The Tumblr controversy: putting users in charge of their own moderation

In the end, Tumblr decided its users should be in charge of moderating their own communities. A Block tool was rolled out – frankly, I’m surprised this wasn’t in place earlier – that allows you to ignore certain users. This is quite similar to the way Facebook rushed out user controls for News Feed after the initial outcry. Rather than enforcing communities, Tumblr is giving users control of their own.

The Digital Natives blog reports on another controversy, that didn’t make the news like Facebook, but also involves a Terms of Service fight.

By Sarah Zhang:

“Tumblr hasn’t permeated the mainstream as much as Facebook, but it’s remarkable how much the situations mirror each other. In both cases, a sudden top-down policy decision sparked a user revolt that led to the company backpedaling and reverting to their original policies.

Last week, Tumblr suspended five accounts, known as anonyblogs, which functioned solely to reblog posts with snide and mocking commentary. On Tuesday, the Tumblr staff posted an entry on their official tumblelog explaining their decision and adding a new section to their Content Policy making harassment a la anonyblogs grounds for suspension. What followed was an outpouring of commentary especially among those decrying suppression of free speech. The New York Times Lede blog has a superb, link-rich account of the events that along with incisive commentary. Yesterday – a day after its first public acknowledgment of the issue — Tumblr reversed the changes in its content policy with an essentially “I’m sorry, we screwed up” post by its founder David Karp.

There are several interesting issues at play here. Seen in parallel with Facebook’s ToS controversy, it is a clear marker of users demanding more accountability. (If you think about it, it is pretty remarkable: here users are taking advantage of a free service and they actually are telling what the companies providing said free service to them can and cannot do.) Both companies were called on to defend their actions in public and ended up concluding the users were right. Also notable is how quickly the events transpired – the turnaround was a matter of a few days. Transparency, whether it’s with the government or private companies, seems to be much in these days.

There’s another question on my mind though, and that’s why would Tumblr seek to suspend accounts that were nasty, though not illegal. And even if its users were posting illegal content, Tumblr as a website is not liable for content generated by its users because of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which is also at the heart of the still-going AutoAdmit case. The crux of the matter is then, what does Tumblr want to be – a platform or a community?

Ironically, it’s the very features of community building that facilitate the existence of anonyblogs. Following someone – much like Twitter and what’s now been implemented in Blogger – allows you to see all their updates in your Dashboard. Reblogging of posts is especially interesting because it leaves an electronic trail for each post. (See photo) If someone was reblogging your content, for example, everyone who follows you sees their posts as well. So anonyblogs takes advantage of following and reblogging to be a particularly pernicious to their targets.”

1 Comment The Tumblr controversy: putting users in charge of their own moderation

  1. AvatarMarc Fawzi

    We need resilience not intolerance.

    One could argue that harassment of the form your describe, spam, and bullshit in general is a form of art.

    What is not art if beauty is in the eye of the beholder?

    Obviously, some art under this broad definition is criminal and people can be punished for it, even put to death in systems that have the death penalty.

    But for all “art” that is non-criminal in nature, I think it should be allowed and we simply need to develop resilience to that which hurts us.

    If someone’s ego is getting hurt then they can be ego-less.

    If someone’s emotional well being was being threatened then they toughen up without shutting down.

    There are ways to develop resilience instead of intolerance.

    Intolerance is reacting to our fears.

    Resilience is acknowledging our fears and deciding not to react unless our lives are in danger, which they are not in this case.


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