Tumblr Users Baffled After Latest Wave of Content Bans

The list of bizarre blocked words include "Girl," "My Face," and "Trigger Warning"

Tumblr was once a land of unfiltered expression — a lush HTML community garden where budding creatives from all fields could share their pieces, converse, or just laugh at funny images as they scroll. However, due to a series of abrupt and poorly announced content bans, the crops are dying, and iOS Tumblr users are left confused over a constant “ban first, explain later” mentality.

The first ban of note was on December 17th, 2018 when Tumblr implemented its infamous adult content purge. The initial reason for the ban was legitimate and necessary — Apple had found content on the website involving child sexual abuse, and removed Tumblr from the App Store for a month. Tumblr was only allowed back on the App Store once all harmful content was removed, and an announcement was made to ban adult content. It was a shock to many, because Tumblr was one of the few sites where creators who dealt with sex, nudity, and the body could exist. But with the flip of a switch, Tumblr blocked, flagged, and uprooted countless NSFW communities that once called the dark blue site home. 

Now, a few years later, Tumblr is rolling out another iOS ban. This time, it’s targeting some bizarre tags on posts to “remain available within Apple’s App Store.” A Tumblr account called “bannedtags” quickly emerged to compile all of the newly cursed words, and it’s a truly bonkers community-sourced list. Here is a non-exhaustive peek at a few of the banned terms, which could result in a blog being flagged for deletion or completely shadowbanned: ACAB, selfie, bald, transphobia, 420, me, girl, about, dysphoria, Eugene Levy, trauma, and racism.

Tumblr made an official post the day of the bans (but gave no prior warning), and explained that searches, blogs, and recommendations will all be hit by this new push. They also stated that they have no timeline for how long this will be in effect, and this ambiguity is distressing some Tumblr users.

“I think the biggest upset factor is that Tumblr kinda dropped these restrictions with essentially no real warning, says Tumblr user gwnndolin. “Maybe the staff blog posted about it, but they really should’ve had a site-wide banner or something to let people know to at least prepare, change tags, or something. The other really hard thing about it is how there feels like truly no rhyme or reason to what gets shafted, and it’s left up to the users to find out what that is through trial and error.”

Frustration over the lack of a head’s up is a common sentiment for users Fanbyte spoke to. People would rather be preventative than suddenly find out their blogs are marked as NSFW after the fact, because they’ll have to jump through convoluted hoops to get that branding repealed. There’s also a hope for Tumblr to get better NSFW filters like Twitter and Instagram, who seldom (if ever) get pulled from the iOS store.

“It’s utterly insane that the #racism and #antisemitism tags were banned, among other things,” says Tumblr user takumi1988. “The majority of the tags banned are completely unreasonable and fundamentally destroy a huge amount of the site’s actual use; without functional tags Tumblr is no different from any other social media platform. There’s no reason to be here other than just being here already.”

Tumblr’s tagging system serves polar opposite purposes. Some people use it for exposure and visibility on a post, while others use it to tag potentially triggering posts. Takumi1988 points to how this new tag ban completely invalidates Tumblr’s internal tag filtering for people who want to avoid content that may have epileptic triggers, racism, or other sensitive content.

“It’s Apple’s fault, but Tumblr has a history of screwing up these sorts of updates and I worry that we’re going to lose a bunch more artists and creative people because it’ll be too much of a pain to post anything here if it can so easily get banned or flagged,” says Tumblr user foolishandfurious. “I’m on mobile 99 percent of the time and I don’t want to miss out on anything just because it’s been tagged as #girl or something else completely harmless. It’s all very stupid.”

The list of banned terms is all over the place, and that stems from an equally confusing backend process where nobody seems to really know what the best practices are. A post from an ex-Tumblr iOS developer gives an in-depth account of the “discordant” process of developing, submitting, and appealing an app to Apple’s store. It seems like a very chaotic time with a lack of clear communication between policymakers, reviewers, and developers, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to change anytime soon.

It’s still not clear how long this era of banned tags will last, but Tumblr users are some of the most resilient people on the web. They’ll get through this, hopefully.