Tumblr Says It's The Queerest Social Media Platform, But Can It Hold On To That?
Tumblr is known for its queer discourse — but also for the massive impact of its 2018 NSFW ban.
LGBTQ people have long used social media as a source of community, whether it was found on early blogs, private forums, or LiveJournal. Now, Tumblr says, based on new internal data, it is the go-to destination for LGBTQ teens.
Tumblr has declared itself "the queerest place on the internet" based on data it collected comparing its users to those of other platforms, like TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Reddit, Twitter, and Pinterest. According to Tumblr, the people who use its site are 193% more likely to be LGBTQ compared to those on other platforms. It estimates that 1 in 4 of its users identifies as LGBTQ.
BuzzFeed News has reached out to the other platforms referenced for their data on LGBTQ people. A spokesperson for Facebook said they had nothing to share, as did a spokesperson for Reddit.
Despite being a relatively old platform at 14 (in internet years, anyway), Tumblr is still attracting young people. The platform said 48% of people on the platform are Gen Z and, of those people, 1 in 3 identifies as LGBTQ.
This appears to be a long-standing trend. An article published in 2017 by researchers Paul Byron and Brady Robards reported that LGBTQ people aged 16 to 35 were using Tumblr more frequently than straight and cisgender folks. Its respondents said Tumblr provides a relatively safe space to explore identities, especially if you live in an isolated place or don't have access to offline LGBTQ spaces.
Chinelo Nwosu, head of social impact at Tumblr, told BuzzFeed News in an email that the company takes pride in being a home for LGBTQ people.
"For years we’ve seen LGBTQIA+ Tumblr people feel safe to explore new identities and even come out to their Tumblr community first, and we’ve seen their expressions embraced fully by other people," she said.
In Tumblr's history, there have been moments that threatened its reputation as a safe space. In 2018, Tumblr banned all NSFW content after being removed from the Apple App Store due to the discovery of child sexual abuse materials on the platform.
"This will kill a small but significant chunk of the internet," BuzzFeed News' Katie Notopoulos wrote at the time.
There was immediate concern about how that ban would impact LGBTQ people, as well as a lot of eyerolling about Tumblr's position that it would only ban nipples that are "female-presenting." People shared their worries that the ban would take away a safe space for sexual exploration, especially of sexual identities that aren't reflected in the mainstream. As NBC reported, there quickly were complaints that even safe-for-work LGBTQ content was being flagged for removal.
Insider reported that even after a year, people were struggling with the ban. And, according to the Atlantic, Tumblr saw a 21.2% decrease in unique monthly visitors in the first year after it began removing NSFW content.
"We recognize the negative impact the removal of NSFW content had on our LGBTQIA+ community," said Nwosu, adding that they believe Tumblr is still a place where people can "speak freely" about relationships and sexuality.
If you want queer memes, Tumblr remains a destination. It's been the home of countless fandoms' queer ships and endless niche debates over every aspect of queer culture.
The question is if it can hang on to that reputation. As TikTok has grown, the kind of queer discourse often seen on Tumblr has moved over to the video app. TikTok has pooled money and resources for its LGBTQ user base, and there are more than 44 billion views of videos tagged "LGBTQ." And yet, trans people have complained that their videos and accounts have been deleted unfairly, although the app told BuzzFeed News it does not ban people based on their identities.
What the data does tell us is that LGBTQ folks will always find a way to carve out spaces for themselves online, even when those platforms make it difficult.