“The automated system was really, really bad,” she said. “It was flagging everything. You know, cartoons and random photos and all kinds of stuff.”
As a result, posts were removed that weren’t necessarily explicit, Professor Fiesler said, noting that L.G.B.T.Q. posts were often flagged as inappropriate while other content was not. People who wanted to share stories about their gender transitions found that their posts were being blocked. Even posts that did not feature explicit imagery, such as some fan fiction, were being taken down, she said.
Some users who left Tumblr were actually sharing explicit content, but many others were “people whose content was wrapped up in this really bad algorithm,” Professor Fiesler said.
According to a Tumblr user who posts under the name Minerva P. Kelley, a lot of users thought the mass exodus in 2018 spelled the end of the platform.
“A lot of people were like, ‘Well, goodbye Tumblr. Like, I guess this kills the site,’” Ms. Kelley, 27, of Los Angeles, said. “But a lot of Tumblr users are on there because it is a legitimately unique experience compared to the other apps.”
There has been renewed interest in Tumblr in recent years, especially among younger people. Of the 135 million monthly users, 48 percent are members of Generation Z, according to the company.
Ms. Kelley described Tumblr as more “egalitarian” than other social media sites, in part because users are not verified, most people don’t associate their accounts with their real names and follower counts are hidden. Sponsored posts are rare, so unlike on Instagram, users generally aren’t looking to make money.