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New Tumblr guidelines crack down on hate speech, sexual images and deepfakes

The move raises questions about the impact on the fan art community

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Tumblr will introduce a new set of community guidelines on Sept. 10, according to an official announcement, in an attempt to crack down on hate speech, harassment, gore and non-consenting sexual images that may appear through deepfake technology.

On Monday, the company published a blog post outlining stricter guidelines that community members must abide by to remain on the platform. Tumblr said that changing the community guidelines to better reflect the way the internet has morphed and changed over the past decade is a responsibility that the company’s staff found too important to ignore.

“Our Community Guidelines need to reflect the reality of the internet and social media today and acknowledge that the things people post and share online influence the way others think and behave,” the post reads.

One of the most interesting additions to Tumblr’s revamped community guidelines mirrors a recent, disturbing trend: deepfake technology, which allows people to take one aspect of someone’s body and apply it to another video. This is particularly concerning in cases of revenge porn, where a woman’s face could be applied to another woman’s nude body or an adult film star’s clip to perpetuate an image that isn’t real.

It’s a concern, and one that companies like Twitter, Facebook and Reddit are aware is growing. Reddit banned its popular r/deepfakes subreddit in Feburary to try and tackle the problem of non-consenting sexual images and videos being shared among users. While there are some positive uses — people taking one movie character and adding it to another film — deepfake technology is mostly talked about for its disturbing uses. A popular video from Get Out director Jordan Peele used imagery of President Obama with Peele’s spot-on impersonation of the president to illustrate just how dangerous the technology could be in the wrong hands.

Tumblr, a site with a large NC-17 community, is now tackling that head on.

“Posting sexually explicit photos of people without their consent was never allowed on Tumblr, but with the invention of deepfakes and the proliferation of non-consensual creepshots, we are updating our Community Guidelines to more clearly address new technologies that can be used to humiliate and threaten other people,” the statement reads.

The action raises more questions. Fan art of real-life ’ships, which refers to fandoms that focus on actual celebrities, are often sexual. It’s unclear if a photo or image that is warped to represent celebrities participating in a sexual act, or in an overtly sexual position, violates the new terms of service. Polygon reached out to Tumblr for clarification but did not receive a response before publication.

The company is also cracking down on hate speech. This means “redrawing the line between what’s uncomfortable and what’s unacceptable.” Tumblr has “struck 41 words of gray area from this section in the Community Guidelines.”

The new community guidelines section on hateful content now reads:

Don’t encourage violence or hatred. Don’t post content for the purpose of promoting or inciting the hatred of, or dehumanizing, individuals or groups based on race, ethnic or national origin, religion, gender, gender identity, age, veteran status, sexual orientation, disability or disease. If you encounter content that violates our hate speech policies, please report it.

[DELETED: If you encounter negative speech that doesn’t rise to the level of violence or threats of violence, we encourage you to dismantle negative speech through argument rather than censorship. That said, if you encounter anything especially heinous, tell us about it.]

Keep in mind that a post might be mean, tasteless, or offensive without necessarily encouraging violence or hatred. In cases like that, you can always block the person who made the post—or, if you’re up for it, you can express your concerns to them directly, or use Tumblr to speak up, challenge ideas, raise awareness or generate discussion and debate.

There are a few other changes to Tumblr’s guidelines cited in the blog post, but the company is reiterating that these new moves aren’t censorship.

“We are fierce defenders of free expression,” the blog post reads. “We want Tumblr to be a place where people come to be themselves and engage diverse points of view through constructive dialogue. The lines we’re drawing today around hate speech, violence, and non-consensual sexual content are designed to protect that vision.”

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