When I hear about Tumblr nowadays, it’s mostly from people making fun of the website. They say that people there get too easily offended, and that the website represents a very misinterpreted definition of politics – one that’s run much more on hatred toward the oppressors than it is on actual progress. And while I never disagree when this opinion is brought up, I also have no shame in admitting that I spent the majority of my time between the years of 2012-2014 imprisoned within Tumblr.
A friend of mine encouraged me to make an account in my last year of high school, and initially, I thought it was the greatest thing ever. I don’t know if it’s necessarily true anymore, but at the time, the website was somewhat divided between the ‘fandom side’ and the ‘hipster side’, and I fell heavily on the fandom side. I could search up all the fictional universes that I loved, like Batman and Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Harry Potter, and at a click of a button, I could connect with people who had similar interests as me. No more badgering the people I knew in real life to just watch that show already, until it got to the point that they simply hated it on principal!
Not only that, but Tumblr allowed me a chance to get to know new fictional universes, ones that I hadn’t even known at the time! There were three TV shows at the time that were majorly popular – Doctor Who, Supernatural, and Sherlock, and I watched all three with the vigour of a teenage girl trying desperately to fit in. I wanted to be able to go onto Tumblr and discuss with the rest of them why this particular scene gave me ‘feels’, or why I totally ship this character and that character, even if it actually makes no sense in the context of the plot.
I quickly began to learn that Tumblr wasn’t only a website – it was, to a certain extent, a subculture. I began to learn how to talk to people and know, just by the things they said and the TV shows that they watched, whether or not they had a Tumblr account. Hell, to a certain extent, I still have that talent – just today, I overheard a girl in my class tell her friend that she “saw that on Tumblr”, and all I could think was ‘of course you did’. She was, after all, exactly the type – obsessed with fictional universes, and strangely political.
The political side of Tumblr didn’t catch up to me for a good, long while, to be honest – I must have been on Tumblr about a year before it did. And at first, it wasn’t bad. I sort of enjoyed it, to be honest. I mean, sure, there were a lot of people who took things a little bit too far, people who crossed into the realms of hate rather than change, but at the same time, I learned a lot about certain political movements. Enough that my teenage education on Tumblr was enough to lay a foundation for me to work off of when I took women’s studies classes in university, at least. I came to have a better understanding of what feminism was, about what people of other races dealt with on a daily basis, about transgender issues, and ultimately, Tumblr helped me to identify myself as an intersectional feminist – something that I still try my best to be at all times.
But when my depression started to get bad, Tumblr very quickly became a force of ill will in my life. While I could ignore all the hate while my mind was healthy, I was bombarded with it when I wasn’t. My rule became that I would just unfollow anyone who shared a hateful message, but 1) I felt bad doing that, because I didn’t want to become the sort of person who just wouldn’t look at anything that made me uncomfortable, and 2) it didn’t seem to matter. Now matter how many people I unfollowed, or how often I tried to turn a blind eye to it, some sort of hateful message would always slip through the cracks.
Very narrow-minded statements like, “this is why I hate men”, or “if you don’t agree with this, then you’re a monster” became a near constant on my news feed. Their statements polluted my already sick brain, twisting my thoughts to become identical to theirs, and so finally, when I decided that I needed to change my way of life to achieve mental health, one of the things I decided to do was cut out Tumblr.
I go on Tumblr very rarely now, but it’s less out of necessity and more out of habit. I understand the people that say that Tumblr is a stupid website filled with people who don’t understand the politics that they’re talking about, because that’s the reason I stopped logging in, but at the same time, I don’t think it’s entirely evil. It isn’t the only website that supports a geek-oriented culture, no, but it is a major one, and for young people seeking like-minded individuals, that can be an awesome thing. Even the politics, for people who are capable of critical thought, are a fascinating learning experience. So I don’t want to dismiss it entirely, because there are good and bad parts to everything. All that I am saying is that Tumblr taught me well what I should take seriously from people, and what I shouldn’t.