News that Tumblr's mobile filter was blocking searches for such tags as #gay, #lesbian, or #bisexual on its iOS app as part of a new porn restrictions was immediately controversial. Users wondered how it was possible that searches related to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender themes were NSFW and subject to prohibition.
But the truth behind the filtering may have more to do with Tumblr's recent sale to Yahoo! and its desire to adhere to the standards of Apple's App Store, than an attempt to block any potentially racy communities.
BuzzFeed's Lily Hiott-Millis complained that Tumblr's move "made no sense," seeing as other potentially questionable tags, such as #masturbate, were not banned. If those tags were allowed, the writer asked, why not the LGBT tags? Plus, all LGBT-themed searches are still fair game on Tumblr's website provided users are signed into an account.
Tumblr CEO David Karp defends the move as a business decision but denies singling out specific communities unnecessarily. He explains in a post:
Some search terms are blocked (returning no results) in some of our mobile apps. Unfortunately, different app environments have different requirements that we do our best to adhere to. The reason you see innocent tags like #gay being blocked on certain platforms is that they are still frequently returning adult content which our entire app was close to being banned for. The solution is more intelligent filtering which our team is working diligently on.
Karp added that all the tags were still on Tumblr.com and that #lgbtq was available on the iOS mobile app, albeit under the watchful eye of porn-spotting community editors.
The Atlantic Wire's Rebecca Greenfield notes that Karp's "different app environments" most probably references the App Store, which maintains fairly strict anti-porn regulations and may be paying more attention to the Tumblr app now that it was bought by media behemoth Yahoo!
A statement from Tumblr seems to support Greenfield's theory.
"We would strongly prefer not to limit any browsing inside our apps," a spokeswoman said in an email to The Huffington Post. "But until the app marketplaces relax their content requirements, we're on the hook to develop stringent filters for mature content before we allow search terms that frequently return said content. We're determined to get there soon."
The rep noted that Android app users with "Safe Mode" disabled can browse all tags.
Forbes reports that Yahoo! earned a whopping $5 billion in revenue last year, with much of that coming from advertisements. In this context, a NSFW-content crackdown by Tumblr may be an attempt by Yahoo! to keep the site an attractive draw for future advertisers.
Although Tumblr insists that it has not changed its rules, recently, the site has been making it increasingly difficult for users not logged into a specific account, or users who have "Safe Mode" turned on, to search for or view blogs flagged as "NSFW" or "adult," according to Mashable.
Though at least one petition asks Tumblr to stop censoring LGBT tags, fallout from the Tumblr filters is yet to be seen. However, Forbes notes that Tumblr's young demographic may be turned off by the move, which could damage the site's reputation as a community where all are welcome and in the process hurt the company's trendy new investment.