Pornhub acquisition could mean a happy ending for Tumblr

PHOTO: Flickr/Marco Verch

[UPDATE, May 15]:

Article updated to include clarifications by MindGeek.

Tumblr, the internet’s favourite microblogging meme platform, was once a thriving home for fandoms, queer content, and NSFW posts.

After it was bought by Yahoo in 2013, users were concerned that their freewheeling community would suffer at the hands of Sheryl Sandberg’s plain vanilla corporation.

In 2017, Tumblr passed on to Verizon (Yahoo’s new parent company), who decided to throw the whole thing in the garbage by banning adult content. 

Now, Pornhub has shown interest in buying Tumblr, a move supported by disgruntled Tumblr fans. 

In the words of PornHub’s Vice President Corey Price, “There are obvious synergies between the two brands and value Pornhub could derive from Tumblr. We’re extremely interested in acquiring the platform and are very much looking forward to one day restoring it to its former glory with NSFW content.”

From its humble origins, Tumblr has always been a free space for expression, where users form their own subgroups to create interesting, thoughtful discourse around sexuality and identity. It was also a haven for fanfic and erotica (yes, even Sonic the Hedgehog stuff). In many ways, it was the spiritual successor to places like LiveJournal and community-based websites of old (think Geocities, Angelfire, et al), where people could share and discuss their work in a judgment-free zone. Tumblr’s ultimate power was how well it allowed people to share and spread memes, building specific features to optimise how users interacted with meme culture. 

In 2013, almost a quarter of Tumblr content was considered to be pornographic. In December 2018, Verizon announced that it was banning adult content, setting off an (unsurprising) user exodus — the platform lost 30% of its traffic. Back then, Pornhub seized the opportunity to reach out and offer Tumblr users a new home:

However, there are pros and cons to Pornhub buying Tumblr: the porn giant is basically the Disney of its industry, as it owns many popular adult sites like Digital Playground, RedTube and YouPorn. Pornhub’s parent company, MindGeek, has been criticised by the internet community for its treatment of sex workers; several media outlets and sex work advocates like Lux Alptraum have voiced concerns about MindGeek’s potential to become a monopoly, as well as its impact on performers’ livelihoods.

MindGeek spokesperson Rob Cassady rebutted these claims in a lengthy email to AsiaOne. Cassady doesn’t dispute that MindGeek’s sites “drive considerable traffic” but rejects the depiction of the company as a monopoly and claims it is inaccurate. “MindGeek owns SOME of the largest, not THE largest” porn sites, he wrote. Cassady also emphasised that MindGeek takes “all means necessary to prevent pirated content from reaching [MindGeek’s] sites.” He detailed MindGeek’s Terms of Service, which requires users to declare that they have the right to distribute content. MindGeek also works with Vobile, a video content identification company, to monitor and prevent the unauthorised distribution of content.

For the Extremely Online, Tumblr was a reliable safe place to go for the best meme content, the spiciest takes, and occasional threads of internet wisdom. An uncertain future is one thing, but ownership by a problematic porn conglomerate is another.