Tumblr Goes Overboard Censoring Tags On iOS

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Tumblr Goes Overboard Censoring Tags On iOS
Tumblr Goes Overboard Censoring Tags On iOS

To comply with Apple’s strict safety guidelines, an update to Tumblr’s iOS app censors a long list of tags.

The platform explains that it is changing iOS users’ ability to access sensitive content, affecting their experience when searching for content, scrolling through the “Stuff for You” and “Following” sections of the dashboard, and potentially preventing access to flagged blogs. Tumblr claims it must “extend the definition of what sensitive content is” in order to “remain available within Apple’s App Store,” and it appears that Tumblr went a little too far.

Tumblr posts are searchable thanks to tags; posts with censored tags will not appear on a user’s dashboard or on the platform’s search page. A Twitter thread drew attention to some of the ridiculous tags that were eventually filtered out on iOS, including the tag “submission.”

The interesting part is that Tumblr automatically applies that tag when a post is submitted and then published to a blog on the platform. Users on iOS who receive a submission to their blog will be unable to view it because the “submission” tag has already been added, as demonstrated by a Tumblr post.

Another Tumblr user, aptly named “bannedtags,” has been keeping a Google Doc of all the blocked tags. The user points out that the majority of these tags have been banned on iOS — but not on all devices — and that the tags listed are subject to change. Some banned tags are obviously related to sexual, violent, or harmful content, but others don’t appear to belong on the list and may actually cause more harm than good by remaining on it.

For example, the words “girl,” “sad,” and, strangely, “Alec Lightwood,” an actor from the show Shadowhunters, have all been banned (because even Tumblr can’t handle those eyes). “Single dad,” “single mom,” “single parent,” “suicide prevention,” and “testicular cancer” are also on the list, which could jeopardize those seeking help in any of these areas.

To make matters even stranger, Tumblr blacklisted some tags that serve as unspoken social cues on the site. “Me” and “my face” are both blocked, which are tags that bloggers use to label their selfies (did I mention “selfie” is also banned?). The platform appears to have also blocked “queue,” a tag that is typically applied to posts that have been queued and serves as a signal to followers that they may not be online at the time.

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Tumblr’s relationship with Apple began in 2018, when its app was unexpectedly removed from the App Store following the discovery of child pornography on the platform. As a result, Tumblr banned all adult content, a significant departure from the platform’s previous lax policies on NSFW posts. When Tumblr first implemented the change, innocent posts were frequently flagged as having explicit content, and it appears that history is repeating itself, albeit in a different way.

Tumblr says it’s working on “additional features for a less restricted iOS app experience,” but there’s no word on when or how this will happen. This change has no effect on users who are using Android or the browser-based version of the site. It’s unclear why Tumblr banned so many tags, or whether Apple was involved in any way. The Verge reached out to Apple for comment but did not receive a response right away.