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Tumblr: Gay Porn & GIFS or Much More?

Tumblr is a microblogging website that many outsiders regard as an assembly of mindless banter (fangirling), homosexual fanfiction (yaoi), and, what many believe are, “stolen” graphic images (gifs). Curious observers also often associate it with “hipster” blogs, where endless photographs with treacle digitally scrawled upon them can be found. In essence, because Tumblr’s community widely consists of fandoms, it is a digital port for gathering netizens to confabulate and collaborate.

However, Tumblr is more than lewd females drawing pornographic homosexual images for one another, more than hysterical teenage youths sharing shallow images. It is a virtual community in which members strive for common goals, comfort each other’s insecurities, and relate on many different levels.

Peyton’s Fluffy Chicken is a campaign begun on Tumblr by user Thatsmoderatelyraven to convince her mother into purchasing her an adorable Silkie chicken. The goal: have the initial post reach 500,000 notes. With the collaborative efforts of thousands of Tumblr bloggers, Peyton’s objective was successfully reached within a few days. This achievement spawned many new Tumblr posts that indirectly commented on the Tumblr’s unity. February 17th was declared “Fluffy Chicken Day”. Fan art for the chicken was made. One blogger said Thatsmoderatelyraven’s chicken belonged not only to Peyton herself, but also to the entire Tumblr community.

On June 22, Tumblr user sanj0ugahara made a post saying: “i just heard about someone in the anime community passing away, and i didn’t even realize she was a follower of mine or hear about until now body kind of going hot and cold right now because i’ve had someone really close to me pass away a few years ago and my heart is going out to her friends…” Her post went on to receive 209 notes as users, many of whom were strangers to the departed. They shared their condolences and acknowledgement through the act of liking and reblogging the post. One reblogger left a comment saying, “oh my god. It was her? I had a mutual following with her, I, oh my gosh. I didn’t know her either, but I’m crying, that’s too much.” The simple act of mutually following someone on Tumblr can create a bond of recognition and endearment, even if the two bloggers might not necessarily ever communicate.

Tumblr has within its diverse community “Social Justice Blogs”, in which the social justice bloggers seek to dissect issues and then inform their followers about the injustices in the world. Sometimes these blogs are used to “signal boost” – publicize – another Tumblr user’s experience with discrimination and injustice. This trend is not unique to Social Justice blogs, for many bloggers who normally reblog and post things of other content do the same.

On December 16, blogger legallyblinding made a post recounting her friend’s sexist encounter at a neighborhood restaurant. In her post, she provided the restaurant’s address and number, along with photographs of the perpetrators. At the end of her post, she asked her followers to “Please help to spread the word”. The post received 5,467 notes, with contributors providing comments, which highlighted the impact of the original post, such as, “Welp. Not going there anymore. What the shit” and “Really? I fucking go here all the time. Looks like that isn’t happening anymore.”

How exactly did these three posts receive so much attention? Why would a random individual’s endeavors to receive a chicken earn so much recognition, to the point of having parodies made of it? Why would news of a random blogger’s death garner 209 notes, most from strangers? Tumblr, with its pornography and mindless banter, shares a collective consciousness, which leads to its collective intelligence, that both empowers and defines the community, allowing posts like these to travel far within cyberspace.

A collective consciousness is defined as “a set of shared beliefs, ideas and moral attitudes which operate as a unified force within society.” While there are individuals who diverge from the norm, Tumblr consists mainly of people who are LGBTQ supporters, and of people who are conscious and concerned with issues such as homophobia, sexism, racism, and ableism. Tumblr as a whole, with a population of mostly females ages 18 to 24, strives for body positivity and sexual liberty. “Tumblr”, as demonstrated in this text post, also believes it is incompetent when it comes to romantic relationships, and many bloggers regard themselves, and each other, as awkward women.

Tumblr’s collective consciousness affirms its users belief that they are of one body, of one mind – they share a hive mind. As a result, Tumblr users also share a collective intelligence, defined as a “group intelligence that emerges from the collaboration and competition of many individuals and appears in consensus decision making,” that allows them to achieve goals as nonsensical as getting Peyton a chicken, to goals as serious as fighting injustice.

“The big changes caused by the Web 2.0 mass communication tools were very successful in fostering new perceptions and promoting new standards of collective consciousness about our world. In this regard, the virtual choir can be remembered as a genuine example of a virtual collective empathy,”

writes Yousri Marzouki for Before It’s News.

Just as previously mentioned, Tumblr users regard themselves as awkward and socially inept. As a result, those who identify with Tumblr’s community are incredibly sympathetic towards each other’s struggles. Social issues and ideas that are reblogged are more readily evaluated and accepted by these individuals as well. Through Tumblr’s collective consciousness and intelligence, newcomers to the website can become more educated and understanding of issues and struggles that take place in the physical sphere.

There are, however, drawbacks to Tumblr’s community. While evaluating the virtual community of Reddit, Davis Sargeant, a writer for Student Life, explains that, “online communities like Reddit develop “hive minds” that engender hegemony and excuse community bias.” On Tumblr, if a blogger posts something that stands against the normal mindset of the community, other members will be quick to criticize them. In some cases, overly passionate and aggressive individuals might send death threats. As a result, harassment on hive-mind communities like Tumblr can be unceasing because, since many bloggers share a collective consciousness, opposing views are seen as an offense to the entire community – thus the entire community, or at least many individuals within the community, will aim to topple the deviant.

Tumblr is a powerful example of virtual community, and represents a new phenomenon of the digital hive mind that has evolved with the digital age. It shows how a placeless environment can cause individuals scattered across the globe to come to share similar beliefs and jargon, allowing them to empathize with each other despite little direct communication.

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