Tumblr CEO: 'Credit Card Companies Are Anti-Porn'

Tumblr CEO: 'Credit Card Companies Are Anti-Porn'

NEW YORK — The CEO of Automattic, the company that owns Tumblr, said it is impossible for the internet to be “porn-friendly” currently because, among other reasons, “credit card companies are anti-porn.”

Matt Mullenweg discussed the current status of adult content in a blog post on Wednesday. The statements were first reported by computer news publication PCMag.

Automattic — also the owner of popular blogging software WordPress — acquired a failing Tumblr from Verizon in 2019, after the platform’s numbers crumbled following its deletion of all adult content.

“The casually porn-friendly era of the early internet is currently impossible,” Mullenweg wrote, unequivocally adding his assessment that “credit card companies are anti-porn.”

As XBIZ reported, and seemingly despite Mullenweg's pessimistic assessment, Tumblr announced last week that it had introduced a new feature enabling users to label posts as featuring “sexual themes,” defined as content which “contains sexually suggestive subject matter, such as erotic writing or imagery.”

The news was shared via a post on Tumblr's staff blog and first flagged by tech news site Mashable.

Mullenweg’s post, “Why ‘Go Nuts, Show Nuts’ Doesn’t Work in 2022,” explains that “in 2018, when Tumblr was owned by Verizon,” the company “instituted an adult content ban that took out not only porn but also a ton of art and artists — including a ban on what must have been fun for a lawyer to write, female presenting nipples. This policy is currently still in place, though the Tumblr and Automattic teams are working to make it more open and common-sense, and the community labels launch is a first step toward that.”

The CEO described himself as “personally extremely libertarian in terms of what consenting adults should be able to share, and I agree with ‘go nuts, show nuts’ in principle,” but expressed his view that “no modern internet service in 2022 can have the rules that Tumblr did in 2007.”

Tumblr CEO Spells Out the State of Corporate Censorship in 2022

Here is Mullenweg's summary of the current situation for adult content on mainstream platforms:

- Credit card companies are anti-porn. You’ve probably heard how Pornhub can’t accept credit cards anymore. Or seen the new rules from Mastercard. Whatever crypto-utopia might come in the coming decades, today if you are blocked from banks, credit card processing, and financial services, you’re blocked from the modern economy. The vast majority of Automattic’s revenue comes from people buying our services and auto-renewing on credit cards, including the ads-free browsing upgrade that Tumblr recently launched. If we lost the ability to process credit cards, it wouldn’t just threaten Tumblr, but also the 2,000+ people in 97 countries that work at Automattic across all our products.
- App stores, particularly Apple’s, are anti-porn. Tumblr started in 2007, the same year the iPhone was released. Originally, the iPhone didn’t have an App Store, and the speed of connectivity and quality of the screen meant that people didn’t use their smartphone very much and mostly interacted with Tumblr on the web, using desktop and laptop computers (really). Today 40% of our signups and 85% of our page views come from people on mobile apps, not on the web. Apple has its own rules for what’s allowed in their App Store, and the interpretation of those rules can vary depending on who is reviewing your app on any given day. Previous decisions on what’s allowed can be reversed any time you submit an app update, which we do several times a month. If Apple permanently banned Tumblr from the App Store, we’d probably have to shut the service down. If you want apps to allow more adult content, please lobby Apple. No one in the App Store has any effective power, even multi-hundred-billion companies like Facebook/Meta can be devastated when Apple changes its policies.

Aside: Why do Twitter and Reddit get away with tons of super hardcore content? Ask Apple, because I don’t know. My guess is that Twitter and Reddit are too big for Apple to block so they decided to make an example out of Tumblr, which has “only” 102 million monthly visitors. Maybe Twitter gets blocked by Apple sometimes too but can’t talk about it because they’re a public company and it would scare investors.

- There are lots of new rules around verifying consent and age in adult content. The rise of smartphones also means that everyone has a camera that can capture pictures and video at any time. Non-consensual sharing has grown exponentially and has been a huge problem on dedicated porn sites like Pornhub – and governments have rightly been expanding laws and regulations to make sure everyone being shown in online adult content is of legal age and has consented to the material being shared. Tumblr has no way to go back and identify the featured persons or the legality of every piece of adult content that was shared on the platform and taken down in 2018, nor does it have the resources or expertise to do that for new uploads.
- Porn requires different service providers up and down the stack. In addition to a company primarily serving adult content not having access to normal financial services and being blocked by app stores, they also need specialized service providers – for example, for their bandwidth and network connections. Most traditional investors won’t fund primarily adult businesses, and may not even be allowed to by their LP agreements. (When Starbucks started selling alcohol at select stores, some investors were forced to sell their stock.)

Mullenweg concluded by prophesying that any platform attempting to be open about adult content “will have an uphill battle under current regimes,” and urged users who disagree to “please try to change the regimes” rather than “attack companies following legal and business realities as they exist.”

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