Tumblr—the internet’s preferred space for fandoms and emotional self-flagellation—is undergoing a particularly bizarre moderation crisis. While Facebook struggles with war photography and police brutality and Twitter makes limp attempts to boot trolls, Tumblr appears to be removing totally innocuous videos of pets and children.
Sam Cornwall uses his Tumblr to upload videos of his kids. They’re cute and a bit boring, full of the sort of a inane things kids say. In the past three weeks all of his posts were pulled from the platform, and Cornwall received an automated message which stated Tumblr considered them “sexually explicit.” “What my wife and I find most upsetting is that a Tumblr bot or a troll is marking videos of our children as sexually explicit,” Cornwall told Gizmodo over email. “It has made us rethink the whole Internet sharing thing.”
Tumblr removed a video of mine from nearly two years ago because of sexually explicit content. The video was of my cat begging for attention
— Tassy⚡️ (@universaltassy) September 14, 2016
Tumblr marked a video of my dog playing with a tennis ball as sexually explicit, so yeah, tell me again about robots taking your jobs
— AJ (@AJisTweeting) September 14, 2016
apparently a video of marlon brando at the oscars is sexually explicit..... ok tumblr
— emily (@modelkimjongin) September 14, 2016
Tumblr removed a video of my fish eating food out of my hand and called it a "sexually explicit video" pic.twitter.com/S4wE8z0ixw
— Jordan (@italisighs) September 5, 2016
He’s far from alone. While some takedowns appear to be aimed at actual pornography there seems to be a huge uptick in false takedowns lately. Users have taken to Twitter to protest the removal of innocuous content from their blogs.
Gary Cassidy had two videos of his cat pulled early on Wednesday for reasons unknown. “They went up at the same time and down so I think poor moderation [is to blame] maybe,” he told Gizmodo over DM. Tumblr user Birbgrl had a similar use with a video of a Hermitude/Flume show she recorded. “I uploaded the video on September 13th two times and both times it was removed for having “sexually explicit content” the same day,” she told Gizmodo over DM. The video is what you’d expect from a concert—mostly other people in the crowd, the musicians barely visible.
— b!X Frankonis (@theonetruebix) September 9, 2016
tumblr keeps!! marking videos of my cat as sexually explicit!! what the Heck
— ♥Mama Tori♥(6 DAYS) (@yokaiboyfriends) September 14, 2016
is someone going through my old tumblr posts and reporting innocuous videos as sexually explicit because like....could you NOT
— Noelle Stevenson (@Gingerhazing) September 12, 2016
“I didn’t appeal the post because I figured that nothing would really happen,” Birbgrl wrote. It’s not clear whether the takedowns are the result of an automated process gone wrong, or trolls exploiting a broken system. It’s not the first time users have had content deleted at the behest of automation, as many learned in early 2015. Cassidy and Cornwall, however, have had luck with the appeals process, getting their videos reinstated eventually.
The irony of course is that porn blogs thrive on Tumblr. Aggregated tumblogs for NSFW content are a mainstay of the platform, as are individual bloggers using their accounts as a form of advertisement to make money in adult entertainment. The mechanics are less important than the simple fact that if you’re looking for porn on Tumblr, it’s easily found, but seemingly isn’t being policed.
We’ve reached out to Tumblr and will update if we hear back.