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Jun 7

My correspondence with Tumblr support re: universalhorrorfilms’ sponsored post

To: Tumblr Support <support@tumblr.com>

Fr: John Callender <jbc@jbcsystems.com>

Subject: Please tag the horror gifs in sponsored posts (ticket #1643254)

Or better still, don’t show that kind of advertising at all. Thanks.

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To: John Callender <jbc@jbcsystems.com>

Fr: Tumblr Support <support@tumblr.com>

Subject: Re: Please tag the horror gifs in sponsored posts (ticket #1643254)

Hello,

Thank you for taking the time to write in about ads on the Dashboard — there’s no way to turn that off, but we’ll definitely share your thoughts (and that of the rest of the community) with our team.

Our goal is to make this experience true to Tumblr, which is why we’ve been working closely with our brand partners to make sure you only see their best stuff.

http://staff.tumblr.com/post/51733370152/since-we-launched-our-first-sponsored-post-on

Please let us know if there’s anything else we can help you with.

Tess

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To: Tumblr Support <support@tumblr.com>

Fr: John Callender <jbc@jbcsystems.com>

Subject: Re: Please tag the horror gifs in sponsored posts (ticket #1643254)

Thank you for the reply.

The problem in this case is not that a sponsored ad appeared on my dash. I don’t mind that. I often use my iPad’s Tumblr app, and have been seeing sponsored ads there for some time. I realize that Tumblr has to pay its bills, and incorporating sponsored posts into the dashboard is (at least potentially) a perfectly valid way to do that.

What I object to is the specific content of the post: A creepy animated gif of a woman spattered with blood, sword dangling from her arm, lurching toward me down a darkened hallway. That’s not the kind of content I want to see in my dash. It’s the opposite of the content I want to see. It’s content I go to significant lengths to avoid.

You put that in my dash. And it sounds like you plan to keep doing it — “there’s no way to turn that off,” you said.

Go browse (if you haven’t already) the “sponsored posts” tag. Read the comments from users who are at risk of being triggered by exposure to representations of violence, horror, and gore, and who now must try to deal with the images that your untagged advertising put inside their heads.

Tumblr is new, but this is a really old issue. On the one side are your advertisers. People marketing horror movies want to shock and scare. That’s how they sell movies. People who might object to that advertising are less of a concern; they were never going to buy a ticket anyway. You tell me that you’re working with your content partners to make sure I only see “their best stuff.” But that’s not actually going to help in this case. universalhorrorpictures’ idea of their “best stuff” was that ad: It was terrifying. It was terrifying because some very talented people worked hard to make it that way. The fact that it was scary enough to make me write to you probably makes them really happy.

I’m on the other side. I’m your user, and my interests don’t always coincide with your advertiser’s. When those interests are in conflict, whose side will you take?

I want Tumblr to succeed. But to expose me to that sort of content against my will is a violation of my terms of service. If you don’t understand that, if Tumblr as a business entity is unaware of what a violation that was, and thinks this is just a matter of tweaking the algorithm a little, then I need to take steps from my end to fix things. If I can continue to use Tumblr, say by using a third-party plugin that blocks sponsored ads, then that’s what I’ll do. If that doesn’t work I’ll find somewhere else to blog.

Which would be a shame, because I really like Tumblr, or at least I did until this. But if your response means that Tumblr thinks it didn’t do anything wrong here, then Tumblr isn’t the kind of platform I hoped it was.

You said I should let you know if there was anything else you could do to help. There is: You could apologize. Specifically, David Karp could make a public statement that running this ad untagged in users’ dashboards was a mistake, that he’s sorry it happened, and that he and the rest of Tumblr will work hard to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

I don’t think that’s likely to happen. But that’s what would help.

Thanks.