Three Months On: Lifting the Lid on Tumblr's Adult Content Ban

March, 25 2019

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It has now been three months since blogging network Tumblr scrubbed its platform of adult content. Here at Priori Data, we’ve been keeping our eyes on the app’s performance before and after the enforcement of ‘Safe Mode’.




It seems the crackdown on NSFW posts is part of the company’s new strategy to clean up its image following an incident in November 2018 when Tumblr's iOS app was pulled from the Apple App Store due to a barrage of complaints regarding child pornography on the platform. Rather surprisingly, instead of knuckling down specifically on the exploitation of minors, Tumblr responded in December by filtering out all explicit content, entirely.

It’s safe to say the news has been overwhelmingly badly-received by users.

Since its inception in 2007, Tumblr has made a name for itself as a liberal and artistic network. Crediting its success and popularity to the richness and breadth of content available on the platform, Tumblr has a famously lax attitude toward adult-oriented material on its service, which has previously caused it to be briefly banned in Indonesia.

Following the announcement to curtail risqué posts, more than 600,000 people signed a petition to rescind the ban (to no avail), while across social media people declared their dismay at Tumblr’s 360° turn in policy, with many prescient users predicting a mass exodus.

Looking at the global download figures, the crackdown on explicit content appears to be hitting the app hard. At the start of December 2018, downloads on Android devices typically exceeded 50,000 a day whereas after the enforcement of Safe Mode on December 17 and in the subsequent months, these numbers took a serious tumble, lingering at around the 25,000 mark.


Tumblr Downloads (#) for Android Stores


Looking at the iOS data specifically, the download figures don’t size up to Android’s, indicating that Tumblr is more widely embraced by Android users than iOS counterparts. 

In the wake of Tumblr’s return to the Apple App Store, downloads for the app reached highs of 32,000 before steadily depleting in the days leading to January and beyond.


Tumblr Downloads (#) for iOS Store

According to our data, Tumblr’s three largest app markets in 2018 were the US (6.6 million downloads), Mexico (2.2 million) and Turkey (1.9 million). With users across the world now rapidly abandoning the service, the question is whether the platform’s latest move to quash content is what is causing users to cast out the app. Or perhaps, Tumblr is simply less popular than it used to be - and much like MySpace - is being supplanted by trendier alternatives.

Questions like these seldom receive decisive answers but we believe there are a number of narratives at play. 

For many users, the new wave of censorship has stripped Tumblr of what initially drew them to it and these individuals are now scattering to other more liberal platforms. Then, there are other users whose feathers have been ruffled over the years by the uptick in bots following them - wreaking havoc in Tumblr’s community of artists and fans. Furthermore, users have also been long disgruntled by Tumblr’s tool for detecting ‘adult’ content, which continues to misfire and identify perfectly innocuous images as explicit.



There was once a time when Tumblr was included in the pantheon of social network giants, often mentioned in the same breath with Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. In recent years, we have watched the downward spiral of Tumblr from one of the top 10 most downloaded free apps to barely cracking the Top 60 on the Apple App store (currently ranking at #59), and the Top 40 on Google Play (the app currents ranks at #37).

It’s often easy to declare a social network ‘dead’ and while it certainly seems that with its recent policy Tumblr has signed its own death warrant, we certainly hope the troubled platform can weather this storm.

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