Tumblr goes overboard censoring tags on iOS to comply with Apple’s guidelines

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An update to Tumblr’s iOS app censors a long list of tags to comply with Apple’s strict safety guidelines. The platform explains that it’s changing iOS users’ ability to access sensitive content, affecting their experience when it comes to searching for content, scrolling through the “Stuff for You” and “Following” sections of the dashboard, and could even prevent access to blogs that are flagged. Tumblr says it has to “extend the definition of what sensitive content is” to “remain available within Apple’s App Store,” and it seems that Tumblr stretched it pretty far.

Tags are what make posts searchable on Tumblr; posts with censored tags won’t appear on a users’ dashboard, nor will they show up on the platform’s search page. A Twitter thread brought attention to some of the absurd tags that ended up getting filtered out on iOS, including the tag “submission.”

The interesting part, though, is that Tumblr applies that tag automatically when a post is submitted and then published to a blog on the platform. Users on iOS who receive a submission to their blog won’t even be able to view it since the “submission” tag is already added, as shown in a post by one Tumblr user.

Another Tumblr user, aptly named “bannedtags,” has been keeping track of all the blocked tags in a Google Doc. The user notes that most of these tags have been banned on iOS —not on all devices — and that the listed tags are subject to change. Some banned tags are blatantly related to sexual, violent, or harmful content, but others don’t seem to belong on the list, and may actually do more harm than good by staying on it.

For example, “girl,” “sad,” and oddly enough, “Alec Lightwood,” an actor from the show Shadowhunters, has been banned (because even Tumblr can’t handle those eyes). “Single dad,” “single mom,” “single parent,” “suicide prevention,” and “testicular cancer” are also on the list, potentially harming those who want to seek support in any of these areas.

To make things even weirder, Tumblr blacklisted some tags that basically function as unspoken social cues on the site. “Me” and “my face” are blocked, both of which are tags that bloggers use to label their selfies (oh, and did I forget to mention that “selfie” is banned, too?). The platform appears to have blocked “queue” as well, a tag that’s typically applied to posts that were placed in a queue and serves as a signal to followers that they may not be online at the moment.

Tumblr started having issues with Apple in 2018 when its app was unexpectedly removed from the App Store after child pornography was found on the platform. As a result, Tumblr banned adult content altogether, a major shift from the platform’s previously laissez-faire policies on NSFW posts. When Tumblr first implemented the change, innocent posts were frequently flagged for explicit content, and it seems like we’re seeing history repeat itself, but in a different way.

Tumblr says it’s working on “additional features for a less restricted iOS app experience,” but there’s no information on when or how this will be implemented. Users on Android or on the browser-based version of the site remain unaffected by this change. It remains unclear why Tumblr banned so many tags or if Apple was involved in any way. The Verge reached out to Apple with a request for comment but didn’t immediately hear back.

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