Porn Censored, Women And Gays Affected Most

The argument is what I call the “low hanging fruit,” that censorship hurts everyone, but since people care more about some groups than others, pander to their feelz.

This week, the social networking site Tumblr banned the very thing that drove many people to its site: adult content. Many cheered that Tumblr had finally caught up with the times, echoing anti-pornography policies adopted by Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and others. But there was another set of voices you might not have heard — the voices of women and the L.G.B.T.Q. community — who pointed out that this change will destroy a safe space for self-expression, discovery and connection.

First, a couple confessions. I’m not a consumer of porn. It’s fine with me that your mileage may vary, but it’s just not my thing. If Rule 34 didn’t exist, I would lose no sleep. Don’t judge me.

Second, I don’t use Tumblr and, frankly, have no clue what it’s about, so I have no particular concern over whether this is a good or bad thing for Tumblr, per se. But for purpose of this post, it doesn’t matter. This could be any social media platform, as far as I’m concerned.

While we can get hung up on debating what kind of content should or shouldn’t be allowed on a particular platform, none of that alters an equally important but less-visible problem: When tech companies tackle large-scale problems with large-scale solutions, underrepresented groups are often further marginalized as a result.

Is it “equally important,” or is it just the shallow nature of how the insipid frame their arguments or concerns? The problem, according to Jessica Powell, former head of communications for Google, isn’t censorship, but that censorship impacts “underrepresented groups” worse than, I guess, over- and properly-represented groups.

This raises two of the most obvious, yet oddly ignored, questions that seem to permeate every debate these days. Why is it better to negatively impact the majority of people than it is to impact the minority of people? One might rationally think that if anyone has to be harmed, the fewest number of people would be preferable to the largest number of people.

The difference here is that the subjects of Powell’s concerns reflect groups that are deemed “oppressed” or “victimized” by moves that benefit the majority at their expense. Of course, while LGBTQ is very much a minority, women aren’t, and it’s women who are pushing this anti-porn agenda, simultaneously hanging portraits of Queen Victoria in their parlors while donning spiked-heel shoes to crush small furry creatures.

Similarly, many in the L.G.B.T.Q. community have said the adult content on Tumblr provided a space to connect with those with similar interests and to explore sexuality without judgment.

Is there a reason why “explor[ing] sexuality without judgment” doesn’t apply to everyone, but only to the LGBTQ community? Or is it just that they are high on the victim hierarchy, and so entitled to their safe space when others are not?

The second question is raised by the tacit conflict between the woke forces against porn and the woke forces for porn. Yet again, ideology that isn’t grounded in principle ends up in conflict. No matter how many woke words are murdered in the effort to rationalize this inconsistency, it’s still staring Powell, and the rest of us, in the face.

There is a laundry list of reasons why porn is awful, some quite strong such as it creates demand for the production of child porn, and some less strong, such as it victimizes women and feeds toxic masculinity. For women who are adults and choose to make porn, they would fight the scolds who tell them they’re being abused by the patriarchy. They’re making a living the way they choose, and the school marms can shove it.

But there is a strong contingent of scolds out there, smugly disagreeing with their sisters in the warm comfort of their echo chamber, doing god’s work by eradicating demon porn. It’s not that they are against female sexuality, even though they are, but that they want to have it both ways: women can be as sexual as they wish provided they do so with the approval of the chair of the Andrea Dworkin Commission.

The question is less which side the the feminist war is right, but that when one side demands the elimination of porn from a platform, it’s disingenuous to pick the low-hanging fruit of women to argue against it. Whenever one group demands censorship of things because it hurts their feelings, there is invariably a group that demands its feelings be respected by allowing it. When the group happens to be the same, then you can’t claim to represent the entire group’s interests.

To be fair, it is a hard nut to crack. Platforms with millions of users need algorithmic solutions to solve issues like content regulation at scale. The problem is, machines are not yet very good at nuance. Can Tumblr’s artificial intelligence tell the difference between a curated page of visual erotica and violent sexual imagery the same way a trained human could? Probably not.

But why is a favored group’s porn “visual erotica” and a disfavored group’s porn “violent sexual imagery”? Porn isn’t good or bad based on the adjectives you’ve arbitrarily chosen to write. Who decides what’s good or bad porn? Who decides on good and bad speech? Who decides on good or bad ideas?

While there is no perfect solution, there are many steps Tumblr could take if it truly wanted to support these communities.

Why not support all communities, including the ones that aren’t the low-hanging fruit of the moment? There is no perfect solution because people do not agree on what is too awful to see. No matter how good the AI, or even how many human eyeballs are employed, the problem of what to censor will always be subjective, a slave to ideology, whether of different groups or just warring factions within the same group.

There may be no “perfect” solution, but there is a wise solution. The default should be to allow all content, except illegal content, and let people decide for themselves what they want to see. And when the scolds get offended by the idea that someone, somewhere, is enjoying themselves watching porn, they can take comfort in knowing that they’re at least being good allies to their friends in the LGBTQ community.

26 thoughts on “Porn Censored, Women And Gays Affected Most

  1. Skink

    “LGBTQ” as rock porn:

    Lynyrd Skynrd
    Grand Funk Railroad
    Bad Company
    Three Dog Night
    Queen (where would the acronym be without Freddie?)

    Reply
          1. Skink

            GFR–“All the Girls in the World Beware” See why them?

            But iffin you want Burton, who I saw open for Alice, then “American Woman” will do as well.

            Reply
            1. Patrick Maupin

              “sleepover” I am triggered and outraged on behalf of all those who prefer not to be on top.

  2. B. McLeod

    Much ado about nothing. If LGBTQ folks or MOUSE folks or whomever want an adult site where they can connect without judgment, they can easily set one up and post directions on TUMBLR telling their friends where to find it.

    Reply
  3. Robert

    ” it’s women who are pushing this anti-porn agenda, simultaneously hanging portraits of Queen Victoria in their parlors while donning spiked-heel shoes to crush small furry creatures.”

    That made my day.

    Reply
  4. Discount Voltaire

    I am somewhat familiar with the details of this situation, and while at first blush this seems to be an editorial decision, there seems to be some indicator that this was also a legal decision.

    Tumblr was delisted from the Apple Store a few weeks ago due to child pornography being uploaded by some users; that action, plus the looming shadow of SESTA/FOSTA, seem to be the drivers of this “editorial” decision.

    When ~10% of your users are responsible for causing the entire app to be shut down, or (as we’ve seen with the Backpage cases) threaten legal investigation, it’s a lot easier to crush the minority with a clear conscience.

    Reply
      1. Discount Voltaire

        Oh, absolutely. You’ve been highlighting this issue for years, and yet no one ever thinks it’s going to be their porn blog up against the wall when the purges come.

        Reply
  5. Anonymous Coward

    From what I’ve seen a lot of the outrage is over Tumblr’s ineptitude and heavy handedness. Tons of legit content marked as inappropriate, including Tumblr’s own announcement, while the pornbots that started the problem continue unchecked.
    Techdirt has been all over this as an example of the futility of machine filtering.

    Reply
  6. Nigel Declan

    I am curious to see how much traffic insipid Tumblr blogs will lose now that people are much less likely to stumble upon them while searching for adult content.

    Reply
      1. JorgXMcKie

        Yeah, I stumbled onto this site by Googling “adult content”. To my amazement instead of the rankest porn I found discussions about matters of some import. I can’t remember why I decide to continue following it. Hardly any rank porn at all, ever. I’ve been misled.

        Reply
      2. Nigel Declan

        Maybe there needs to be a label for “grown-up content”, which involves rational, dispassionate discussion of complicated real-world issues.

        That said, given the increasing prevalence of feelz-powered censorious posterior-hats running tech companies these days, it is likely Tumblr would soon expunge this class of content as well.

        Reply
  7. JC

    Hey SHG, long time lurker but just curious, would the main point of your argument above be that social media should just function according to the first amendment?

    That is, apart from the exceptions (i.e. obscenity, commercial speech, etc.), all platforms should just be a free speech for all?

    As for the “no perfect solution” part, I figured I’d troll a bit and repeat a bit of Justice Potter Stewart – I know it when I see it

    Reply

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