Launched in 2007, tumblr became a safe haven for LGBT youth, a launch pad for social justice movements, a NSFW rabbithole, and a counselling station for mental health issues. For a decade, this micro-blogging platform had more users than Twitter and Snapchat, but remained an obscure subculture for non-users and most researchers. In 2018 it catapulted to popular consciousness by banning all NSFW content, shifting to rigid censorship almost overnight. Tiidenberg, Hendry and Abidin offer the first overarching, holistic and systematic guide to tumblr and its crucial role in shaping digital culture. Drawing on nine years of in-depth, qualitative data, they reveal why tumblr is ‘special’ by examining how it has developed, where it belongs in the social media ecosystem, and its prominent practices of creativity, curation and community making. Throughout, the book explores how diverse social media cultures can coexist on a single platform, and how destructive the recent trends in platform governance can be. The authors introduce the concept of ‘silosociality’ to describe the intensely affective and often-sequestered structures of feeling that organize users’ experiences of tumblr, and challenge the assumptions commonly made about how social media functions and what role it plays for individuals, groups and culture. A groundbreaking contribution to the study of social media, this book is an essential resource for students and scholars of media and communication, as well as anyone interested in an influential but overlooked platform.
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PRESS & REVIEWS
INTRODUCTION: tumblr, with a Small t
This is a meme that made rounds on tumblr, gathering affirmations from people across different user groups and communities. Fans, queers, “snowflakes,” sex workers, “horny people,” teenage girls with flawless aesthetics, writers, artists: they all seemed to agree, that tumblr is very different from Facebook – and much, much better. The vernacular positioning of tumblr within the social media ecology did not stop at comparisons with Facebook. Another popular meme that has circulated on tumblr at various points in time is a still from the 1985 movie The Breakfast Club, where the five main characters – described in the film as: “a brain … and an athlete … and a basket case … a princess … and a criminal” – were labeled as LinkedIn, Facebook, tumblr, Instagram, and Twitter respectively. tumblr, unsurprisingly for anyone who has ever spent time on the platform, was cast as the basket case of the group.
CHAPTER ONE: tumblr Structure
Chapter 1 analyzes tumblr as a built, corporately owned space with particular features and functions, governed in particular ways. We highlight the features and functions used when setting up a blog, posting, reblogging, tagging, and interacting on the platform as well as the rules for acceptable behavior and intended use(r)s.
CHAPTER TWO: tumblr Sociality
Chapter 2 focuses on tumblr as a social space that has unique affordances, which lead to an emergence of a shared vernacular based on curatorial and multimodal expression, personal testimonials, and affinity- based participation, and a shared sensibility that is committed to social justice and safe spaces. We demonstrate how these three elements – affordances, vernacular, and sensibility – along with tumblr’s features and rules, contribute to creating tumblr’s silosociality.
CHAPTER THREE: Fame
In Chapter 3, we look at attention flows on tumblr, analyzing the business model, the forms of commerce, and the discursive strategies of attention hacking used on the platform by Tumblr Inc., brands, celebrities, influencers, and everyday users.
CHAPTER FOUR: Fandom
We discuss the fandom silo in Chapter 4, outlining how tumblr has always afforded fan cultures and describing fannish uses of the tumblr vernacular and sensibility in two less-researched fan communities – K-pop and the tumblr meta-fandom.
CHAPTER FIVE: Social Justice
In Chapter 5, we discuss the nuances of social media practices and sensibilities through the example of the queer silo. Here, we talk about social justice warriors, call-out cultures, tumblr pedagogies, and queer tumblr in terms of both a utopian bubble and an overwhelming vortex.
CHAPTER SIX: NSFW
The NSFW (sexually explicit) silo is discussed in Chapter 6. We open up how safe spaces were built within this silo, and explore how these allowed people to experiment, accept themselves, diversify their standards, expand their tolerance, and find a socially just voice.
CHAPTER SEVEN: Mental Health
In Chapter 7, we examine the mental health silo. While mental health professionals tend to position tumblr as problematic, even harmful, arguing that depression, self-harm, anxiety, and disordered eating are exacerbated on the platform, our participants’ lived experiences paint a much more nuanced, ambiguous picture of freedom, validation, modulated visibility, and laughing about their own pain.
CONCLUSION: “Beautiful Hellsite”
We hope this book helped you celebrate the tumblr you used to know, or understand (and feel a bit of FOMO about) the tumblr you never used. If you are someone who uses, builds, develops, or thinks deeply about social media, we hope this book helped extend how you do so. Social media struc- tures sociality in consequential ways. Different platforms, with their different rules, features, functions, affordances, and resultant variety of vernaculars and sensibilities, build different worlds with different possibilities. tumblr afforded silosociality and silosociality afforded nuance, learning, self- acceptance, belonging, and escape. Because of this, for a time, tumblr was a safe haven. Some hope it can be that again – if only communities were allowed to self-police, if Matt Mullenweg can find it in him to be a bit more flexible about sexual content, if “we all promise to go there and just, you know, be cool, it could be a place that fosters ideas instead of flames wars” (Watercutter 2019). But if not, we learned on tumblr what that looks like, we know how to do these things, we could, in theory, rebuild elsewhere.
This page was last updated on 11 August 2021.