New Tumblr Stumble Renews Censorship Scandal

There's an old saying: Never attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by stupidity. The latest exemplar: Tumblr CEO David Karp, who keeps getting charged with squelching his users' freedom of speech.

Poor Karp! The founder of the ultracutesy blogging platform, favored by Internet microcelebrity Julia Allison and the bored hipsters of Brooklyn and San Francisco, just got done cleaning up one censorship mess.

The latest accuser: The anonymous blogger behind Out of Print, a Tumblr devoted to criticizing Tumblr. He says that his blog posts have stopped displaying comments — a critical feature on Tumblr, which is built around users' "reblogs," an automated way of quoting a blog entry one likes, and other comments. The more popular a Tumblr it is, the more reblogs it generally gathers — so the Out of Print blogger claims that the disappearance of his comments is proof that he's being silenced by Karp's censorious regime. He thinks it has something to do with an incident where he hacked part of Karp's personal blog to include a taunting message about Tumblr's lack of security.

The charge only carries weight because Karp recently confessed to deleting a set of Tumblr blogs which included critics of Allison, an acquaintance of Karp's who often appeared at his side at parties over the last year. Not very credibly, Karp denied that any personal relationships were at play in his decision.

But the microscope on Karp's missteps is largely his own fault, since he's gone to such lengths to tout Tumblr as a kinder, gentler place to blog, free of the anonymous attacks and general snideness that pervade the Internet. Since Tumblr is, itself, actually on the Internet, that's proven impossible. Karp's quixotic niceness campaign has only made him and Tumblr bigger targets.

No one's calling Karp stupid. Everyone generally agrees he's scary-smart. So instead of malice or stupidity, couldn't we put down Karp's seeming censoriousness to youth, naïveté, and general scatterbrainedness? Otherwise, we'd have to believe Karp is carrying out absurdly petty yet nearly undetectible campaigns against his online critics. Why would he bother to subtly delete comments instead of an entire blog, as he's done in the past?

Far more likely: This is another bug in Tumblr's rickety technological infrastructure. If only Karp could squelch those.