July 4, 2022

When tech billionaire Elon Musk made a deal to obtain Twitter in April 2022, many Twitter customers threatened to close down their accounts and migrate in different places on-line.

Tumblr – a microblogging platform introduced in 2007 lengthy referred to as a laboratory for social justice reasons and burgeoning fan cultures – become one contender.

Alternatively, many Twitter customers proposing a migration to Tumblr appeared to be the ones who had abandoned the site only a few years prior.

In 2018, Tumblr content material deemed sexually specific – or NSFW – used to be banned. The arguable coverage ended in a mass exodus from the web page, the so-called Tumblr apocalypse.

Each as a conversation researcher and early generation consumer of Tumblr, I have pondered the web page’s distinctive position in web tradition. And within the years following the NSFW ban, I have observed many attempt to make sense of Tumblr as a platform at the cusp of a comeback or a vestige of a bygone generation.

And but, lengthy overshadowed through social media platforms like Fb and Snapchat, Tumblr continues to withstand simple solutions to what it’s and may well be.

From ‘blue hellsite’ to hell in a handbasket

Since its inception, Tumblr has served as a countercultural hub for ladies, queer other folks, younger other folks and marginalized communities. On the similar time, it has lengthy handled problems similar to recurrent insects and capability issues, bullying, hate speech and the glorification of self-harm, main some customers to time period it the “blue hellsite.”

Despite that, Tumblr stays a house to artwork, fandom, memes and social critique. That is in part because of the versatility of the primary consumer interfaces. Each the individualized blogs and real-time feeds show an array of unique and re-blogged media, starting from written posts to movies. In doling out higher keep watch over over how customers offered themselves on-line – thru, for instance, pseudonymity and at ease content material moderation – Tumblr stood out as a bastion for inventive expression.

This manner contributed to its explosive enlargement, which crested in 2013 and 2014 when Tumblr claimed customers spent extra time at the web page than Fb and Twitter.

Such openness additionally facilitated the upward thrust in NSFW content material that become a core a part of Tumblr’s id. For the consumer base, get right of entry to to queer, feminist and selection representations of intercourse and sexuality used to be significant, resulting in self-exploration and group development for susceptible teams similar to LGBTQ+ formative years. And for individuals who produced their very own NSFW content material, Tumblr’s leniency supposed source of revenue.

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The embody of NSFW content material – a rarity for social media platforms – used to be even recommended through its founder David Karp, who as soon as characterised Tumblr as “a very good platform for porn.”

In 2013, after Yahoo received Tumblr, there used to be fear that the platform would tighten its content material insurance policies. Alternatively, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer promised Tumblr customers that little would exchange.

Occasions that adopted, then again, would change into Tumblr.

First, in 2017, Verizon Communications purchased Yahoo. Later that yr, Karp left the corporate. Then, in early 2018, a federal regulation referred to as FOSTA-SESTA handed, which made website online operators like Verizon answerable for intercourse trafficking or intercourse paintings performed on their platforms. That November, Apple Retailer got rid of the Tumblr app after kid sexual abuse subject matter used to be discovered at the web page. Weeks later, Tumblr introduced a ban on NSFW content material that went into impact on Dec. 17, 2018.

However that very same month, Vox reported that the NSFW ban used to be underway smartly prior to the Apple Retailer controversy. The target: to promote extra advertisements.

Tumblr’s more than a few mother or father corporations have lengthy attempted to monetize a platform traditionally resistant to conventional promoting. The ban become some way to draw corporations hesitant to put it up for sale along pornography.

This transfer used to be clear to many Tumblr customers, who claimed that Verizon used to be repackaging its cash in reason as a campaign to give protection to kids.

I have researched how, in line with the NSFW ban, wallet of resistance emerged, starting from boycotts and petitions to scathing reviews and memes. The coverage, at its core, used to be a battleground for a deeper energy combat between platform house owners and customers.

The disconnect between how the 2 aspects envisioned the platform ended up being mutually damaging. Whilst Tumblr’s consumer tradition used to be irreparably broken, its company aspect additionally suffered, experiencing huge drops in web page site visitors. In 2019, Verizon bought Tumblr to WordPress’ proprietor, Automated, for US$3 million – a fragment of the $1.1 billion Yahoo had paid for it.

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The top or a brand new starting?

Whilst clashes over web page coverage persist to this present day, I have began to look discuss Tumblr’s conceivable resurgence.

Even prior to Musk’s Twitter announcement, the platform appeared to be making strides in regaining public pastime and relevancy.

There is been the hype across the Dracula Day-to-day e-newsletter, which percolated on Tumblr in Would possibly 2022. Fan cultures for more moderen presentations like “Euphoria” and “Succession” have additionally flourished at the web page. And in meme tradition, “Tumblr humor” – typified through a dry, absurdist and self-deprecatory wit – continues to flow into widely on-line.

However Tumblr’s “resurrection” turns out to depend totally on a formative years tradition within the grips of nostalgia for the early 2010s. What has been termed Tumblrcore – a 2010s subculture with a specific media style, web revel in and comfortable grunge taste – is a contemporary addition to the craze. Its renewed recognition used to be affirmed previous this yr with Fashion’s protection of the “2014 Tumblr Lady aesthetic.”

Tumblr, then, just like the defunct video sharing platform Vine, has transform a touchpoint for younger other folks who grew up on the net and feature emotional ties to its cultural historical past. As corporations like Fb combat with the Gen Z demographic, Tumblr has, for a few of them, emerged as a stupendous “antique” selection – related to the go back of disposable cameras amongst younger other folks.

The TikTok roadblock

However along those glimmers of regeneration, Tumblr faces two key hindrances.

The primary is the ascent of TikTok. Despite the fact that additionally prohibiting NSFW content material, TikTok has imported lots of Tumblr’s cultural options – from discourses round sexuality and social justice to the promotion of pro-anorexia content material and bullying. With TikTok as the thrashing center of on-line formative years tradition, Tumblr is driven additional to its edges.

The second one is Tumblr itself. Whilst preventing to extend web page site visitors and earn advert earnings with out riding customers away, the NSFW ban, like a vengeful spirit, continues to hang-out Tumblr. One want most effective have a look at responses to Tumblr’s tweets within the wake of Musk’s acquisition announcement. Representing the lack of once-prized group values, the ban, for lots of, become a logo of the damaged social contract between customers and possession.

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And so contradictory forces form Tumblr’s status. At the one hand, the reminiscence of Tumblr assists in keeping it alive in pop culture. On the similar time, the underbelly of this reminiscence – the section fed on through unresolved wrongs and resentments – turns out to prevent brief any enlargement that might result in a real renaissance.

Past platform ‘lifestyles’ and ‘loss of life’

The strange case of Tumblr presentations how classifying platforms as lifeless, demise or alive can also be restricting. This type of body steadily operates in line with a capitalist good judgment during which “enlargement” approach lifestyles and “stagnation” indicators loss of life.

Residing someplace in between surge and stasis, Tumblr serves as a reminder that platforms don’t seem to be simply profit-driven companies however collecting puts with rhythms and cycles of their very own. They’re additionally cultural artifacts that, in shifting during the collective creativeness, tackle other shapes and purposes.

Consideration to the in-between finds a extra complicated courting between customers, platforms and house owners. It’s right here the savviness of social media customers is on show. Despite the fact that platform house owners wield unilateral energy and keep watch over, customers are increasingly more supplied with an arsenal of resistance ways, together with exodus or migration. The upward thrust of this untethered consumer – person who takes a nomadic technique to virtual lifestyles – might pose an sudden risk to virtual intermediaries.

Tumblr is a living proof. And but, in its new section of life, it stays a colourful house for conversation, tradition and laughs. Its house on the margins must as a substitute push us to believe an web unfastened from the realization that larger is all the time higher.

Jeanna Sybert, Ph.D. Candidate in Communique, College of Pennsylvania

This newsletter is republished from The Dialog beneath a Ingenious Commons license. Learn the unique article.