The social media platform Tumblr has announced that on December 17, it will effectively ban all adult content. Tumblr follows the lead of Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and other social media platforms, who over the past few years have meticulously scrubbed their corners of the internet of adult content, sex, and sexuality, in the name of brand protection and child protection.
While some in the adult industry may cheer the end of Tumblr as a never-ending source of free content, specifically pirated content, it is concerning that of the major social media platforms, only Twitter and Reddit remain in any way tolerant of adult workers — and there are doubts as to how much longer that will last.
As legitimate platforms ban or censor adult content — having initially benefited from traffic that adult content brought them — illegitimate platforms for distribution take their place. The closure of Tumblr only means more piracy, more dispersal of community, and more suffering for adult producers and performers.
Free Speech Coalition was founded to fight government censorship — set raids and FBI entrapment, bank seizures and jail terms. The internet gave us freedom from much that had plagued us, particularly local ordinances and overzealous prosecutors. But now, when corporate censors suspend your account, the only choice is to abandon the platform – there is no opportunity for arbitration or appeal.
When companies like Google and Facebook (and subsidiaries like YouTube and Instagram) control over 70% of all web traffic, adult companies are denied a market as effectively as a state-level sex toy ban. And when sites like Tumblr and Twitter can close an account with millions of followers without warning, the effect is the same on a business — particularly a small, performer-run one — as an FBI seizure.
As social media companies become more powerful, we must demand recourse, but we also must look beyond our industry and continue to build alliances — with women, with LGBTQ groups, with sex workers and sex educators, with artists — who implicitly understand the devastating effect of this new form of censorship.
These communities have seen the devastation wreaked when platforms use purges of “adult content” as a sledgehammer, broadly banning sexual health information, vibrant communities based around non-normative genders and sexualities, resources for sex workers, and political and cultural commentary that engages with such topics.
The loss of these platforms isn’t just about business, it’s about the loss of vital communities and education — and organizing. We use these platforms not only to grow our reach, but to communicate with one another, to rally, to drive awareness of issues of sex and sexuality. They have become a central source of power. And today, we’re one step closer to losing that as well.