Does anybody remember when, back in 2013, I blogged about how Tumblr was blocking selected adult links, in particular ones to a clip-sale place called Extra Lunch Money? It was a prior restraint sort of block; you’d hit the post button and if the offending link was present, you’d get a cryptic red “there was a problem saving your post” response.
My prediction back then was that Tumblr would, when caught, claim that the prior link restraint was a glitch:
Beginning during the negotiation of the sale to Yahoo, Tumblr’s practice has been to disadvantage its adult content in silent and hard-to-notice ways, even when that content was fully-consistent with its fairly permissive community guidelines. What’s more, when forced to backtrack by public outrage after the big robots.txt debacle, Tumblr went to great lengths to pretend it was all a misunderstood and unfortunate technical error.
So my prediction here is that if the link-censoring initiative attracts enough negative attention, publishing these links will start working again and Tumblr will either say nothing, or explain that it was all just a glitch. But if this story doesn’t reach critical mass, look for the list of disfavored adult links to continue to grow.
I was right. That’s exactly what happened. The blocked links quickly started working again.
Fast forward to yesterday, when Lady Amalthea posted an alert on her Tumblr blog about a sort of prior restraint that she’d noticed in attempting to post links to various cam sites and clip-sales sites:
Notice that one of her examples of a link Tumblr won’t let her publish is our old friend from 2013, that Extra Lunch Money site. And also notice that one of the people responding to Lady Amalthea’s post says that the block on her other example (My Free Cams) is not new: “Tumblr has never let me link to MFC, btw. That’s not a new thing in case anyone thought it was.”
So I fired up my Tumblr test suite and decided to focus on those two links and (as a control) the top link on her list of links that were working as of yesterday, a link to the clip site Clipvia. So far I haven’t looked at the behavior of any other links, just these three.
What I found is that whether you want to call it a “glitch” or prior restraint, at least some of the link-blocking behavior is definitely back. However, it may indeed be somewhat glitchy; I found that the behavior was inconsistent (not reproducible) as to at least one of the test links.
The first thing I tried was to create a new “Text” style post for each of my three test links, which I created by navigating to the home page of the three sites, copying the URL displayed in my nav bar, and pasting it directly into the new Tumblr post page before hitting the “Save Draft” button. At first, the only link that generated an error message was the one from My Free Cams:
Although I was initially able to save more than one draft posts with the Extra Lunch Money and Clipvia links, subsequent attempts failed:
From there, I moved on to creating new “photo”-type posts. I would upload an image (the same in all cases), paste in the test URL, and attempt to save. In this case, I have not been able to get the Extra Lunch Money link to fail; it’s worked several times when I have tried this experiment:
However, my other two test URLs are not postable:
For my final experiment, I tried editing a post reblogged from someone else, and pasting in all three suspect links. In this, and several other experiments with reblogging, I was unable to generate the mysterious error message, and instead successfully saved my drafts:
My conclusion? If this is indeed a deliberate block of a set of blacklisted links, its implementation is glitchy, because the same link would sometimes post and sometimes fail to post for me. Its implementation is also glitchy across different post types and post actions. However, I don’t believe it’s completely random; there seem to be no reports of unpostable links outside this universe of sites used by camgirls and indy custom adult clips producers. I suspect that Tumblr does indeed have (and has had since at least 2013) a blacklist of not-to-be-published links. (This would even make sense if its use was restricted to protecting Tumblr users from malicious malware installers, to pick one obviously-legitimate use for a blacklist.) There might be an automated process (that’s gone wrong) for adding sites to the blacklist, or there might be a training-and-supervision issue that has let “rogue employees” add stinky adult sites to a list that was not intended for the restraint of adult publication. Given the way different attempts to post the same link have different results at different times, it’s even possible the blacklist is not universally distributed across all of Tumblr’s different server farms.
If enough Tumblr users report this “glitch” to Tumblr support, I expect that eventually the adult links they would like to publish will be removed from the blacklist, since the links do not violate any of Tumblr’s existing terms of service or community guidelines. That’s what Tumblr did last time, and they haven’t announced any new terms or policies (I checked).
Last time Tumblr was flirting with blocking selected adult links from publication, I wrote:
Tumblr is quietly and dishonestly hostile to adult content in general and to adult marketing and self-promotion in particular, even when that marketing complies with their community guidelines in every particular. Which is a nice intro to this morning’s sermon on The Catechism of Bacchus:
- Tumblr is, at the end of the day, a blogging service.
- As I’ve been saying since at least 2004, blogging services suck.
- This is Bacchus’s First Rule and it remains the rule: Anything worth doing on the internet is worth doing on your own server that you control.
- You will be tempted to ignore The Rule because of social media network effects.
- You may even feel forced to ignore it, because you can’t get enough attention on your own platform.
- When you disregard the rule (and everybody does, even me who wrote it) you will get burned.
- Count on it. Plan for it. The Pornocalypse Comes For Us All.
Nothing has changed since I wrote that.
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