Tumblr should stop making users watch horror movie ads against their will

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013

I mostly didn’t mind when Tumblr started running “Sponsored Posts” in my dashboard. Tumblr has to make money. Most of the ads were boring, a few were interesting, but they weren’t a big deal.

Then the horror movie ads started.

I don’t care for horror movies. The 1963 version of The Haunting is awesome, and I loved The Shining, but that’s about as far as I go. When it comes to slasher movies I’m not interested. I actively avoid them. I don’t mind if other people watch them, but they’re not for me.

I don’t think Tumblr should make me watch ads for movies like that. I especially don’t think they should make me watch those ads in the form of creepy animated gifs that appear without warning in my dashboard. As of now, though, that’s Tumblr policy: I have to watch horror movie ads, integrated into my dashboard via the Sponsored Posts program, as a condition of using the service.

I think Tumblr should stop doing that.

What am I talking about?




For those who didn’t click, the first post (advertising The Purge) shows a blood-spattered woman with a sword and a spooky mask skipping down a hallway toward the camera. The second (advertising The Conjuring) shows the feet of a hanged female corpse swaying in the air behind the face of actor Patrick Wilson. A number of other ads for both movies have appeared in my dash, but those are the two that bothered me the most.

Why you might not have noticed

If you haven’t noticed these ads, congratulations. That might be because you’re using Tumblr Savior or the XKit extension’s Blacklist plugin (both of which I recommend) to avoid sponsored posts. Or it might be that you’re not accessing Tumblr via a smartphone or tablet. Third-party ad blockers aren’t available on the Tumblr mobile app, a fact that isn’t lost on Tumblr. (“Use the Tumblr app! It’s faster and a zillion times better,” they tell you. Well, yes, it’s better. One of the things it’s better at is showing you ads.)

Sponsored posts appeared first on the Tumblr app before they appeared on the website, and the ads continue to seem more intrusive  –  more frequent and more off-putting, at least to me  –  on the app than on the website. It may be that Tumblr avoids running too many ads on the website because they don’t want users to install ad-blockers. If true, that means mobile users in effect are subsidizing Tumblr, viewing the ads website users don’t have to.

Why it’s a problem

So what’s the big deal? If users can just avoid the horror ads with a little effort, what’s the harm?

For one thing, users have to experience the harm before they know to avoid it. That’s a lot of users being exposed to content they’d rather not see. As a practical matter, too, many users won’t bother bypassing the ads, or won’t know how. They’ll just keep flinching every time a horror gif appears in their dash. They shouldn’t have to.

Tumblr is new, but this is an old problem. Advertisers have always wanted to go too far, and publishers have always had to rein them in as part of protecting the interests of their readers/users.

Horror movie advertisers don’t care about people like me. I was never going to buy a ticket anyway. To effectively reach their target audience (people who would buy a ticket), the advertisers want the ads to be as shocking as possible. In that battle I’m just collateral damage. If Tumblr isn’t willing to stand up to advertisers in situations like that, then Tumblr as a platform is going to go downhill really quickly. And that will be sad for all Tumblr users, not just those who don’t like horror gifs in their dash.


There’s also this: A lot of Tumblr’s users are young. Tumblr discourages people younger than 13 from signing up, but I don’t think they police that. Even if they do, 13 is still pretty young to be seeing this stuff. Tumblr is aware of the problem, which is why they’ve been trying to clean up the porn lately. But images of violent horror, of a young woman spattered with blood as she lurches toward you with a sword, or of another woman’s hanged corpse, are potentially just as damaging to young minds as images of people having sex. Maybe more so.

The main difference for Tumblr seems to be that the porn vendors aren’t paying them, while the horror vendors are. Tumblr needs to understand that just because someone is willing to pay doesn’t make it okay to show users disturbing images against their will. And when the users in question are children, people (rightfully) are going to have a problem with it.

Tumblr’s Community Guidelines

The frustrating thing is that Tumblr should know better. Most of the time they do a good job of helping users avoid content they don’t want to see. The “Unfollow” and “Ignore” buttons are awesome. For certain kinds of content, Tumblr will go as far as actively censoring it. Near the top of Tumblr’s Community Guidelines, which every user is required to follow, it says:

Don’t post content that actively promotes or glorifies self-harm. This includes content that urges or encourages readers to cut or injure themselves… or commit suicide rather than… seeking counseling or treatment.

The Community Guidelines go on to say:

Don’t post gore just to be shocking. Don’t showcase the mutilation or torture of human beings, animals, or their remains.

The whole point of those policies is that it’s wrong to make people look at disturbing content they don’t want to see. Tumblr needs to recognize that the policy applies to them, too, and that the horror movie ads violate it.

What can Tumblr do?

Speaking for myself, I’d give Tumblr a medal if they did any of the following:

Gold medal – Publicly announce that they will no longer run horror movie ads, or will give users the ability to opt out of seeing them, and then follow through on that. Also, apologize for making users view the ads, acknowledge that that was a mistake and a violation of Tumblr’s principles, and promise never to do it again.

Silver medal – Publicly announce that Tumblr will stop running horror movie ads, or that it will give users the ability to opt out of seeing them, and follow through.

Bronze medal – Quietly, without fanfare, stop running horror movie ads, or roll out a feature that allows users to opt out of seeing them.

Tumblr user anonsally sent a letter about this issue to Tumblr support with the following suggestions (I’m summarizing; see her post for details):

1. allow users a choice of the types of products they are willing to see ads for.

2. allow users to opt out of ads by paying a modest fee.

3. don’t accept ads for scary movies.

4. hide ads for scary movies behind a “click here for info on [scary movie]” with “trigger warnings: death, gore,…”

5. tailor the ad to match the content on the person’s dash or their own posts.

The point is, Tumblr has options.

What you can do

Block the ads – If you browse Tumblr from a computer, check out Tumblr Savior – I’m currently blocking “sponsored_badge_icon”, which seems to work – or XKit, especially its Blacklist plugin.

Email support@tumblr.com – You might eventually get a reply from someone on the “Tumblr Trust & Safety” team who will assure you that Tumblr takes users’ concerns seriously, and that they’re going to share your views with “the team.” At some point, if enough of us complain, those assurances might actually come to mean something.

Complain to Yahoo – Since Tumblr has now been bought, it may help to complain to the new owners. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find a good way to do that. All the options at http://help.yahoo.com/ lead me to a form that wants me to first pick a product to complain about, and Tumblr isn’t one of the listed options. If you figure out how to complain to them, let me know and I’ll update the post.

Share your views – I’ve started tracking the Sponsored Posts tag. If you agree that this is a problem, please consider sharing your thoughts there. It will help others know they’re not alone.

Previous posts I’ve written about this are here.


Reposted from http://lies.tumblr.com/post/57016526873.


Saturday, June 8th, 2013



ok. they make tumblr more money, which is more for the hard working staff and more for the advancement of tumblr. this money will go to new features THAT YOU WANT. they DO NOT make tumblr terrible.

The fact that horror and other trigger activating images are going untagged among these sponsored posts. LET STAFF KNOW. REBLOG THIS.

Thankfully, these particular sponsored gifs have not (yet) shown up on my dash, but they sound like an extremely good way for Tumblr to lose users. As someone who is very easily frightened or disturbed by that sort of thing and who has sleep problems already, I’m quite worried about this.

I do understand why sponsored posts have to happen. I just don’t see why they have to be harmful. By all means, get the most creative, interesting ads—but not ones that many people would go to extraordinary lengths to avoid even if they were not “sponsored”. 

I imagine the staff in charge of this thinking that almost any ad will offend someone, so it isn’t their responsibility to judge which ads to accept. But certainly they must see our point that anything depicting graphic violence is majorly problematic. We are not talking about making people angry because the ad offends their political sensibilities (though I’m likely to be upset about some ads for those reasons, too). We are talking about people having nightmares for reasons outside their control.

Tumblr is, by and large, a very considerate place. We all try to tag our posts if we think the content might reasonably cause upsetting feelings to other readers. This enables readers to take care of themselves by avoiding those tags. 

Please, Tumblr/Yahoo!, treat us with the same respect and consideration we treat one another!

Reposted from http://lies.tumblr.com/post/52475304859.

My correspondence with Tumblr support re: universalhorrorfilms’ sponsored post

Friday, June 7th, 2013

To: Tumblr Support <support@tumblr.com>

Fr: John Callender <jbc@jbcsystems.com>

Re: Please tag the horror gifs in sponsored posts (ticket #1643254)

Or better still, don’t show that kind of advertising at all. Thanks.

To: John Callender <jbc@jbcsystems.com>

Fr: Tumblr Support <support@tumblr.com>

Re: Please tag the horror gifs in sponsored posts (ticket #1643254)


Thank you for taking the time to write in about ads on the Dashboard — there’s no way to turn that off, but we’ll definitely share your thoughts (and that of the rest of the community) with our team.

Our goal is to make this experience true to Tumblr, which is why we’ve been working closely with our brand partners to make sure you only see their best stuff.


Please let us know if there’s anything else we can help you with.


To: Tumblr Support <support@tumblr.com>

Fr: John Callender <jbc@jbcsystems.com>

Re: Please tag the horror gifs in sponsored posts (ticket #1643254)

Thank you for the reply.

The problem in this case is not that a sponsored ad appeared on my dash. I don’t mind that. I often use my iPad’s Tumblr app, and have been seeing sponsored ads there for some time. I realize that Tumblr has to pay its bills, and incorporating sponsored posts into the dashboard is (at least potentially) a perfectly valid way to do that.

What I object to is the specific content of the post: A creepy animated gif of a woman spattered with blood, sword dangling from her arm, lurching toward me down a darkened hallway. That’s not the kind of content I want to see in my dash. It’s the opposite of the content I want to see. It’s content I go to significant lengths to avoid.

You put that in my dash. And it sounds like you plan to keep doing it — “there’s no way to turn that off,” you said.

Go browse (if you haven’t already) the “sponsored posts” tag. Read the comments from users who are at risk of being triggered by exposure to representations of violence, horror, and gore, and who now must try to deal with the images that your untagged advertising put inside their heads.

Tumblr is new, but this is a really old issue. On the one side are your advertisers. People marketing horror movies want to shock and scare. That’s how they sell movies. People who might object to that advertising are less of a concern; they were never going to buy a ticket anyway. You tell me that you’re working with your content partners to make sure I only see “their best stuff.” But that’s not actually going to help in this case. universalhorrorpictures’ idea of their “best stuff” was that ad: It was terrifying. It was terrifying because some very talented people worked hard to make it that way. The fact that it was scary enough to make me write to you probably makes them really happy.

I’m on the other side. I’m your user, and my interests don’t always coincide with your advertiser’s. When those interests are in conflict, whose side will you take?

I want Tumblr to succeed. But to expose users to that sort of content against their will is a violation of _my_ terms of service. If you don’t understand that, if Tumblr as a business entity is unaware of what a violation that was, and thinks this is just a matter of tweaking the algorithm a little, then I need to take steps from my end to fix things. If I can continue to use Tumblr, say by using a third-party plugin that blocks sponsored ads, then that’s what I’ll do. If that doesn’t work I’ll find somewhere else to blog.

Which would be a shame, because I really like Tumblr, or at least I did until this. But if your response means that Tumblr thinks it didn’t do anything wrong here, then Tumblr isn’t the kind of platform I hoped it was.

You said I should let you know if there was anything else you could do to help. There is: You could apologize. Specifically, David Karp could make a public statement that running this ad untagged in users’ dashboards was a mistake, that he’s sorry it happened, and that he and the rest of Tumblr will work hard to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

I don’t think that’s likely to happen. But that’s what would help.


Reposted from http://lies.tumblr.com/post/52410954950.