The Soapbox: Tumblr Can’t Save Us From The “Pornpocalypse”

Last month, Blogger sent an email to any blogs flagged as having “adult content,” informing them that they had only four days to remove all adult advertisements on their blog or face deletion. My Twitter feed exploded with sex writers trying to figure out what exactly Blogger considered “adult” in both their content and advertising links—pictures of nipples? Stories of hardcore gang bangs? Links to sex ed sites like Scarleteen? Four days also wasn’t enough time for many people to rework their blogs and the material therein — one person lamented that they’d be on a business trip until the day before the “pornpocalypse.” As Violet Blue tweeted, “Google’s @Blogger will delete scores of blogs that have existed since 1999 on Monday under its vague new anti-sex policy purge. It’s wrong.”

Censorship isn’t a new concept for anyone who writes about sex on the Internet, but the Blogger email is just one more example of popular Internet-based companies and social media sites banning porn after years (or in Blogger’s case, more than a decade) of tolerating it. Just a few months ago, Nerve wrote an article on how Tumblr porn might change sex journalism, but for every success, there’s another story of a major social media platform or Internet retailer clamping down on a thriving community or popular authors. Amazon is famous for tinkering with the rankings of its “adult” ebooks, threw out an estimated 62,000 stories last year, and Facebook’s guidelines are notoriously confusing. We may live in a world that’s more open to sex, but if so, our social media platforms are lagging behind.

Some of you might be asking if deleting all the Eminem/Draco Malfoy fanfic is really that big of a loss, but when I started blogging back in 2006, I took Violet Blue’s advice to heart when she wrote: “You have created a resource, even if it’s a simple post.” Deletion of any content causes “link rot“; in a worse-case scenario, hundreds of links on other sites go dead after a popular blog or even whole websites get the axe. And even if a site is porn-friendly, the site owners may do things that will make it harder for search engines to access that content, such as push NSFW blogs out of the search index. Blogs pushed out of search engine rankings also don’t get saved on sites like the Wayback Machine, leading to a loss of Internet history.

Sudden deletions can also put some of the web’s most unique content at risk. As a college student struggling to break free of my high school’s abstinence-only sex ed, help sometimes came in the form of a visit to the CDC’s website, but it just as often came from the people who wrote fanfic one day and an account of that awesome orgy they went to the next. Independent creators are the ones that make comics about the Cockosaurus, heckle sexist mandoms in BDSM, and create porn for rare fetishes, and their content is the most at risk when websites decide to make policy changes.

Don’t get me wrong– I (mostly) support guidelines for Internet communities, such as ones that minimize things like underage porn and hate speech. But few social media sites have guidelines that are clear, consistent, and nuanced enough to deal with all variations of expression. Facebook, as previously mentioned, will delete a naked boob in any context, whether it is for art, porn, or a cancer survivor — but doesn’t seem to give as much weight to content showing violence. Pinterest will delete sexual content even if it’s set to “private,” where it’s not visible to the wider community but mods still might object to it.

Ultimately, we need site rules that take into account both nuance and consent. In a perfect Internet world, even sites with a “no porn” policy should be able to differentiate between tentacle rape and a webcomic showing how to put a condom on correctly. Sites wouldn’t  penalize people who write about perfectly legal sex acts, or post nude photos that they’ve taken of themselves to celebrate their bodies. There would also be ways to help people take down nude pictures if they’re put up without their consent, or allow people to filter out sexual comments on pictures of themselves at birthday parties. And  sites that host sex and sexuality-related content will follow Tumblr’s lead and continue to host porn even after they’re bought out by larger companies.

Right now, though, many bloggers are still stuck in the position of educating people about the problem of content deletion. The only real safety, as ErosBlog says, is backing up everything “on a domain that only you control.”

[Photo from Shutterstock]