Tumblr rolls out new content filtering tools with launch of ‘Safe Mode’

Tumblr this morning is rolling out a significant update to its content filtering system with the launch of a new “Safe Mode” for browsing content on its site. While the company already offered the ability to filter explicit content from its search results, Safe Mode goes a step further to also hide sensitive content in your Tumblr Dashboard.

The Dashboard is Tumblr’s feed of the blogs you follow on its service, and one of the primary ways that users interact with the site.

With Safe Mode enabled, Tumblr will now add a screen over any content it deems as sensitive in nature, in addition to filtering out that same content from search results. Effectively, it’s the combination of a Dashboard filter and Tumblr’s existing Safe Search, which the company introduced back in March 2013.

To be clear, by “sensitive,” Tumblr doesn’t just mean NSFW content – something which the site has a lot of, according to web analytics service SimilarWeb. The measurement firm estimates that adult content drives 20.53 percent of clicks to Tumblr’s desktop site, compared with the next largest referring category, books and literature, which drives just 7.61 percent of clicks.

In the case of Safe Mode, sensitive content has a broader definition. It’s anything that may not be suitable for some members of the Tumblr community, the company broadly explains. For example, nudity – even artistic nudity, or nudity in an educational or photojournalistic context, may be considered sensitive.

If content is incorrectly flagged as sensitive – a process which involves both moderators and automation – the content’s poster can click a button to request a direct review.

As far as the user experience goes, when you encounter a sensitive post with Safe Mode enabled, a new overlay will appear that reads: “This post may contain sensitive media. Safe mode is on.” Users over 18 can click through to see the content if they choose. (Tumblr says it determines user age at the time of registration, which means – like any social network – users can lie to skirt around this sort of restriction).

It’s worth clarifying that Tumblr is not censoring sensitive content. Safe Mode is an opt-in setting, and the content isn’t even being removed from your Dashboard – just screened so you can control if or when it’s revealed. This will make Tumblr easier to browse when you’re in public place, or, more simply, just give you control over the content you’re shown.

Alongside the launch, Tumblr says it’s also introducing new Community Guidelines that define how the Explicit and Sensitive designations differ. Explicit is used at the blog level, to flag sites that post sexually explicit material, for the most part. Site owners can mark their own Tumblrs as explicit, but Tumblr’s moderation team will also do the same for those that haven’t been labeled. Meanwhile, Sensitive Content is meant to apply to individual posts.

In addition, Tumblr says it will begin to hide explicit blogs from search results on the web, for any logged-out users or those under 18 – a move that could impact its web traffic and visitor count.

Tumblr, which like TechCrunch is now owned by Verizon following its Yahoo acquisition, is not the only social service that hides sensitive content. However, not all others offer the setting as an opt-in option. Twitter, for example, automatically labels content as sensitive if it’s something users may not want to see, like violence or nudity. Instagram recently began blurring sensitive content as well. However, its parent company Facebook is more permissive – perhaps to a fault – favoring the side of free speech first and foremost, over user protections.

Tumblr’s new Safe Mode is available on both web and mobile, starting today.

From the web, you’ll head to the settings, then scroll to Filtering to click Safe Mode on. On Android, Filtering is under the General Settings. And on iOS, you’ll scroll to Tumblr from the main Settings app on your device. This is the same place where a new Safe Search switch was previously spotted, and an area that iOS itself needs to now include in parental controls, it seems.

Tumblr also notes that the filtered search option can still be used separately, if desired.