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Tumblr Has A New Owner — Which Isn’t Pornhub — And It Intends To Keep The Porn Ban

The company that owns WordPress.com is buying the microblogging platform and will keep the restriction on adult content.

Last updated on August 12, 2019, at 7:45 p.m. ET

Posted on August 12, 2019, at 4:47 p.m. ET

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Verizon has agreed to sell the microblogging platform Tumblr to Automattic, the company behind the blogging tool WordPress.com. Automattic’s CEO Matt Mullenweg said he intends to keep the ban against NSFW content.

The Tumblr acquisition is the largest buy for Automattic in terms of both price tag and staff size, Mullenweg told the Wall Street Journal.

“Adult content is not our forte either, and it creates a huge number of potential issues with app stores, payment providers, trust and safety,” Mullenweg said on Hacker News on Monday. “It’s a problem area best suited for companies fully dedicated to creating a great experience there. I personally have very liberal views on these things, but supporting adult content as a business is very different.”

Mullenwag in a Tumblr post on Monday said he's committed to preserving the Tumblr community. "I have worked on WordPress my entire adult life — 16 years now — and so the democratization of publishing is near and dear to my heart. Tumblr and WordPress have always been very philosophically aligned there," he said.

In a statement Verizon Media CEO Guru Gowrappan called Tumblr an essential venue to share new ideas, cultures and experiences.

“Today’s announcement is the culmination of a thoughtful, thorough and strategic process,” Gowrappan said. “Tumblr is a marquee brand that has started movements, allowed for true identities to blossom and become home to many creative communities and fandoms. We are proud of what the team has accomplished and are happy to have found the perfect partner in Automattic.”

News of the acquisition shut down speculation that Pornhub would purchase Tumblr. Vice President Corey Price said in an email to BuzzFeed News in May that the porn-streaming giant was extremely interested in buying Tumblr. Rumors began circulating that month that Tumblr’s parent company, Verizon, was looking to offload the social network after missing revenue targets.

Automattic, according to its website, currently has around 150 million users and operates in 70 countries. Automattic owns a slew of smaller startups, including Longreads and Simplenote.

Tumblr’s ownership history has been rocky, to say the least, in the last few years. First, it was purchased by Yahoo for $1.1 billion in 2013. By 2016, its value had been written down by $230 million. Then Tumblr ended up at Oath, the former name for Verizon Media Group, after Verizon bought Yahoo in 2017.

Tumblr’s life at Verizon has been difficult. In December, Tumblr announced it would ban pornography. NSFW content had long been one of the cornerstones of Tumblr’s community, and the news of a new SFW platform inspired threats of a mass user exodus. Before the ban, Tumblr was often regarded as one of the best places for independently created and curated pornographic content for young women and members of LGBTQ communities.

Tumblr was also heavily criticized for poor implementation of the pornography ban. Its AI flagged nonpornographic content, which ironically may have increased user engagement because everyone started making memes about it.

The news in May that Pornhub was considering purchasing Tumblr was exciting for some fans of the social network who were hoping a new owner would restore Tumblr to its NSFW glory.

While Automattic will keep the ban on pornography for Tumblr, it’s worth noting that Wordpress.com does allow mature content, including text, images, and videos that contain nudity. However, WordPress.com currently bans any accounts hosting explicitly pornographic material.

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