Tumblr is adding a new filtering feature called “community tags.” Contrary to speculation from some users, Tumblr’s parent company, Automattic, says its broader rules haven’t changed so far — but the feature could set the stage for a more liberal moderation policy.
community tags, announced yesterday, make site moderation tools more detailed. Tumblr asks users to flag posts that depict or refer to three categories of content: drug and alcohol addiction, violence, “similar to what you might see in an age-restricted film,” and “sexual themes,” including “erotic writing or images” . Adding any of these will add an “adult” tag to the post. You can also add an “adult” tag for anything you think is sensitive but doesn’t fit these categories.
Tumblr’s new rules will be “more compatible” with WordPress.com
Once flagged, mature posts will be either obscured or completely hidden in the viewer’s dashboard, depending on their own content settings. These settings also allow you to turn off both options and see posts normally – unless your birthday indicates you’re under 18, in which case all adult posts are hidden and the settings are locked. Filtering is an opt-out option, so if you want to see mature content, you’ll need to manually change your settings.
Still not a seismic shift, but in an update today, Automattic CEO Matt Mullenweg said the community tags are a “first step” in a larger Tumblr project. “I’m very excited that a fuller range of artists will be able to appropriately tag and protect their art and work,” Mullenweg wrote on Tumblr. “We have not yet updated the official content policies, but we hope to bring them more in line with our WordPress.com policies soon.” The full statement (emphasis on the original) can be found below:
Community tags are our first step in making sure everything is properly tagged on Tumblr so people aren’t exposed to content they don’t want to see or aren’t legally allowed to see. The response has been great so far and I’m very excited that a fuller range of artists will be able to properly tag and protect their art and work. App store rules, especially Apple’s, still mean we have to take extra steps to make sure nothing flagged is available to younger users, and you have to explicitly opt in to make sure that is shown. (That’s why we’re now collecting birthdays.) We haven’t updated the official content policies yet, but we hope to bring them more in line with our WordPress.com policies soon.
Tumblr has struggled with moderation since the controversial ban on adult content in 2018, which sent shockwaves through the site’s user base. (Prohibited “adult content” is defined as more sexually explicit than “adult content,” which allows written erotica and sexually suggestive material.) And a number of Tumblr users saw the new community tags as a sign that Tumblr may reverse its decision.
The true implications are still murky. Mullenweg didn’t specify exactly how Tumblr might mirror WordPress.com, which allows “adult” content while disallowing it “visual depictions of overtly sexual acts.” For now, the announcement post says Tumblr’s new feature “doesn’t change our content policies,” indicating that things like “spam, hateful content, and porn bots” are still prohibited. When contacted for comment, Automattic recommended On the edge to Mullenweg’s statement.
Tumblr still ‘can’t be a place for porn’
But Mullenweg said On the edge in March that he wanted to open up the site’s rules somewhat. While he said that “Tumblr can’t be a place for porn” and singled out porn bots for criticism, he also said that artists should have more freedom on the site. “If you look at our other products like WordPress.com, we have policies there that allow a lot more than what’s currently allowed on Tumblr,” Mullenweg said. “That’s what we’re going to try to normalize because these policies have evolved and iterated and worked very well to allow a statue of David or the ‘Birth of Venus.’ Currently this can be removed – or on the old Tumblr it could have been removed. This is clearly art.”
Tumblr has made various attempts to appease Apple by filtering out sensitive posts, something necessary to keep the app on iOS. In late 2021, Tumblr locked anything tagged with a long, weird list of words, including “girl” and “selfie,” on iOS. Shortly thereafter, it added a “sensitive content” toggle. which allow people to choose to view these posts.
But Mullenweg said that more permissive moderation could be compatible with Apple’s guidelines, especially with a better tagging and filtering system — and that seems to be exactly what Tumblr is trying to add this week.