In May 2013 Yahoo! bought microblogging site Tumblr for US$1.1bn. CEO Marissa Mayer promised “not to screw it up” but it looks like that’s exactly what has started to happen. By adding adult content filters on mobile apps, the company is alienating some of Tumblr’s users.
In early September 2013, Tumblr began blocking porn search terms on its iOS platforms, including the tags #gay, #lesbian and #bisexual. As a result, a lot of LGBTQ advocacy content has also been blocked.
Tumblr’s founder and CEO, David Karp, posted this on Tumblr Staff: “The reason you see innocent tags like #gay being blocked on certain platforms is that they are still frequently returning adult content which our entire app was close to being banned for. The solution is more intelligent filtering which our team is working diligently on. We’ll get there soon.”
Yahoo! made US$5bn in 2012. A lot of that came from the sale of ads and with 300m visitors per month, Yahoo! is probably thinking that Tumblr is ready for the sort of advertising its founders had avoided. So attempts to filter porn are probably intended to make Tumblr a more attractive proposition in terms of placing ads.
If Yahoo! continues its clean-up policy for the mobile app – and does so motivated purely by profit than puritanism – it may run the risk of causing Tumblr to take a tumble.
Tumblr has a reputation for being cool, with a large majority of its users being under 35. Filtering content might have an adverse effect on that cool, especially if a term happens to straddle two distinct worlds and one of those worlds revolves around political and social advocacy, such as the LGBTQ community. Alienation is most certainly not cool.