After backlash Yahoo's Tumblr quietly restores adult, NSFW blogs

Summary:When it was revealed that Yahoo's Tumblr had removed adult blogs from every kind of search possible, online backlash prompted the company to quickly, quietly restore search indexing to its adult blogs.

Tumblr users with "Adult" and "NSFW" blogs can breathe a sigh of relief as Tumblr has moved quickly to restore its adult and NSFW blogs to both internal and external search, now under one "NSFW" category.

Friday, it was revealed that Yahoo's Tumblr brand had  exiled its "Adult" blogs separately from its "NSFW" blogs into a non-searchable ghetto where they were de-indexed from both internal and external search - making an estimated 12.5 million blogs unfindable.

Screen shot 2013-07-21 at 1.10.30 PM

Within 24 hours Tumblr has quietly returned the blogs back to internal and external search, and folded its "Adult" blogs into the wider "NSFW" category. When reached for a statement, Tumblr's Head of Communications told ZDNet,

The two options ("NSFW" and "Adult") were clearly causing confusion, so we’ve dropped the extra option.

If your blog contains anything too sexy for the average workplace, simply check "Flag this blog as NSFW" so people in Safe Mode can avoid it.

Your blog will still be indexed by third-party search engines.

Before the sale, Tumblr was seen as a place where such content would be monitored but left alone - and its new owners suggested to press that this "hands-off" approach would continue.

When news of the blog banishing and other unfriendly changes such as the removal of Tumblr's "Erotica" category and blacklisting of tag search for terms like #gay and #lesbian were learnt by users and public, the reaction was overwhelmingly and loudly furious.

The re-classification of naughty blogs into one category has been confirmed by adult Tumblr blog operators. This reporter's list of eighty formerly "Adult" now "NSFW" Tumblrs confirms the disabling of robots.txt to allow the blogs to again be indexed and searchable by Google, DuckDuckGo, Bing, Yahoo and other search engines.

What's more, Tumblr told ZDNet that the amount of porn blogs engaging in spammy behavior are actually a very low number - not the bulk of its adult userbase.

According to Tumblr's representative, the spammy porn blogs amount to less than one percent of its "Adult" blogs (estimated at 10% of Tumblr's total userbase of 125 million) - meaning that with the former search exile on "Adult" blogs, the "Adult" baby was being thrown out with the bathwater.

Tumblr explained to ZDNet via email today that this is no longer the case:

For the roughly 124k blogs that have been hidden from search engines for harmful behavior like bulk linking to/from commercial porn sites, Tumblr's Trust & Safety team reviews all reports from anyone who believes they've been incorrectly flagged.

The number of false positives remains extremely low, but our team takes these reports very seriously and is actively adjusting any relevant automatic flags.

This is the list that an additional 46k blogs had effectively opted-in to by flagging their blog "adult" before we removed that option on Friday.

Tumblr made sure to say that their team is taking care to parse the adult blogs that had opted-in to being "Adult" before the change to avoid false flags.

By Saturday evening, Tumblr had silently restored all its "Adult" blogs to search by external search engines, and the blogs were under the "NSFW" banner.

Tumblr former Adult and NSFW policy
Tumblr's former "Adult" and "NSFW" policy.

 

Tumblr's new "NSFW" policy includes its "Adult" blogs.
Tumblr's new "NSFW" policy includes its "Adult" blogs.

 

Founder David Karp had quickly responded to the outrage on the Tumblr Staff Blog, but his Saturday statement raised more questions than the answers it sought to provide.

Adult Tumblr owners saw it as a non-apology. This is likely because Karp's statement failed to inform readers of the restoration of "Adult" blogs to internal and third-party search (Tumblr has not acknowledged public observation of its de-indexing practices), and did not state that Tumblr had simply combined the two categories.

Tumblr's Karp did say it restored all its racy blogs to Tumblr search:

As some of you have pointed out, disabling Safe Mode still wasn’t allowing search results from all blogs to appear. This has been fixed.

Karp went on to explain that the banning of tags #gay, #lesbian and #bisexual on "some of [its] mobile apps" was in place to prevent search returns for adult content, and Karp admitted this was not ideal. Indeed, as LGBT Tumblr users have angrily responded with comments such as 'my existence is not porn.'

Karp stated that Tumblr was working to find a 'smarter' solution - but unfortunately the tag ban is in place until Tumblr figures it out.

He did not explicitly state why Tumblr has begun its mobile LGBT filtering, but it appears that the clumsy solution is to comply with Apple's strict rules against adult material.

The ways in which Apple's unevenly enforced sex-negative policy chills art, information and speech in the sphere of mobile apps is a post for another day.

Tumblr moved fast to make its changes, although a lot of drama could have been avoided if Tumblr had been more clear.

But this is a lesson in growing up, a lesson that other companies should pay close attention to, as well as the new fact that large companies can no longer mess with adult content and expect that no one cares, that no one will notice, or that no one will publicly object.

Tumblr has moved the conversation forward. While there are some things left to be desired, NSFW (formerly "Adult") Tumblr users now have founder Karp's assurance that their blogs are back in the community and will now continue to be visible to search engines and internal search (with "Safe Mode" off, of course).

The upside is that unlike other companies, Tumblr is listening to its userbase. Let's hope this is allowed to continue under Yahoo's stweardship.

Topics: Censorship, Apple, Mobile OS

About

Ms. Violet Blue (tinynibbles.com, @violetblue) is a freelance investigative reporter on hacking and cybercrime at Zero Day/ZDNet, CNET and CBS News, as well as a noted sex columnist. She has made regular appearances on CNN and The Oprah Winfrey Show and is regularly interviewed, quoted, and featured in a variety of publications that inclu... Full Bio

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