Tumblr is adding a new filtering feature called “community labels.” Contrary to speculation from some users, Tumblr’s parent company, Automattic, says its broader rules haven’t changed so far — but the feature might lay the groundwork for a more liberal moderation policy.
Community labels, announced yesterday, make the site’s moderation tools more granular. Tumblr is asking users to tag posts that depict or reference three categories of content: drug and alcohol addiction, violence “similar to what you might see in an age-restricted movie,” and “sexual themes” including “erotic writing or imagery.” Adding any of them will add a “mature” label to the post. You can also add a “mature” label for anything you think is sensitive but doesn’t fit these categories.
Tumblr’s new policies will be “more in line” with WordPress.com
Once tagged, mature posts will either be blurred or hidden altogether on a viewer’s dashboard, depending on their own content settings. Those settings also let you turn off both options and see the posts normally — unless your birthday indicates you’re under 18, in which case all mature posts are hidden and the settings locked. The filtering is opt-out, so if you want to view mature content, you’ll need to manually change your settings.
It’s not a seismic change yet, but in an update today, Automattic CEO Matt Mullenweg said community labels were a “first step” in a larger Tumblr project. “I’m very excited that a fuller range of artists will be able to appropriately tag and protect their art and work,” Mullenweg wrote on Tumblr. “We haven’t updated the official content policies yet but hope to bring them more in line with our policies on WordPress.com soon.” The full statement (with emphasis in original) can be found below:
Community labels are our first step toward making sure that everything is appropriately tagged on Tumblr so that people aren’t exposed to content they don’t want to see or aren’t legally allowed to see. The response has been great so far, and I’m very excited that a fuller range of artists will be able to appropriately tag and protect their art and work. App store policies, particularly Apple’s, still mean that we need to take extra steps to make sure that anything tagged isn’t available to younger users and you need to explicitly opt-in to make sure it shows up. (That’s why we’re collecting birthdays now.) We haven’t updated the official content policies yet but hope to bring them more in line with our policies on WordPress.com soon.
Tumblr has struggled with moderation since a contentious 2018 ban on adult content, which sent shockwaves through the site’s user base. (Banned “adult content” is defined as more explicitly sexual than “mature content,” which allows for written erotica and sexually suggestive material.) And a number of Tumblr users saw the new community labels as a sign Tumblr might reverse its decision.
The real implications are still muddy. Mullenweg didn’t specify exactly how Tumblr could mirror WordPress.com, which allows “mature” content while still banning “visual depictions of sexually explicit acts.” For now, the announcement post says Tumblr’s new feature “doesn’t change our content policies,” indicating that things like “spam, hate content, and porn bots” are still banned. When contacted for comment, Automattic referred The Verge to Mullenweg’s statement.
Tumblr still “can’t be a place for porn”
But Mullenweg told The Verge in March that he wanted to open the site’s rules up somewhat. While saying that “Tumblr can’t be a place for porn” and singling out porn bots for criticism, he also said artists should have more freedom on the site. “If you look at our other products like WordPress.com, we have policies there that allow a lot more than what’s currently allowed on Tumblr,” Mullenweg said. “That’s what we’re going to try to normalize because those policies have evolved and iterated and worked really well to allow a statue of David or ‘The Birth of Venus.’ Right now, that could get taken down — or in old Tumblr, it could have gotten taken down. That’s obviously art.”
Tumblr has made a variety of attempts to appease Apple by filtering sensitive posts, something that’s required for the app to remain on iOS. In late 2021, Tumblr locked down anything tagged with a long, odd list of words, including “girl” and “selfie,” on iOS. Shortly thereafter, it added a “sensitive content” toggle that let people opt into viewing those posts.
But Mullenweg said that more permissive moderation could be compatible with Apple’s guidelines, particularly with a better tagging and filtering system in place — and that seems to be exactly what Tumblr is trying to add this week.