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Tumblr Censors Porn and Gay Searches on iPhone App

by Jason St. Amand
National News Editor
Monday Jul 22, 2013

If you're looking for the latest trending Tumblr photos, gifs and videos, with the #gay tag, you won't be able to find them using your iPhone, the Atlantic Wire reports.

Tumblr users who search for "gay," "lesbian" or "bisexual" into the search bar on their Tumblr iPhone app will find that nothing shows up. That's because the social media website's officials are cracking down on censorship policies by launching a site-wide porn ban, and in turn, prohibiting those specific words from displaying results on iPhones. But the Atlantic Wire writes just because a user is searching for blog posts under those tags, "does not equal 'porn.'"

Some may have speculated that the crackdown comes from Yahoo, which recently bought Tumblr, but the Atlantic Wire reports it may have to do with Apple and its strict app store guidelines. In a blog post by Tumblr CEO David Karp, he writes, "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," Karp writes. "The solution is more intelligent filtering which our team is working diligently on. We'll get there soon. In the meantime, you can browse #lgbtq - which is moderated by our community editors - in all of Tumblr's mobile apps. You can also see unfiltered search results on using your mobile web browser."

Since the Tumblr app allowed users to easily search for porn, it was almost banned from Apple's app store as a result of a promise former Apple CEO made to have a porn-free app store. Since then, Apple has strictly enforced those rules. In 2010 Apple commented on apps that have explicit content and explained, "Apps containing pornographic material, defined by Webster's Dictionary as 'explicit descriptions or displays of sexual organs or activities intended to stimulate erotic rather than aesthetic or emotional feelings', will be rejected" and that "Apps that contain user generated content that is frequently pornographic (ex 'Chat Roulette' apps) will be rejected."

The Tumblr app has been available in Apple’s app store since 2009. When downloading the app, the user must approve a disclaimer that says, "Tap OK to confirm that you are 17 or over. Your content will then begin downloading immediately."

"Certainly not all of the stuff tagged ’gay,’ ’lesbian’ and ’bisexual’ on Tumblr have anything to do with sex," that Atlantic Wire writes. "A quick search of ’gay’ surfaces a post saying ’I’m gonna go pee,’ a trailer for a movie about homosexuality in Uganda, and a photo of two fully clothed women on the beach. Sure, that’s amid some nudity and sex, but this is the Internet after-all and porn abounds just a few taps away over in the Safari app."

EDGE did its own "gay search" on Tumblr and found posts similar to the Atlantic Wire’s findings - there were a number of political posts, reblogged human-interest stories, and even a fabulous post about the "Golden Girls." But in the mix, there were plenty of NSFW images of naked men, scantily clad GPOYs, and everything in between.

The Atlantic Wire questions why the social media site is now cracking down on the porn and "porn related" searches, writing, "Perhaps it has to do with the site’s sale to Yahoo. The property has a larger audience now and more media cachet." The publication also reports that Apple has allowed the apps for "Playboy" and "Sports Illustrated" to display graphic content but adds, "Outright banning Tumblr now would cause a big outrage, so instead Apple’s trying to compromise."

The Atlantic Wire explains that the "timing is incredibly curious. The ban went into effect the exact same day as the porn crackdown on the site."

For users who want to find non-sexual gay related searches, Karp suggests users search the "LGBTQ" tag, which Tumblr’s staff monitors. Nevertheless, some users are already outraged and have launched a petition on, urging Yahoo to "stop labeling LGBTQ posts on Tumblr as ’NSFW.’"

"Tumblr is a vast network that, among other things, provides a place for people to be themselves," the petition reads. "While there are things that safe mode could be quite useful for (no one wants porn to come up at work), posts relating Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Trans, and other forms of Queerness are not the same as pornography. By stuffing these posts into a box, you are basically protecting people... from the mirror. The vast majority of the Tumblr userbase supports LGBTQ rights, and many are LGBTQ teens and college students who are in the closet at home and need a place to safely express themselves."


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