The CEO Of Tumblr Is Attacking Credit Card Companies Anti-Porn-Crusade

Matt Mullenweg

Tumblr’s CEO published a blog post last week to explain why in his view the internet has become a difficult territory for porn and adult content of all kind. He thinks that the credit card companies’ new guidelines and anti-porn stance are so severe that it has become impossible to be »porn-friendly« for mainstream portals such as Tumblr.

Automattic’s CEO Matt Mullenweg is jumping into the current debate concerning free speech, sexual freedom and sex on the internet. Among other internet brands, Automattic owns the once glorious Tumblr that has become obscure and meaningless once it shut down adult content on its network. Its worth sank from billions to millions and the company has been sold many times since.

Automattic, also owner of WordPress is trying for years to revive the platform after having bought it from Verizon in 2019. Mullenweg is trying to get Tumblr back on course and explored ideas how to include adult content again. But he writes, »The casually porn-friendly era of the early internet is currently impossible«. According to him, the main problem is that »credit card companies are anti-porn«.

Mullenweg knows that at its core Tumblr was successful because it was a censure-free zone, where artists and performers as well as pornographers could express themselves freely. In his post titled, »Why ‘Go Nuts, Show Nuts’ Doesn’t Work in 2022,« Mullenweg explains that the decision by Tumblr to institute an adult content ban was a big problem for many reasons because that did not only affect pornographic content »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.«

Despite that rather alarming view, Mullenweg let Tumblr try a new feature enabling users to label posts as featuring »sexual themes«. These are defined as content which »contains sexually suggestive subject matter, such as erotic writing or imagery«.

Mullenweg seems committed to fight for free expression and a free internet. He writes that he is »personally extremely libertarian in terms of what consenting adults should be able to share,« but he doesn’t circumvent in admitting the fact that »no modern internet service in 2022 can have the rules that Tumblr did in 2007.«

These are Mullenweg’s main points on the topic:

– 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.)

Automattic’s CEO is convinced that it will be a long battle under current circumstances to keep the internet free and become porn-friendly again. He concludes by urging his readers to vote current politicians out of office and vote for free-speech parties everywhere on the globe.

If you want to read the whole blog post, click here.

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