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Research:Online Community Conduct Policies/Tumblr

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Tumblr is an adaptable microblogging platform launched in 2007 that allows user to create, share, and cross-pollinate content, particularly multimedia such as videos and gifs. The site's blogging software is customizable and user-friendly, allowing easy fine-tuning (with blog themes and module functionality) of the content one generates, as well as a similarly approachable "dashboard" view that allows sorting and filtering of content one wants to view or follow.[1] Unlike many other blogging platforms, Tumblr's software includes fully-integrated a social networking features, allowing users to like, share, and reblog others' content, as well as tag/ping and follow other users. Tumblr's users are often said to gather in sub-communities (or "subcultures") centered around a topic. The content tagging and reblogging aspects of Tumblr allow these communities to focus on, share, and signal-boost content of specific interest to their members.[2]

Community characteristics[edit]

Tumblr is ranked 46th globally in combined visitors and pageviews by Alexa, with visitors coming largely from the United States (~33%). Site users skew young, with approximately 50% of its users in 2015 being between the ages of 18 and 34 and only 2% being above age 65.[3] A Tumblr user is significantly more likely than internet average to be female and to browse the site from school,[4] and somewhat more likely than average to be an urban, rather than rural or suburban, dweller.[5]

Tumblr allows users access to an experimental feature called "Reblog graph" that provides visualizations of how a given piece of content has reached its current destination. Community members have used this feature to analyze the life cycle of different types of content in the "Tumblr-sphere"; for instance, one analysis shows markedly different "share patterns" (paths through community members all reblogging the content to and among each other) for organic, individual content vs. different types of advertising content - individual content was shared in small, layered clusters with no central nexus, while paid content was variously shared very little (direct advertisement) or in dense clusters easily traced back to a single, heavily-followed nucleus.[6] Besides providing information about paid content distribution, this set of graphs also provides a useful reference point for how Tumblr's "organic", individual-to-individual social networking tends to take shape: interlocking clusters of users and content, with each cluster bridged to others by reblogging.

As a result of the Tumblr community's interlocking-clusters shape, users find it easy to connect to trusted or interesting users - rather than a typical social media site search where one chooses what to read based on top results in a keyword search, Tumblr enables users to follow a path of friend-of-a-friend-style interconnections, tags, and reblogs to find their content. This strategy is cited as particularly valuable to members of socially marginalized groups such as LGBT youth, who rely on the "word of mouth" quality of these interconnections to be sure that they are connecting to people and content that are safe.[7]

Conduct policy[edit]

See also: https://www.tumblr.com/policy/en/community

Tumblr combines its conduct and content policies into one "Community Guidelines" page.[8] The page lists a variety of conduct-related things "Tumblr is not for", including:

  • Malicious (hate) speech that targets others "on the basis of things like race, ethnic origin, religion, disability, gender, age, veteran status, or sexual orientation."[9] The site reserves the right to remove this content, though it encourages users to use argument to "dismantle" this type of behavior rather than jumping immediately to reporting and deletion.
  • Content or behavior that does harm or may harm a minor,
  • Content glorifying self-harm (Tumblr has, in the past, had to shut down "pro-ana" communities of teens who used the site to share content supporting anorexia and encouraging one another to continue their disordered eating[10]),
  • Shock images involving things like gore and bestiality ("Don't post gore just to be shocking. Don't showcase the mutilation or torture of human beings, animals, or their remains. Dick." says this guideline bluntly)
  • Harassment
  • Impersonation
  • Using the site to solicit or share personal information about others. ("doxxing")

Though the site does allow adult/sexual content (other than sexually explicit video, which is specifically disallowed), it requires that such content be tagged as "NSFW" so that users can filter out such content when searching the site.

Tumblr's support subsite also offers a page of guidance for users who are at risk of self-harm, including URLs and phone numbers for free counseling hotlines in a number of countries as well as outreach resources for those struggling with eating disorders.[11]

History of the policy[edit]

Tumblr has used GitHub to track and log changes to its Community Guidelines since 2012. The log is linked to from the Community Guidelines page and is available here; note that while wording and detail has varied, the gist of the Community Guidelines has been substantially the same since the first change logged at GitHub.[12]

Policy enforcement[edit]

As with many social media sites, Tumblr allows users to block one another on a per-blog basis (that is, user A, who runs blogs 1 and 2, can choose to block user B from blog 1 but not blog 2; conversely, blocking user B from blog 2 does not automatically also block them from blog 1). A block from another user will keep the blockee from being able to follow, like, or reblog the blocker's content (though not from viewing it, if the blog is otherwise publicly viewable), as well as from being able to send messages and questions to the blocker or find their content in site searches. Blocked users are not notified that they have been blocked, though the site does not attempt to conceal that they can no longer interact with the blocker.[13]

For behavior that cannot be handled by an individual block, users can report people or content to Tumblr's Trust & Safety team via a series of reporting forms.[14] Tumblr provides very little detail in its public documentation about what happens during the process of a report or who handles the reports; though the site says in a few places that reports are individually reviewed by the Tumblr Trust & Safety Team, it provides no information about the people on this team, nor does its main help page offer any content about - or links to content about - the abuse reporting process beyond "how to fill out a report" instructions. Though the site's Community Management team has a tumblr blog of its own,[15] the content there appears to be largely recreational or very general in nature. As a result of Tumblr's lack of documentation of its Trust & Safety team's work, it is difficult to report reliably on how Tumblr views, handles, or enforces the results of abuse reports.

A "Tumblr Safety Guide"[16] published by the Hollaback! anti-harassment organization in cooperation with the Tumblr Trust & Safety team,[17] though published outside of the Tumblr ecosystem, does add a bit more detail about Tumblr's approach to these issues:

  • Third-party reports (those by people who are not the direct victim of the behavior being reported) are accepted,
  • Users who are reported are not told the identity of the reporting party or of the specific allegations made against them.
  • Reports made to the Tumblr Trust & Safety team are each individually reviewed by a team member and generally responded to within 24 hours
  • The Trust & Safety team may, at their discretion in response to a report, remove the problematic content and/or suspend or delete the account of the person posting it

Analysis of policy: strengths and weaknesses[edit]




  1. Erickson, Christine. "The Beginner's Guide to Tumblr". Mashable. Retrieved 2016-05-23. 
  2. Roncero-Menendez, Sara. "The Complete Guide to Tumblr Subcultures". Mashable. Retrieved 2016-05-23. 
  3. "Infographic: Who's Really Using Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr and Instagram in 2015". AdWeek. Retrieved 2016-05-23. 
  4. "tumblr.com Site Overview". www.alexa.com. Retrieved 2016-05-23. 
  5. Duggan, Maeve (2015-08-19). "Main Findings". Pew Research Center: Internet, Science & Tech. Retrieved 2016-05-23. 
  6. "http://bluechoochoo.tumblr.com/post/144458062551/paidvsorganicvsinfluencerpublishingsharingtumblr". bluechoochoo. Retrieved 2016-05-23. 
  7. "How Tumblr Is Helping and Changing the LGBT Community". Beautycon. 2016-01-04. Retrieved 2016-05-23. 
  8. "Tumblr". www.tumblr.com. Retrieved 2016-05-23. 
  9. "Tumblr". www.tumblr.com. Retrieved 2016-05-23. 
  10. "Tumblr Takes a Stand Against Self-Mutilation, Pro-Ana Sites by Banning Them". www.themarysue.com. Retrieved 2016-05-23. 
  11. "Counseling and Prevention Resources | Tumblr". www.tumblr.com. Retrieved 2016-05-23. 
  12. "Major revisions · tumblr/policy@38f37e7". GitHub. Retrieved 2016-05-23. 
  13. "Communicating with Users | Tumblr". www.tumblr.com. Retrieved 2016-05-23. 
  14. "Tumblr: Report abuse". www.tumblr.com. Retrieved 2016-05-23. 
  15. "Tumblr Support". support.tumblr.com. Retrieved 2016-05-23. 
  16. "Hollaback! You have the power to end harassment |  Tumblr Safety Guide". www.ihollaback.org. Retrieved 2016-05-23. 
  17. "Hollaback! You have the power to end harassment |  Social Media Safety Guides". www.ihollaback.org. Retrieved 2016-05-23. 

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