back to article Tumblr resorts to AI in attempt to scrub itself clean from filth

Tumblr is hoping to automatically cleanse its social media platform of explicit pornographic content, genitals and female nipples, by using machine learning algorithms. Jeff D’Onofrio, Tumblr's CEO, announced it would be rolling out a system to flag content uploaded to the site, as well as removing existing smut, from 17 …

  1. Mike Moyle Silver badge

    Re: People are just assuming Apple's app ban was the reason

    Exactly! Tumblr.com is still available on the web, so the only rationale for the ban is to get the dedicated "go to our site only" app back on the Apple store.

    Were I the suspicious and cynical sort of individual (which, of course, I'm not!) I might think that Tumblr didn't want to lose the "walled garden" of having people accessing their website through an app that doesn't remind them that there are other content-serving sites out there.

  2. Semtex451 Silver badge

    Pron

    I finally understand what Tumblr is for.

  3. Steve McGuinness

    Blanket Ban on Searches

    Judging by my testing of this last night, Tumblr simply picked up dozens of words which relate to sex or sexual content and just blocked all searches on them. The pages are still there, you just cant find them using the search function.

    I wonder if after this "Scrub" they'll still be there, just unable to update, hanging about like a fart in an echo chamber

  4. Teiwaz Silver badge
    Coat

    Re: Blanket Ban on Searches

    Judging by my testing of this last night, Tumblr simply picked up dozens of words which relate to sex or sexual content and just blocked all searches on them.

    Bad luck for those looking for content on cocktail recipes featuring salt on the edge of the glass then. Too easily confused by the other sort of 'how to rim'

  5. JimboSmith Silver badge

    Re: Blanket Ban on Searches

    They've had that for some time it isn't a recent thing. Somebody posted at the time they did it that they'd better not forget that it was porn that had made tumblr what it is.

  6. Lloyd

    Remove the pron from Tumblr

    Ah, I see, so their target market is now gym photos because outside of pron that's the only other content on Tumblr.

    Apparently.

    A mate told me.

    Honest.

  7. GruntyMcPugh Silver badge

    I understand for the Coprophilia forums,....

    ... they plan to use faecal recognition software.

    I'll get my coat.

  8. Steve McGuinness

    Re: I understand for the Coprophilia forums,....

    That was the shittiest joke I've heard today

  9. VikiAi
    Go

    Re: I understand for the Coprophilia forums,....

    I dunno. I guess it was fine for shits and giggles.

  10. Steevee
    Happy

    Re: I understand for the Coprophilia forums,....

    Who are you to poo-poo someone's sense of humour?

  11. Pirate Dave
    Pirate

    Re: I understand for the Coprophilia forums,....

    That's the turd time I've heard that joke today.

  12. steve 124

    Re: I understand for the Coprophilia forums,....

    Bye Tumblr... Thanks for the mammaries!

  13. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge
    Flame

    Nipples ye say?

    Ah ye cannae be bannin' online photos of the female nipple. How else am I tae find them? Those jezebels, harlots and servants o' the evil one. Nae not for that laddie. Ye need to count them! And if they hae more than 2 nipples, then ye need to burn them!

    Tumblr be full o' witches I tell thee!

  14. Locky

    Re: Nipples ye say?

    Witchfinder Shadwell? Calm yourself with a glass of condensed milk

  15. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge
    Happy

    Re: Nipples ye say?

    Ye spotted me laddie. Now, how would ye like a bright future in the Witchfinder Army? Pin and matches provided.

    Of course with the introduction of the internet he'd be onto a good thing now. All those nipples to search for, without needing to leave the warm comfort of home. Broadband bills might be a bit high mind...

  16. Chairman of the Bored Silver badge

    So Tumblr is no longer...

    ...the up-and-coming social media platform?

    I think these guys need a tall, stiff drink.

  17. CJatCTi
    WTF?

    Human moderators are thick too

    My wife tried to sell her old brest pump for expressing milk, now our baby is on solids and Facebook Market blocked it. She then just called <brand name> pump for experssing milk, they blocked the brest free version too. She appealed and the human moderator replyed the Market Place didn't let you sell sex toys.

    So with anything looking like skin being banned the site will stop getting any visitors very soon

  18. Teiwaz Silver badge

    Re: Human moderators are thick too

    Who said he was a human?

    Pratchett noted in Men at Arms that people aren't naturally paid up members of humanity, merely because they were born human.

    Just about everything humans do will offend some who don't spend much time around others and think their own experience or understanding of life is the be all end all.

  19. Zog_but_not_the_first Silver badge
    Trollface

    Perhaps...

    They could pick up a tip from the self-driving car boys and use unpaid labour to identify all variants of traffic lights, bridges, buses etc., via RECaptcha*.

    * Replace traffic lights, bridges, buses etc., with *******, *********, *****, etc.

  20. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse Silver badge

    Considering all of the shite on Tumblr...

    Considering all of the shite on Tumblr surely the easiest way to solve this is to ban everything and then approve content on an exception only basis rather than rely on some shonky "not actually AI" algorithm.

  21. ElReg!comments!Pierre

    If past attempts are anything to go by,

    When you appeal a post we’ve marked as adult, it gets sent to a real, live human who will look it over with their real, live human eye(s)

    really means "When you appeal a post we’ve marked as adult, it gets sent to a real, live human who will look it over with their real, live human eye(s), and select a dismissal from our canned statements collection. Oh, and probably perma-ban you for the trouble, too".

  22. Evil Auditor Silver badge
    Devil

    “Using a binary classifier to identify masculine and feminine nipples for the purposes of cutting out porn is ludicrous.”

    Ludicrous is only the application of said classifier. Using such to identify feminine nipples for the purpose of showing, well, feminine nipples... I'll leave that to you but there's something I like about that idea.

  23. Jay Lenovo
    Facepalm

    Boobs, Shaded like Boobs, and Right said Fred

    All... Too sexy for Tumblr

  24. Patrick R
    WTF?

    What the world needs now is MORE nipples. More breasts in NON SEXUAL context. Breast feeding, natural pose, topless on the beach, antic statues, everyday life. That is NOT porn, that is "normal". People should get used to them, not choke on them. Saying a good breast is a censored (or amputated) breast is not helping the fundamental problem.

  25. Alister Silver badge

    antic statues

    Are they the ones that get up to stuff when nobody's looking?

    Van Clomp's The Fallen Madonna with the Big Boobies is Art I tell you, Art!

  26. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

    "Van Clomp's The Fallen Madonna with the Big Boobies is Art I tell you, Art!"

    It just sold for more than most genuine "old masters", 15 grand! Not bad for a stage prop!

  27. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

    Saying a good breast is a censored (or amputated) breast is not helping the fundamental problem.

    Indeed.

    I'm trying to figure out if Katyanna's "It may sound like a good idea at first" was intended to be sarcastic. I can't imagine what sensible person would think banning "female-presenting nipples" could be a good idea.

    (And that's a rather bizarre phrase. The nipples are presenting a female? "Look at my person! Woo!" Whoever came up with it has a tenuous grasp of English; I suspect they're not very good with logic or critical thinking, either.)

    I never use Tumblr, so it doesn't bother me personally if this move guts it, but it's a regrettable sign of the calculated, unethical leap to censorship that social-media firms are making when their profits are threatened.

  28. imanidiot Silver badge

    Why do you think the net was born?

    The internet is for porn from the musical Avenue Q says it all.

  29. steviebuk Silver badge

    As always the CEO..

    ..jumps in and bigs it up whereas everyone else with any sense knows this is going to fail massively.

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: As always the CEO..

    You mean it'll go tits up?

    Kinda defeats the point, no?

    :)

  31. Omgwtfbbqtime Silver badge
    Trollface

    It's a trap!

    pass the mind bleach.

  32. Ima Ballsy
    Holmes

    I see ....

    Opportunity knocking !!! One with nipples and micro blogs and advertising and $$$$$.

    Shit in 3 or four someone will by my creation for BIIIILIONS, I say ...

  33. This post has been deleted by its author

  34. J. Cook Bronze badge
    Alert

    A few interesting tidbits...

    Tumblr is owned by Verizon, which owns Oath/Yahoo.

    They are flagging pretty much anything that shows more than a certain percentage of flesh tone, regardless if there's actual nipple or genitalia showing.

    They are *also* flagging a laundry list of tags, some adult oriented, but a good number of non-adult oriented. (the LGBT and furry communities were hit extra hard by that)

    They are letting all the nazis, alt-right, and other hate groups stay.

    In short, if you have any original content on that platform, back it up and move your stuff elsewhere. it's Not long for this world.

  35. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: A few interesting tidbits...

    Should that not be tit bits?

    Just musing.

  36. J. Cook Bronze badge

    Re: A few interesting tidbits...

    I was trying to avoid making that joke, but thanks anyway,

  37. mark l 2 Silver badge

    Well that is a large proportion of Tumblr blogs moving off to alternative platforms then. I am guessing the owners don't understand what they bought when they purchased the platform that is had always been adult friendly.

    So rather than just sort out the problem with kiddy pron that caused the issue with Apple pulling their app, they used a sledgehammer to crack a nut and ban all pron. The site could still be access through a browser anyway so its hardly loosing much not to have the app.

  38. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Well that is a large proportion of Tumblr blogs moving off to alternative platforms then.

    Ironically, 'alternative' is quite the appropriate word, but the question is where? Given that most of the platforms eventually tend to be gobbled up by big US players chasing the "ubiquitous" status (to use the words that Zuckerberg didn't want to go public), whatever alternative will only ever have a limited lifespan. The irony doubles when you realise that it is exactly being that alternative that enables the growth in the first place.

    Going off on a slight tangent, anyone who seeks to triple the irony only has to observe, that for a country that is scared of even a single bare nipple, it does not appear to have a problem with publishing the results of a lack of gun control in graphic, and unfortunately almost daily detail..

  39. Jim-234

    Even the supposedly "Progressive" corporations are a bunch of Puritans in the USA

    You would think that at this stage with all the big "Social Media" companies and their associated technocrats constantly saying how "Inclusive", "Tolerant", "Accepting of everyone", "Progressive", "Liberal", "?????+ Friendly" they are, still they actually are basically no more evolved in attitudes than a bunch of Fanatical Puritans.

    I'm not sure how Corporate America became the enforcement arm of the Puritanical Religious Zealots, while claiming to be "progressive", but they seem to be doing a excellent job of banning everything that a Religious Zealot might not like.

    It is really kind of sad that we are still saddled with such stupid outlooks on the human body & human sexuality.

    At least the Nazi lovers on Tumblr will be happy, most of them like posting long diatribes about how naked pictures are a (insert some race here as needed) plot to ruin their minds. (Because apparently the minds of the superior race are too weak to stand up to a picture of a fully naked human).

    Pictures of graphic violence, war, weapons, gore and brutality seem to be fine with the Puritanical censors that run Corporate America.

    Then they wonder why everybody is making war and not love?

  40. Teiwaz Silver badge

    Re: Even the supposedly "Progressive" corporations are a bunch of Puritans in the USA

    I'm not sure how Corporate America became the enforcement arm of the Puritanical Religious Zealots, while claiming to be "progressive",

    I think that one can be easily traced back to the first settlers to America and the generally overarching mainstream puritan mindset that still exists, despite the occasional vibrant subculture movements in the opposite direction.

    We've been going in this direction since the eighties, every decade it gets worse. Inclusive and tolerant only if the group can be packaged for a good personal interest story - the kind of thing that passes for news these days.

  41. Mark 85 Silver badge

    Re: Even the supposedly "Progressive" corporations are a bunch of Puritans in the USA

    Then they wonder why everybody is making war and not love?

    Nope... no wondering at all actually. Follow the money and follow the political/social power. War has both profit and power.

  42. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

    Re: Even the supposedly "Progressive" corporations are a bunch of Puritans in the USA

    I think that one can be easily traced back to the first settlers to America

    Jeez, what did they ever do to you? Did you find a clovis point in your soup or something?

    Maybe you're thinking of the first European settlers in what's now the US, but the Vikings weren't noted for their sexual repression. Nor were the Spanish, particularly.

    The Puritans were latecomers. They mostly started arriving around 1630, some 65 years after the Spanish established St Augustine and Española.

    The Puritans also weren't anti-sex. They may have demanded a certain level of public modesty (which, sure, I think was unnecessary, but in the greater scheme of things was pretty minor); but they liked their sexual congress within their framework of mores. We have plenty of evidence of that in their journals and poetry and other writings; see for example Hughes, "Meat Out of the Eater: Panic and Desire in American Puritan Poetry".

    Public repression of sexual content in the US is motivated by a combination of acculturated neuroses with a long and complex history (not just "it was the damn Puritans") and a cynical calculus of sociopolitical control. While some of the anti-porn zealots (e.g. Dworkin and MacKinnon) are or were, I believe, genuinely motivated by a belief in an inherent social danger,1 most of them are of the other variety, loudly condemning in public what they fetishize in private. It's useful in US politics because enough of the polis supports it, and they're encouraged to continue supporting it because it's useful.

    Like any industrial democracy, the US has a long history of using one form of social difference to distract from other categories, and thus discourage the formation of alliances against the group in power. In the late 19th century US politicians and other influential people did a great job of burying class differences behind race and ethnicity; that's why class politics are nearly absent in the US (unlike in, say, the UK), while race remains a raw wound.

    (Ethnicity has largely been defused by the "becoming white" social-mobility mechanism, which proved too hard to stem because of the demand for skilled labor, and by the growth of mass media, which expanded people's social circles and so interfered with their ability to easily classify and stereotype people based on ethnicity. Race is tied to a simpler and more-apparent set of bodily markers and so is easier to trigger.)

    In other words, complex problems are complex.

    1I saw Dworkin at Miami University in the early '90s. I was not persuaded of her thesis, but she certainly seemed sincere.

  43. Teiwaz Silver badge

    Re: Even the supposedly "Progressive" corporations are a bunch of Puritans in the USA

    Maybe you're thinking of the first European settlers in what's now the US, but the Vikings weren't noted for their sexual repression. Nor were the Spanish, particularly..............................

    ...................................In other words, complex problems are complex.

    I still think my observation, while maybe less accurate, is pithier.

    And I am sorry, I am not qualified to award you your degree for that thesis.

  44. irrelevant

    Filters

    This makes me wonder why they don't just release an app that simply won't allow access to flagged posts. Leave them on the system, accessible via Web browser, just not via the app. No problem with deleting anything, then, and problem is avoided.

  45. J. Cook Bronze badge

    Re: Filters

    This makes me wonder why they don't just release an app that simply won't allow access to flagged posts. Leave them on the system, accessible via Web browser, just not via the app. No problem with deleting anything, then, and problem is avoided.

    Part of that problem is that the AI is flagging posts incorrectly, because it's been trained wrong, and there's no human intervention or guidance.

    The Tumblr app just plain sucked anyway, and didn't behave the way their website did; that's why I dumped it quite some time ago.

  46. hellwig Silver badge

    Single Pixel Obscuring and Steganography

    I remember reading a story where some boffins had successfully tricked Google's image recognition by changing only few key pixels in specific areas of an image. Google thought a dog was a car (90% sure).

    Basically like steganography, only hiding "safe" information in an otherwise "unsafe" image.

    Or, trolls could do the opposite. Post some "inspirational" image to twitter, then watch Grandma's tumblr get flagged because she tried to re-upload that same image (do grandmothers use tumblr?).

    I guess my point is, they'll have to flush the entire site and review all new uploads manually. Goodbye Tumblr.

  47. HolySchmoley

    "female-presenting nipples"

    Have they been playing with this?

    https://mleddy.blogspot.com/2016/03/buzz-phrase-generator.html

  48. cutterman

    Differentiating nipples

    Not too hard to difficult to differentiate male (or child) nipples from adult female.

    Surprisingly it is the relative size of the papilla (that sticky-out bit in the middle of the areola) that is the most reliable differentiator. And male areolae are elliptical instead of round. Areolar size varies too much among women to be a differentiator.

    Don't ask me how I know...

    Mac

  49. Teiwaz Silver badge
    Joke

    Re: Differentiating nipples

    @cutterman

    I expect you have a collection in a sack in the basement, or a small room with white plasterboard shelves otherwise wallpapered in newspaper cuttings and your trophies laid out neatly labelled on the little shelves.

  50. steve 124

    Help Wanted - Tumblr

    So, how do we apply for the new positions opening in Tumblr's Trust & Safety team? That sounds like a pretty pu--- (oops, cushy) job to me. Does it pay well? Are we allowed to bring thumbdrives to work?

    LOL!

    Good bye Tumblr.... you were amazing once, but if you could just scoot your desk all the way back, yes, right there next to MySpace... we're going to need to store some boxes in here... um, yeah...

    Oh, and there's that stapler... I'll just take that...

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