Tumblr announced last month that it would be banning all adult content, and it started implementing the ban quickly. However, it appears Tumblr’s censoring algorithm is not working well because it has been making an awful lot of mistakes by flagging even innocent posts as pornography.
Tumblr’s censoring algorithm is making a lot of mistakes
Although users reported many instances in which Tumblr’s censoring algorithm made a mistake in identifying adult content, one mistake in particular deserves a special mention. This mistake was pointed out by Twitter user @TeeDotally, who shared an image that Tumblr’s censoring algorithm tagged as NSFW, according to tech site PiunikaWeb. The image in question is a very touching picture.
Tumblr marked this as a post with adult content 😒 pic.twitter.com/uik6kern1a
— Ⓣ🅔ⓡ🅡ⓘ 🅓ⓞ🅣ⓨ (@TeeDotally) January 15, 2019
We all know it is the censoring algorithm doing all this, but Tumblr can’t escape responsibility. It is the company’s responsibility to ensure the systems it has in place are working as intended.
In this case, Tumblr was quick to realize its mistake after the user appealed the decision. Tumblr’s manual review was quick to restore the image, and the company apologized for the mistake.
“We’ve reviewed the classification appeal on your post and have determined that it does not contain adult content per our Community Guidelines. As a result, your post has been restored! We apologize for the error,” read Tumblr’s reply.
Other instances of wrongly flagged image
Tumblr aims to ban all explicit sexual content and nudity with a few exceptions like nude classical statues and photos displaying breastfeeding.
“Adult content will no longer be allowed here. While we do not judge anyone for their desire to post, engage with, or view this stuff, it is time for us to change our relationship with it,” Tumblr said in its announcement last month.
However, since early December, users have been complaining about Tumblr’s algorithms incorrectly flagging some images as explicit. For instance, one user noted that photos of a vase and tights were flagged as explicit. An artist’s illustration of a witch floating among kelp was also flagged by the algorithm.
Guess we’re posting our flagged tumblr stuff now lol pic.twitter.com/RvPMo9Sw8u
— Ru Xu (@ruemxu) December 3, 2018
Another illustration showing people running around and swimming was also flagged. In one instance, the censoring algorithm even flagged Tumblr’s own reblog notice as explicit.
Tumblr expected such mistakes in the beginning. In a blog post, CEO Jeff D’Onofrio said they are using automated tools to flag adult content and humans to train these systems to do their job perfectly.
“We know there will be mistakes,” D’Onofrio said.
Even Tumblr noted that although it is using computers to automate the tasks, they are “not as good at making nuanced, contextual decisions.” The company also said that its artificial intelligence would learn as it handles more tasks and that it is “committed to getting this right.”
Is history repeating itself?
Tumblr’s current stance on pornography is a stark contrast to the platform’s operations years ago. By 2010, the social media platform had attracted a dedicated directory of erotic Tumblrs, and by 2013, more than 11% of the platform’s top blogs were adult-oriented, according to TechCrunch.
Yahoo bought Tumblr for $1.1 billion in 2013, and in July 2013, the site started removing NSFW blogs from its search engine. Last year, the social media platform came up with a “safe mode” to block “sensitive content.”
A study revealed last year that almost a quarter of users on Tumblr visit the platform to view pornography. The study included 130 million users, or about half of the site’s user base. Thus, bidding adieu to porn was a major decision for the company, and the decision seemingly came after its app was removed from the iOS store over child pornography.
Tumblr was launched in 2005 as a micro-blogging and social networking site, but soon it moved beyond its original functionality and became a media platform known for its progressive community. The platform also gained prominence as a place of healthy discussion on issues related to identity, body image and sexuality.
Moreover, Tumblr gained immense popularity after a fellow site, LiveJournal, was taken over by the Russian government. After the takeover, many of the site’s users migrated to Tumblr when LiveJournal began censoring pro-LGBTQ discussions. Now something similar is happening to Tumblr with many of its users fleeing to other platforms after its blanket ban on porn. Many content creators have already moved to platforms like Pillowfort, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.