THE MEMING OF LIFE SÉAMAS O’REILLY

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - THE MEMING OF LIFE -

Few peo­ple would say the prob­lem with the in­ter­net is the lack of adult con­tent avail­able. Psy­chol­ogy To­day reck­ons that about 5-15 per cent of the en­tire in­ter­net is porn. This is some way short of the 30-50 per cent thrown around by moral panic web­sites (which give whole new mean­ing to the term “con­ser­va­tive es­ti­mate”) but still, not an in­signif­i­cant amount. It may be sur­pris­ing, there­fore, that a new bat­tle­ground has opened up around peo­ple’s rights to share sala­cious or smutty stuff on­line. But that’s ex­actly what’s hap­pen­ing with Tum­blr, the so­cial me­dia plat­form that was re­stored to the App Store this week af­ter it pledged to re­move adult con­tent en­tirely.

“In or­der to con­tinue to ful­fil our prom­ise and place in cul­ture,” wrote Tum­blr chief ex­ec­u­tive Jeff D’Onofrio “… we’re tak­ing an­other step by no longer al­low­ing adult con­tent, in­clud­ing ex­plicit sex­ual con­tent and nu­dity (with some ex­cep­tions).”

This fol­lowed its re­moval from Ap­ple’s store in Novem­ber due to the dis­cov­ery of child-abuse images. While the pro­hi­bi­tion of such con­tent is an is­sue that needs to be tack­led with vig­i­lance, many worry that ban­ning all adult con­tent is not just overkill, but cen­sor­ship. Tum­blr is mas­sively pop­u­lar with fan cul­ture, LGBT groups and kink com­mu­ni­ties. This lat­ter sub­set, de­scribed by the At­lantic’s Steven Thrasher as “sex­ual sub­cul­tures that don’t al­ways thrive else­where” are par­tic­u­larly en­raged, since Tum­blr’s sim­ple lay­outs and re-share func­tion made it the per­fect stomp­ing ground for con­sent­ing adults to share adult ma­te­rial among them­selves, and for per­form­ers and cre­ators to build a re­la­tion­ship with their fans. More­over, le­gions of loyal users re­sent hav­ing their works, and their re­lated com­mu­ni­ties, tarred with the same brush as child pornog­ra­phy.

In a world where so­cial-me­dia plat­forms aim to har­ness the one killer app they can pro­vide bet­ter than any­one else in the mar­ket­place, Tum­blr’s de­ci­sion to an­ni­hi­late this core func­tion of its plat­form seems baf­fling, as does the fact that racist and white su­prem­a­cist con­tent – which loyal users have flagged many thou­sands of times – re­mains, while per­fectly non-adult images are auto-scrubbed by the ser­vice’s ad­min­is­tra­tors. “What a colos­sal waste of ev­ery­one’s time,” tweeted jour­nal­ist Marie Le Conte (@youngvul­gar­ian), shar­ing images that had been re­moved from her Tum­blr, in­clud­ing de­cid­edly un­porno­graphic pic­tures of bare shins, clas­si­cal stat­ues and man­nequin tor­sos.

“The new adult con­tent ban is sup­posed to fight pornog­ra­phy,” wrote fan blog­ger @the_blue_fluffs, “but the porn bots are still there, and flagged posts have in­cluded pics of: min­er­als, poké­mon, bread, etc. The only ef­fect of this ban is to hurt real users.” How many of them will still be left re­mains to be seen, as Tum­blr’s user base could be set to tum­ble fur­ther still.

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