Tumblr is beloved by users who leverage the site’s visual and practical features to confront taboo topics and politics. The blogging platform is also frequently derided by those who mock its progressive activists as “social justice warriors.”
Yet no measure of contempt seems to deter Tumblr from fully embracing advocacy and activism. The site has an aggressive plan to promote online and IRL activism in the coming year, and it’s particularly interested in registering new voters ahead of the midterm elections in November.
On Jan. 20, Tumblr laid out its priorities for the year in a post marking its first-ever Art Action Day. The initiative challenged people to pair content like drawings and images with what they hoped the “headlines and history books” would say for 2018. Users could file their posts under the new campaign hashtag #WhatWillYouDo.
Tumblr made its own declarations: “We want 2018 to be a year of Black voices … We want 2018 to be a turning point for gender equality … We want 2018 to see record voter turnout among young people … We want 2018 to guarantee equal rights for everyone … We want 2018 to be the year mental illness loses its stigma.”
That’s a lofty wish list, but Victoria McCullough, social impact and public policy lead at Tumblr, says the company is building on similar efforts introduced in December 2016, with an eye toward offering users opportunities to participate in activism while finding ways to measure their impact.
Addressing social and political issues last year often felt like “playing whack-a-mole,” she says. From current events to natural disasters to government policies that affected Tumblr’s most vulnerable users, people often felt overwhelmed and powerless, unsure of how they could act.
That’s why Tumblr developed a specific game plan for 2018, one that focuses on giving a megaphone to marginalized voices and offering its users tangible ways to participate in activism. The company, McCullough says, is also guided by a mantra often expressed by racial justice activists: “We don’t need allies, we need accomplices.”
“We don’t need allies, we need accomplices.”
Some of the Art Action Day posts were inspirational yet vague, or focused on personal growth, but other users talked about progressive values like supporting “unstoppable women,” “amplifying” the voices of American Muslims, fighting for net neutrality, and protecting DREAMers.
McCullough says the number and quality of submissions combined with “notes” (likes and reblogs), engagement, and comments “indicated we struck a chord.”
But the point of these initiatives isn’t to breed more so-called clicktivism, giving users a chance to feel momentarily self-satisfied and then move on with life. That’s why Tumblr will spend much of 2018 putting voices and resources in front of users in an attempt to “pull people out of filter bubbles by handing over the mic.”
To mark Black History Month, for example, Tumblr partnered again with the team behind #The Blackout, a movement that tries to create “online spaces of positivity” for Black people around the world.
The blog’s leadership — Marissa Rei, CEO and public relations manager, and V. Matthew King-Yarde, community and tech designer — wrote multiple posts about Black nonprofit and advocacy organizations, which were then shared to Tumblr’s audience via its action blog and donated ads that promoted the content.
The goal, said Rei, was to encourage users to donate their time and money to the various causes, and inspire them to spread information and awareness about each of the organizations. Tumblr’s partnership with #TheBlackout will continue after Black History Month.
“Being lovers of the platform, we appreciate Tumblr’s dedication to lifting the voices of marginalized folks,” Rei wrote in an email. “…[W]e’ve seen them doing great work before. But with their new year-long dedication to social change, and solid partnerships like this one, I think it’ll be way more effective.”
McCullough says Tumblr is looking at ways to measure whether or not these campaigns translate into action of some kind.
Later this month, the company will partner with the anti-police violence organization Campaign Zero to offer an embeddable widget that allows users to contact their elected representatives. Campaign Zero will also be featured in Tumblr’s popular “Answer Time” series, which hosts conversations with celebrities, activists, and government officials.
“This is just a high, high priority for us.”
Tumblr, says McCullough, has also dedicated resources to help users register to vote throughout the year. The availability of that tool will increase as the midterm elections near. Those efforts will target Tumblr members eligible to vote for the first time in 2018.
“This being a really pivotal year around state, local, and federal elections — this is just a high, high priority for us,” McCullough says.
All of these efforts comprise what #Resistance Tumblr looks like in 2018, and King-Yarde, of #TheBlackout, is here for it.
“Tumblr is making sure we can reach new audiences who don’t about know about us,” he wrote in an email, “and the effects are everlasting.”