Still more whining to Tumblr support about unwanted violent horror images

My latest email to support@tumblr.com:

From: John Callender <callender.john@gmail.com>

Subject: I’m being surprised by content I find offensive

Date: July 20, 2013 12:35:06 AM PDT

To: Tumblr Support <support@tumblr.com>

In this “staff” post today:

http://staff.tumblr.com/post/55906556378/all-weve-heard-from-a-bunch-of-you-who-are

…Tumblr CEO David Karp wrote:

Making sure people aren’t surprised by content they find offensive is also incredibly important and we are always working to put more control in your hands.

Although the post was specifically about sexually explicit content, it jumped out at me because of my recent concerns about violent horror movie advertising on Tumblr. I’ve previously written to support about this; see Tickets 1721975 and 1643254 for details.

I agree that making sure your users aren’t surprised by content they find offensive is incredibly important. I don’t believe Tumblr is currently living up to that standard. In the last 6 weeks I have repeatedly had such content injected into my dashboard without my prior knowledge or consent as part of the “Sponsored Post” campaigns of univervsalhorrorfilms and theconjuringmovie. Two images in particular have a vivid place in my memory:

  • an animated GIF of a woman in a mask lurching toward me down a darkened corridor while a sword dripping with blood dangles from her arm.
  • an animated GIF of a man staring blankly into space while behind him I see the gray feet of a female corpse, presumably a suicide victim who has hanged herself, slowly swaying.

I don’t mind if other people want to see that sort of thing (well, I’m concerned about the effect such imagery might have on their longterm mental health, but that’s a different issue). But I absolutely do not want to see it myself. It is deeply offensive to me, and I think a strong argument can be made that it is at least as disturbing and offensive as the NSFW content David was talking about in his post.

With the NSFW stuff I realize that Tumblr is dealing with a large number of content creators who are hard to control. But the horror ads are different. Those are being injected into my dashboard by Tumblr itself. Removing them would be as easy as flipping a switch, if Tumblr had the will to do so. Conversely, giving me the tools to block it would be trivial, since Tumblr could (and by rights, should) require any participant in the sponsored posts program to tag violent, disturbing imagery so people who are sensitive can block it.

That Tumblr is choosing not to do that, that people like me who have written to Support have been replied to only with vague platitudes and inaction, makes David’s post today deeply hypocritical.

I’ve been trying to figure out why this bothers me so much. Usually I’m the sort of person who’s more inclined to just tune out unwanted content, to ignore it or, if that’s too hard, just go somewhere else. I think one reason I’m so bothered in this case is that Tumblr’s users, by and large, are so young. Most of the users I encounter on Tumblr are closer to my children’s age than my own.

Children today are exposed to a lot of icky stuff that was much rarer when I was growing up. Responsible adults have an obligation to do what they can to help them navigate the new information landscape, in particular by helping them avoid unwanted exposure to content that they lack the life experience to effectively process. Inappropriate sexual content is part of that, and it’s good that Tumblr is working to do a better job in that area. But it’s only part of the problem. Disturbingly graphic violence and gore is every bit as problematic, and Tumblr needs to treat it with the same attitude: Making sure users aren’t surprised by content they find offensive, and putting the tools in their hands to avoid that content when they want to.

Reposted from http://lies.tumblr.com/post/55945299057.

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