One month ago, Tumblr made the wildly unpopular decision to ban pornography and adult content from its website.
The move was greeted with outrage, particularly from those who had used the site as a way to discover their own gender identity and sexuality and connect with users from similarly marginalized groups. Critics accused the site of attempting to please larger tech corporations, like Google and Verizon (which owns Tumblr), at the expense of these groups. Tumblr CEO Jeff D’Onofrio, however, maintained that the changes were made to foster a more “inclusive” community.
“As Tumblr continues to grow and evolve, and our understanding of our impact on our world becomes clearer, we have a responsibility to consider that impact across different age groups, demographics, cultures, and mindset,” D’Onofrio stated in December. “We will … focus our efforts on creating the most welcoming environment possible for our community.”
One group Tumblr apparently has no problem continuing to host, however, is far-right extremists, who seemingly survived much of last month’s purge unscathed.
The website is currently littered with pages promoting Nazism, white supremacy, ethno-nationalism, and far-right terrorism. Despite their often flagrant violation of Tumblr’s Community Guidelines, these pages remain largely active and easy to find.
Ever since the online far-right materialized into the real world at the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia — which eventually resulted in the death of one counter-protester — digital platforms have been doing their utmost to convince the American public that they’re cracking down on online hate.
The neo-Nazi Daily Stormer, for instance, has been repeatedly forced to change its domain, and Twitter has kicked far-right figures like British activist Tommy Robinson off its platform. Richard Spencer, meanwhile, has been booted from fundraising platforms. Last August, over the course of a few days, conspiracy theorist Alex Jones was kicked off of Facebook, Spotify, YouTube, and Apple for violating community guidelines against hate speech and harassment.
This crackdown, however, has apparently not trickled down to Tumblr. Even a cursory look through the site shows it is awash with far-right content. A brief, hour-long search earlier this week, for instance, yielded 37 different pages devoted to various far-right movements like neo-Nazism, ethno-nationalism, and white supremacy.
In its Community Guidelines, Tumblr’s first bullet point outlines its stance on terrorism. “We don’t tolerate content that promotes, encourages, or incites acts of terrorism,” it reads. “That includes content which supports or celebrates terrorist organizations, their leaders, or associated violent activities.”
But that guideline doesn’t appear to apply to Atomwaffen (AWD), a violent neo-Nazi terrorist organization responsible for at least five murders that once plotted the bombing of a nuclear power plant. The group has also spawned copycats: Last December, British police arrested three members of Sonnenkrieg Division, a group inspired by AWD, who had written online that police officers should be raped and killed.
Type in Atomwaffen on Tumblr’s search bar, however, and two of the five most popular results are from a page glorifying the group. One page is titled “Read Siege by James Mason,” which refers to a series of neo-Nazi essays advocating for the violent destruction of the U.S. government in order to build a new white ethnostate.
Searching “Read Siege” on Tumblr yields even more disturbing results, including a page titled “6milmore” that contains artwork glorifying AWD. The posts on both Read Siege and 6milmore contain artwork remarkable similar to that on a site called “Fascist Forge,” a neo-Nazi forum considered the direct successor to Iron March, a now-shuttered forum described by the Anti-Defamation League as “key to the formation of Atomwaffen.”
A search of “James Mason Siege” yields other pages glorifying neo-Nazi extremism, including downloadable neo-Nazi pamphlets and recommended literature. Pages glorifying the Turner Diaries, a far-right piece of propaganda linked to over 200 murders, are also prevalent. Type in the name of Norwegian far-right mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik or racist mass-murderer Dylann Roof and you can easily find pages glorifying them.
The search results for Roof, in particular, open up a whole new rabbit hole that, as The Daily Beast previously reported, is awash with glorification of serial killers and mass shooters.
Tumblr’s second community guideline refers to hate speech. “Don’t encourage violence or hatred,” it reads. “Don’t post content for the purpose of promoting or inciting the hatred of, or dehumanizing, individuals or groups based on race, ethnic or national origin.”
This guideline has been gamed by far-right blogs. More obvious derogatory terms, like the N-word, do yield some racist results. But typing in terms familiar to those in the white supremacist online ecosystem — for instance, phrases like “1488,” a popular white supremacist phrase, “Aryanism,” and “Defend Europa” — yield an even bigger archive of posts.
The last term is particularly pertinent, as it ties into the white nationalist conspiracy theory known as the “Great Replacement,” which claims Europeans are being overrun and “outbred” by immigrants. As The New Yorker noted, the Great Replacement theory helped birth the “You Will Not Replace Us” chants heard at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville. It is also a popular topic among far-right YouTube commentators like Lauren Southern, Brittany Pettibone, and Red Ice TV.
This subtle creep of white nationalism into Tumblr is made easier by the website’s emphasis on aesthetics. Multiple pages examined by ThinkProgress effectively straddle the fence with a mix of content. A good portion of it is standard Tumblr fare, such as pictures of historical figures, nature, and attractive men and women. But mixed in are obvious dog-whistles to far-right political movements.
Take, for example, a series of December 2018 posts by the blog Spartan-Race. The vast majority of the content is of blonde women in traditional European garb, but the bottom five posts contain the Ancient Spartan symbol which, conveniently enough, is also a symbol for Generation Identity, a European far-right movement that is rabidly anti-immigration. Generation Identity’s Austrian branch has previously been investigated for hate speech and criminal organizing, and members of its French branch were filmed by Al Jazeera attacking Arab youths.
The page Racial-Loyalty gives away the game in its title, but it follows a similar pattern. A large number of its January 2019 posts contain pictures of white families and attractive white women and men. Hidden between these, however, are posts of the Othala Rune, a common white nationalist sign, and the sign of Nordic Resistance Movement (NRM), a Swedish far-right group. Last August, two NRM members were arrested by Swedish police for plotting the murder of two journalists.
The presence of women on these blogs also points to a key far-right idea — the importance of misogyny within the movement and the denigration of women as housewives and child-bearers. In October 2018, the blog nordmadr posted a picture of a t-shirt that read “Save the seas // shoot refugees.” A few posts later was a quote that read, “Good women don’t make history, they are too busy making the future,” complete with a common white nationalist symbol.
“[In the far-right], one side argues that women need to focus on their ‘natural’ duties of childbearing and supporting their husbands,” the Anti-Defamation League’s 2018 report on the far-right and misogyny reads. “The other maintains that while women should be mothers and housekeepers first, women may use any additional time to advance the cause of the white race.”
This dynamic is clearly seen on the nordmadr Tumblr page.
This subtle far-right creep echoes a 2017 study by the Institute of Strategic Dialogue which warned that the far-right had become extremely adapt at using internet platforms to normalize their ideas. “The weaponisation of internet culture is deliberately used by extreme-right influencers to bring about attitude and behavioural change, in particular among the younger generations,” the report warned.
This sort of normalization of white nationalist talking points was what tech companies were supposedly shocked by — and promised to stop — in the wake of Charlottesville, as they provided an easy way of “red-pilling,” or radicalizing and recruiting, new members, most of whom are young, white, disaffected men.
“Using ironic memes and terms that don’t mean anything to our enemies but normies find funny and actually lead people to develop a race-based political consciousness is what it is all about,” one 4chan poster explained in the aftermath of Charlottesville.
In this regard, the prevalence of far-right content on Tumblr is especially disturbing, as it provides as aesthetically pleasing way to subtly insert white nationalist ideas into the heads of potential recruits.
Following requests for comment from ThinkProgress, the pages in this article were no longer accessible and appear to have been deleted, though other far right content still exists on the site.
In a statement to ThinkProgress, Tumblr re-affirmed its commitments to its Community Guidelines.
“Hate speech and terrorist content are unacceptable and violate our community guidelines,” a spokesperson said. “When we become aware of violative content, we take action consistent with our policies, including content removal and account suspension. Tumblr is a community for creativity and free expression, but never at the expense of respect for and safety of our users.”