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Tumblr where your political authorities are American, cis, male and White (and preferably an aggressive anti Abortion activist)

Brace yourselves! Because I am going to do away with this idea that Social Media is horizontal, democratic and a valid means to get your story out there. Moreover, I am about to show you how Social Media is just another White, kyriarchical, status-quo upholding, oppressive medium. You know, just like the rest of the world.

Let’s look at Tumblr as an example. According to figures released this week, this blogging platform is even bigger than WordPress, even though it’s only four years old. Tumblr currently hosts 85,000 blogs more than WordPress, even though WordPress had a four year headstart in this endeavor. With 20+ million blogs, Tumblr is being hailed by specialists as the next darling of Social Media.

Tumblr is also attempting something relatively novel: curating relevant, user generated content in specific areas. There are these “Tumblr endorsed topics” that are selected by a group of dedicated editors that highlight the issues that matter on a given day. Tumblr has supposedly selected these editors to represent a wide spectrum of opinions and backgrounds. So, let’s look at the Politics section to see how representative of a global and (supposedly) inclusive Social Media platform these editors are:

[Image Description: a screen capture of Tumblr’s curated political section. A blue background with a list of Editors that contains the names of: azspot, washingtonexaminer, thepoliticalpartygirl, peterfeld, alexholzbach, thenewrepublic, thepoliticalnotebook, shortformblog, laliberty, motherjones, jeffmiller and nationaljournal. This list is followed by another list, of Top Contributors, that contains the names of: robertreich, ilyagarner, zachvaughn, brooklynmutt, combattant-de-la-liberte, evilteabagger, pantslessprogressive, kohenari, producermatthew and politicalprof].

Oh, is that a gasp I hear from the crowd? That’s right! Out of 12 editors and 10 top contributors we only have two women and an abundance of White, male faces (and well established news organizations). Moreover, one of the top editors that Tumblr has handpicked to curate the political content of its platform is a known anti-abortion activist, a person whose hate speech against women would surely put him in a risky position if Tumblr wanted to at least give the appearance of inclusion and fairness. This person, who curates the content that 20+ million other users see on a daily basis, is also an activist against Affirmative Action (and who claims that Affirmative Action is a modern form of slavery) and regularly posts those fake scare abortion photos that anti choice activists are so keen on using against reproductive justice (Possible trigger warning, the photo is fake but gruesome). Perhaps Tumblr should do away with any pretense and just rename this section “American, White and Male! The way it’s always been and the way we would prefer to keep it!”. Because that’s another thing: the idea of Politics in Tumblr (a corporation that aims at a global presence and reach) is to curate only American political content. There is no area where issues from the rest of the world are highlighted (with the exception of circumstantial topics created to keep track of the ongoing conflicts in the Arab world which are curated mostly by, you guessed it, American people with no personal relation or ties with the area).

If you thought that Social Media was an opportunity to do away with the hegemony that perpetuates oppression against minorities, think again. Because right now the gatekeepers to the relevant content that could get your story out there, to a wider audience are the kind of people with the least interest in allowing your stories to be heard. Moreover, if you thought you could do any sort of far reaching grass roots organizing using Tumblr, I urge you to reconsider, because chances are that some of those who should highlight your efforts are actively working against you.

18 Comments

  1. According to figures released this week, this blogging platform is even bigger than WordPress, even though it’s only four years old.

    Those figures are, ahem, not appropriately chosen (“lie” is such a curt word). Most WordPress blogs are not hosted on wordpress.com; AFAIK, *all* Tumblr blogs are on tumblr.com.

    Friday, June 17, 2011 at 9:14 am | Permalink
  2. There is a big difference, the wordpress platform vs. the wordpress hosting service. The platform might be used by more people but it’s just software. It would be like comparing windows users vs. Tumblr users. Apples to oranges.

    Friday, June 17, 2011 at 9:17 am | Permalink
  3. Minty wrote:

    “Moreover, I am about to show you how Social Media is just another White, kyriarchical, status-quo upholding, oppressive medium.”
    Please don’t use the word “White” as if it’s a synonym for “racist” and “oppressive”.

    Friday, June 17, 2011 at 10:34 am | Permalink
  4. Minty, upon reading your comment, I’ll try to convey my reaction as best as I can via a written medium: AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

    Thank you! that was exhilarating!

    Friday, June 17, 2011 at 10:52 am | Permalink
  5. X wrote:

    While not at the same level of importance as the political tag, it’s always annoyed me that all the sports tag editors are dudes (I think) and that the featured posts are nearly always related to dudes playing the four major American sports.

    Friday, June 17, 2011 at 11:13 am | Permalink
  6. Ilya Gerner wrote:

    I’m just honored you follow me. :)

    It’s also interesting that while the “top contributors” display is generated based on the number of posts each user has had promoted, and therefore you could potentially see a new list of contributors every day, in reality the lineup hardly ever changes. And it’s clear why this is so. The editors have their ‘go-to’ tumblrs in their dashboard, the platform makes it difficult to search for posts from writers you don’t already follow, and so you get these tight relationships between editor and contributor, wherein LALiberty & alexholzbach are promoting evilteabagger and the thepoliticalnotebook is promoting Ari Kohen and myself.

    Obviously, I’m not not going to complain about my work being highlighted. Half the time it’s even deserved. But I agree there’s a problem here.

    Small correction: “Out of 12 editors and 10 top contributors we only have two women” Looks like 3. You may have forgotten pantslessprogressive among the contributors. Doesn’t change the overall point.

    Friday, June 17, 2011 at 2:15 pm | Permalink
  7. XHerakleitos wrote:

    Ilya Gerner’s remark clarifies for me an aspect of the problem, one that extends in its own way to #news. Namely, “the lineup hardly ever changes”.

    There’s a clique driven atmospherics, often supplemented by ideological rigidity. The end result is boredom – and for Tumblr, embarrassment over any aspiration to inject novelty into the scene.

    Saturday, June 18, 2011 at 8:32 am | Permalink
  8. Faye wrote:

    Overall, I agree with this point – however, I think that there are two major factors weighing in.

    First, many tumblr users aren’t blogging per se; they’re admiring fandoms or reblogging to say “YES THIS” or posting pics they found other places on the net. Which is not to say there aren’t serious bloggers, serious commentary on reblogged items, and serious political blogs – I follow many of them (along with my somewhat hypocritical ogling of random dudes and ladies of celebrity nature) but it’s just not longform blogging like wordpress or blogger is. It can be used that way, but often is not.

    Secondly, while the curated content is important and what it is is important, most of the people I know don’t read it. It’s there if you want it, but that little tag that marks something as tumblr-approved (or, for that matter, a logo that suggests that something is from a designated news source such as NYT or even Vogue) hasn’t stopped anyone from following or reblogging.

    The difference in trying to get your point across on Tumblr is, I think, the nature of being able to easily reblog. While the little “share” button has made this easier at times, historically you’d be tossing in a link to every story you agree with or want to reference from a longform blog – and just collecting a bunch of them and throwing them out there doesn’t tend to get you a lot of people following you. Not because it’s not worthy to create linklists redirecting people (I’m sure the other bloggers would appreciate the hits!), but because bloggers are EXPECTED to create their own material – analyze, do something with these links.

    On Tumblr you’re EXPECTED to reblog. Attribution is as always an issue, but even when credited properly, you’re not required by the community to analyze, write or comment if you don’t want to – it’s like a blogging service for the sole purpose of signal boosting. Obviously people with more creative Tumblrs get more followers, but it actually functions best to draw attention to topics, whether that’s “this picture is really pretty” or “this issue is really enraging”.

    So this has a good point overall, and the lack of diversity among editors is definitely appalling! But I think it does miss the point of how Tumblr functions a little bit. (In fact, I think this has actually contributed, because a lot of the more liberal heavy-posters including women and POCs have names like STFUConservatives, or FY(blank), which fit in with tumblr memes, but might seem to lack credibility to a staff that is clearly trying to make themselves look serious business by having big names and organizations on the front page).

    Saturday, June 18, 2011 at 11:48 am | Permalink
  9. Faye wrote:

    Ilya’s comment about the platform making it difficult to search for writers you don’t know is apt, but I would argue that the best way to do this is to tag-search. I’ve found half my followers this way; if you’re looking for politics searching “politics” or other relevant tags and seeing who comes up the most or looking at recent contributors for post counts shouldn’t be terribly hard.

    Saturday, June 18, 2011 at 11:52 am | Permalink
  10. Faye wrote:

    *followees, rather. People that I’m following!

    Saturday, June 18, 2011 at 11:52 am | Permalink
  11. Minty wrote:

    Ms. Dzodan, I tried to be polite. I was kind of hoping you’d say something like, “Of course I didn’t mean to imply that all white people are racist. I just meant that Tumblr is dominated by white people.” I’d like to think that it’s possible for me to avoid hurting people without changing my skin color. Maybe it’s silly of me to be bothered by you talking about a group I’m a member of like it’s a giant monolith of nastiness, but I thought talking like that was something Tiger Beatdown was generally against. So I mentioned– politely, as I said– the one word in your post that I didn’t completely agree with. Apparently that was absurd of me. My apologies.

    Sunday, June 19, 2011 at 12:13 am | Permalink
  12. Minty, when we talk about Patriarchy, do you think we refer to every male on the planet? Or do you think it is a framework to identify and disarm a form of dominant culture that systematically oppresses people?

    Along the same lines, when we talk about Whiteness or Whites, do you think it refers to every White person being held personally accountable or identified as an “oppressor” or whatever other negative trait you might infer from it? No, White and or Whites refers to a form of domination and the implied power exercised over minorities. It certainly does not mean every White person on the planet and it does not mean YOU. Although I surely hope that this apparent exoneration does not stop you from analyzing how White privilege works and what it means. You can read a White Privilege 101 intro here, I know it has been very helpful for many people to analyze the idea of Whiteness and what it means in a dominant culture context.

    And if you thought Tiger Beatdown was a place where certain parts of the status quo are not challenged, you might want to take a better look. Sady went above and beyond to make sure this remains a plural, intersectional environment where everyone involved brings their own topics and analysis. The idea is not for us to grow comfortable in those axis of privilege that benefit us while we challenge those that oppress us. The idea is to look at the texture of oppression from every possible angle and try and disarm it accordingly. In that frame, each of us will challenge dominant cultures in the best ways we can and/ or know. If that means we need to examine how White Privilege works, as painful or difficult it might be, rest assured it will happen. A feminism/ ladybusiness blog that doesn’t question all the ways in which dominant cultures work to keep us down is probably going to be incomplete and not as effective.

    Sunday, June 19, 2011 at 6:45 am | Permalink
  13. ebbtide wrote:

    Flavia- Thanks for the link in your most recent comment.

    Sunday, June 19, 2011 at 11:21 am | Permalink
  14. Dawn. wrote:

    Tumblr is an odd creature. Both blogging platform and curatorial space. It can be a link dump or it can be a fascinating menagerie. Because of how Tumblr is set up, you pretty much make it what you want it to be. I completely ignore entire realms of Tumblr.

    Honestly, the only tag I spend time on is #Lit, so I was unaware of this until I read about it on STFUConservatives (I’m a happy follower). The only reason I don’t visit #Politics is because of, well, exactly what you’re writing about.

    Sunday, June 19, 2011 at 2:50 pm | Permalink
  15. Smog wrote:

    Flavia,
    Wow, awesome and insightful commentary. I read this earlier this week via google reader on my phone and have been meaning to come on here to put this on my tumblr, but felt compelled to comment after seeing how few and skewed responses it got. This should have 10 million comments all saying “Flavia you are awesome and say things in awesome meaningful ways and I read everything you write here on TBD”… now I go to reblog this over on tumblr :)
    Cheers,
    Miss Smog

    Sunday, June 19, 2011 at 3:26 pm | Permalink
  16. Joan wrote:

    Flavia, it’s called “white supremacy,” not whiteness. I think that’s the distinction Minty was trying to make: call out the power dynamic, not the physical characteristic.

    Sunday, June 26, 2011 at 5:44 pm | Permalink
  17. Fuck Theory wrote:

    This post is hilarious. Is there really anyone naive enough to think that ANY medium of representation “is horizontal, democratic and a valid means to get your story out there”? So because there’s a chance that someone who draws attention to our work might possibly have a different agenda than we do, we should “reconsider” “organizing using Tumblr”? In other words, what you’re suggesting is that we ignore the many positive potentialities of a medium just because it doesn’t adhere to some impossible, abstract ideal of representational purity? Have I said the word “naive” yet?

    Monday, June 27, 2011 at 2:41 pm | Permalink
  18. Will Wildman wrote:

    Joan (#16), I think we can safely assume Flavia knows what white supremacy is. And I don’t have to be a supremacist in order to benefit from being white, nor do I have to hate my whiteness in order to realise that it puts me in a position where I will never encounter certain experiences and cannot viscerally engage with some concepts. ‘White supremacist’ suggests actively antagonising anyone who doesn’t fit certain ‘white’ criteria, but how much better is it if (as described above) an environment is simply saturated with white people and ignores anyone else?

    The description in the article doesn’t declare ‘white = bad’ any more than your argument boils down to ‘white = good’.

    Wednesday, June 29, 2011 at 12:55 pm | Permalink