Porn on Tumblr is a complicated subject

Chokepoints, compliance, weakest links.

Cory Doctorow

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In 2018, Tumblr announced a ban on “adult content.” That call was made by Verizon, Tumblr’s erstwhile owner, and to call the resulting mess “a shitshow” is an insult to good, hardworking shitshows all over the world.

Verizon enforced this policy with an automated filter, which was charged with analyzing images and categorizing them as “sexual” or “nonsexual.” This is risible enough, like asking a computer to sort videos into “virtuous” or “sinful” but that was just for starters.

Verizon’s ban included a ban on “female-presenting nipples” — a canonically hard-to-define category — but included exceptions for non-sexual nipple images. Hard to imagine that any serious, disinterested computer scientist promising that an algorithm could cleave “female-presenting nipples” from “male-presenting” ones, let alone decide which ones were “sexual” or not.

The filters were…not good. Verizon posted a selection of images that were explicitly permitted under its policies. That post was blocked by Tumblr’s filter.

https://gizmodo.com/tumblrs-porn-filter-flags-its-own-examples-of-permitted-1831151178

It wasn’t just that Tumblr’s AI couldn’t turn its unblinking eye upon the nipples casting their shadows upon the wall of Plato’s Cave and divine their true nature. Tumblr’s AI thought everything was a nipple — or some other potentially “adult” body-part.

A series of nested Tumblr posts marveling at the foolishness of Tumblr’s filter.

I posted an image of a hand producing a fingerprint. Tumblr’s filter blocked it. I posted a followup about Tumblr’s idiotic filter. Tumblr’s filter blocked that. I did it again. The filter did, too.

https://boingboing.net/2018/12/11/recursive-neural-nets.html

Verizon was not good at running Tumblr, which isn’t a surprise, because Verizon’s core competencies are lobbying and union-busting. Eventually the company wrote down its online media assets, taking a $4.6B loss:

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-12-11/verizon-writes-down-4-6-billion-of-value-of-aol-yahoo-b

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