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Tumblr bans nudity to create ‘a safe place for creative expression’

In a change the micro-blogging platform says is designed to help more creators feel comfortable expressing themselves, Tumblr will soon ban nudity. Beginning on December 17, Tumblr will begin banning content that violates new community guidelines, and will also begin using artificially intelligent filters and a team of staff members to prevent the content from appearing on the platform.

The adult content ban is for photos, videos, and GIFs “that show real-life human genitals or female-presenting nipples” along with any visual content “that depicts sex acts.” The ban is only for visual media — written content that falls under categories for erotica will still be permitted, the new community guidelines state. The platform also has a few exceptions to the new ban on nudity in images, allowing images that depict breastfeeding, and also permitting nudity in sculptures and other fine art, for example.

The change comes shortly after the Tumblr app was removed from the App Store due to reported child pornography — but to be clear, Tumblr CEO Jeff D’Onofrio says the platform has always had a zero-tolerance policy for content harmful to minors. He says the platform is continuing to invest in enforcing that policy, including increasing machine learning algorithms, expanding human moderators, and expanding user tools for reporting abuse.

Like the slip that ended up getting the app temporarily removed from the App Store, D’Onofrio says there will be mistakes that the automated system doesn’t catch and the process won’t happen overnight as the platform moves to eliminate adult content.

“It is our continued, humble aspiration that Tumblr be a safe place for creative expression, self-discovery, and a deep sense of community,” he wrote in a blog post. “As Tumblr continues to grow and evolve, and our understanding of our impact on our world becomes clearer, we have a responsibility to consider that impact across different age groups, demographics, cultures, and mindsets. We spent considerable time weighing the pros and cons of expression in the community that includes adult content. In doing so, it became clear that without this content we have the opportunity to create a place where more people feel comfortable expressing themselves.”

Content flagged under the new guidelines will not be deleted, but the privacy settings will be altered so that the content can only be viewed by the original creator. Users who feel the content doesn’t fall under the new restrictions can appeal the decision inside the Android app or from the web platform. 

Written sexual content, Tumblr says, which doesn’t violate the updated guidelines, will still have filters that do not allow users under age 18 to view the content. D’Onofrio says the new guidelines are designed to create a balance that still allows users to freely discuss topics “like art, sex positivity, your relationships, your sexuality, and your personal journey.”

“There are no shortage of sites on the internet that feature adult content,” D’Onofrio wrote. “We will leave it to them and focus our efforts on creating the most welcoming environment possible for our community.”

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