microblogging platform Tumblr, little has changed for most users. Granted, the number of sponsored posts in the dashboard has increased, but by and large, most users have had an unchanged experience–even the numerous NSFW tumblrs that stood to get Yahoo in some serious legal trouble.

Unchanged, that is, until this week. Tumblr now has new guidelines for handling adult content and new reports, like this one from ZDNet’s Violet Blue, reveal that Tumblr is making adult sites (10% of the network) essentially invisible. At first glance, these moves appear to be an extension of the existing NSFW tagging system that Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer openly praised. Blogs that feature adult content are now tagged “NSFW” or “adult.” According to Tumblr’s guidelines, NSFW blogs “contain occasional nudity or mature/adult-oriented content” while adult blogs “contain substantial nudity or mature/adult-oriented content.” Interestingly, NSFW blogs are only mildly affected by the changes (they no longer appear in logged-out dashboards, or in tag pages or mobile apps for users who aren’t following you), adult blogs, on the other hand, are virtually disappeared from the network and unsearchable by Google Bing, and other search engines.

This change is far from surprising. If anything, it’s just a continuation of Tumblr’s ghettoization of adult content that began the day the company removed erotica from its official directory listing. And really, given the extremely hardcore nature of much of Tumblr’s content, and the associated legal issues that come with that content, it’s not that surprising to see this kind of crackdown. But buried in the discussion of this announcement is one key detail that hasn’t gotten much discussion: Whose content, exactly, is deemed NSFW, and who is deemed adult?

Though Tumblr might argue that they’ve clearly spelled out their criteria, “occasional” and “substantial” are relatively vague terms–and for someone who cares about getting traffic and attention for their Tumblr, it’s a pretty important distinction and could mean the difference between keeping your audience and losing it entirely.

Take, for example, fashion photographer Nikola Tamindzic: His Tumblr has long featured nude photos interspersed among the rest of his work; true to his style, his nudes feel like something out of a European fashion magazine or an art gallery. When Tumblr started making rumblings about flagging adult content, Tamindzic fully expected to be flagged NSFW; to his shock, he found that his tumblr, Home of the Vain, was, in fact, considered adult. As a result, he’s been pulled from Tumblr’s Photographer’s Spotlight directory. He’s also noticed a drop in likes and reblogs.

If Tamindzic’s work is considered adult, whose, exactly, gets to be an NSFW designation? During an appearance on The Colbert Report this past week, Tumblr founder David Karp openly praised photographer Terry Richardson as one of the NSFW artists he’d like to keep posting to Tumblr; it’s worth noting that Richardson’s edgier content is largely missing from his tumblog. With the current restrictions, there’s little incentive for erotic artists to post their work to Tumblr, period. If too many boobs, no matter how artistic, lands you in Tumblr jail, why post them to Tumblr at all?

Tamindzic, for his part, isn’t interested in tumbling anymore, and he’s pretty annoyed that sanctioning his blog ranked this high on Tumblr’s list of priorities. “Maybe being able to track, pull down, tag, etc. original content would’ve been a more worthwhile… exercise. But no–taking potshots at nudes is always the first thing to do.”

[Image: Flickr user Dabravo]

About the author

Lux Alptraum is a writer, sex educator, comedian, consultant, and co-director of Out of the Binders, Inc, the non-profit behind BinderCon. Past gigs have included serving as the editor, publisher, and CEO of Fleshbot, the web’s foremost blog about sexuality and adult entertainment; editor-at-large for Nerve; a sex educator at an adolescent pregnancy prevention program; an HIV pretest counselor; and the founder of Boinkology, a blog about sex and culture.