Dec. 8th, 2018

defrog: (onoes)
As you may know, Tumblr is banning all “adult content” from its site as of December 17th.

Industry experts reckon there are at least two reasons:

1. Apple booted Tumblr’s app from the App Store last month following reports that people were posting child porn.

2. The FOSTA-SESTA Act, which was signed into law in April, goes into effect in January. The stated objective of FOSTA-SESTA is to target and stop online sex trafficking. One way it purports to do this is by holding sites like Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, etc legally responsible for any posts that could be construed as solicitation for sex. Before FOSTA-SESTA, website providers were shielded from liability under Section 230 (“safe harbour”) of the 1996 Communications Decency Act. Thanks to FOSTA-SESTA, that’s no longer the case. And thanks to the law’s predictably vague wording, the definition of what counts as solicitation for sex is wide open to interpretation.

So between that and the Apple Store – as well as the fact that Tumblr has been nervous about all the porn on its platform after Yahoo bought it (because of its advertisers) – evidently Tumblr decided the nuclear option was the most expedient path to compliance with both the App Store and FOSTA-SESTA.

The onset of FOSTA-SESTA is also why Facebook just updated its policies on sexual solicitation – and while it’s not the ban on LGBTs that some people have made it out to be, it does potentially make it a lot more difficult to talk about sex in any way at all – especially since Facebook’s track record of accuracy in spotting and flagging content that violates its policies is about as good as Tumblr’s (which is to say, not very good at all).

The whole saga is just dripping with irony on so many levels. For a start, I remember when the CDA was passed in 1996, it was widely castigated as the death of free speech on the internet because it used kiddie porn and “obscenity” as a canard for the GOP Morality Police to censor anything even remotely sexual.

Obviously, that didn’t happen, thanks in large part to Section 230. It’s possible it might still not happen, and the predictions about FOSTA-SESTA are overblown. After all, the internet is a big place, and it’s not like porn is hard to find.

On the other hand, one key difference between 1996 and 2018 is that the most widely used platforms for internet content are controlled by a handful of big companies that are no longer shielded by Section 230. At the risk of oversimplifying, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Apple, Google and Amazon effectively ARE the internet now in terms of how most people experience it and discover content. The amount of gatekeeper control these companies have over content is staggeringly huge, as is the number of people affected by their content policies.

Up to now, characters like Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Twitter have always put the early internet’s free speech ideology at the core of their business model – which was great until they ended up having to defend the 1A right of KKK Nazis to go around Nazi-ing all over yr feed.

But now with Facebook in so much trouble over its content policies regarding fake news, election meddling, data collection practices and so forth, they’ve got such a huge red bullseye painted on their back that the last thing they need is to become the first FOSTA-SESTA test case – or worse, lose advertising business over it. Given all that, it’s not surprising that adult content is a hill they’re not willing to die upon.

Apple made that decision years ago with the App Store. Tumblr made that decision last week. I suspect others will do the same. It won't mean the end of online porn, but it will make it difficult to find. More to the point, it will probably also make it harder for sex workers, sex assault victims and sexual minorities to build communities of support on social media that, by many accounts, have been helpful to such people.

The other big irony here is that back in the day, we all thought that censorship of sexual content and mass surveillance of online activities would be carried out by the government. Turns out it’s the very Internet companies that advocated free internet speech in the first place.

All of which might be an acceptable trade-off if FOSTA-SESTA was actually effective at stopping online sex trafficking, or at least made sex workers safer. As this Vox explainer on FOSTA-SESTA points out, it actually doesn’t do any of that.

Coming back to Tumblr, BoingBoing predicts that the new policy will pretty much kill it off for good – or at least doom it to be the next MySpace. I agree with that. I think at the very least Tumblr is going to experience a simultaneous purge/exodus, and whatever happens next will depend on how many users it has left. Which, again, is ultimately up to its new owner, Verizon. My prediction is they’ll just let it die – Tumblr wasn’t a moneymaker when Yahoo bought it, and Yahoo didn’t change that. I suspect Verizon/Oath would be happy to just shut it down than waste money trying to revive something that wasn’t profitable in the first place.

This doesn't affect me personally – I closed my Tumblr account a couple of months ago for various reasons. But I do know a lot of people who are affected. And it’s a shame because Tumblr is actually well designed for microblogging, and much better (and safer) than Twitter. You may have received the Dreamwidth email trying to encourage Tumblrs to give them a try, but I can tell you that with all due respect to DW, it’s a poor substitute – Tumblr is far easier to use, especially in terms of sharing images, GIFs, music and videos.

And the walls came Tumbling down,

This is dF


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