Tumblr is already flagging innocent posts as porn

Tumblr
announced earlier today
that it will ban all adult content
on the platform, starting on December 17th. Now, longtime users
are criticizing the company’s auto-detecting algorithms, which
appear to be incorrectly flagging some inoffensive images as
explicit.

Tumblr is giving users until the start date of the ban later
this month to appeal, but the inaccuracies are causing concern
that blanket bans on such content could sweep up inoffensive
posts and continue to drive a wedge between creators and the
Tumblr platform. The algorithms were originally a part of Safe
Mode, which is now being replaced with a full-site ban on adult
content.

The ban is supposed to include all explicit sexual content and
nudity, with a few exceptions such as breastfeeding and nude
classical statues. Tumblr explained its decision this morning
in clear terms, writing, “Adult content will no longer be
allowed here. While we do not judge anyone for their desire to
post, engage with, or view this stuff, it is time for us to
change our relationship with it.”

Technically, any illustrations that feature sex acts are also
banned, while nude illustrations are okay. But a litany of
examples gaining steam on Twitter and other forums is
highlighting how the underlying software is capable of making
serious errors.

One
person saw
a vase and photos of tights get flagged as
explicit. The user noted that photos of dildos had flown under
the algorithm’s radar, however. Another artist’s illustration
of a witch floating among kelp was also incorrectly flagged.
Yet another artist saw their illustrations of people running
around and swimming get flagged.

To be fair, these are all mistakes that Tumblr appears to have
foreseen. As CEO Jeff D’Onofrio
said in a blog post
, “We’re relying on automated tools to
identify adult content and humans to help train and keep our
systems in check. We know there will be mistakes.” The Tumblr
staff post further explained that “computers are better than
humans at scaling process — and we need them for that — but
they’re not as good at making nuanced, contextual decisions.”
The company says it will be “an evolving process for all of us,
and we’re committed to getting this right.”

All of the mistakenly flagged content can be appealed, but it’s
just additional paperwork for the many users on Tumblr who
don’t post explicit content and are nonetheless finding
themselves mistakenly targeted. For now, it’s just creating a
way for Tumblr fans to vent about a policy some are unhappy
with.

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