Tumblr’s complicated relationship with porn is getting messier after the social platform agreed last week to work with the Korean government to enforce its strict pornography laws on the platform.

Tumblr has reportedly agreed to monitor pornography on the South Korean version of its site and cooperate with Korea’s censorship group, the Korea Communications Standards Commission (KCSC).

The decision is yet another instance of an American company participating in internationally requested censorship.

South Korean Law

South Korean law treats internet pornography very differently than the US. According to Seoul Beats, a board called the Korean Communications Committee (KCC) sets content guidelines that the KCSC uses to find content that allegedly violates those guidelines. The KCSC then submits removal requests to a board composed of internet provider representatives called the Korean Internet Self-Governance Organization (KISO) which then enforces the decisions.

Korea censors content on the basis that it’s “subversive” or “harmful to the public order.” This has meant that websites hosting porn, conversations about prostitution, or graphically violent content have been censored.

Social media sites and search engines occupy a grey area in the country, however, hosting multitudes of various types of content or making them widely searchable.

In a video from earlier this year, South Koreans listed social media among P2P networks, and VPNs as a means to get around censorship of pornographic content.

South Korean students explain how they get around porn censorship. 

Not the First Time

In September 2017, Tumblr refused to honor an initial request from South Korea to censor adult content on its site. According to the KCSC, Tumblr received over two-thirds of all censorship requests that the group sent between January and June of 2017.

Previously, Tumblr argued that because it was based in US, it did not have to comply with South Korean law.

#MeToo and Stricter Enforcement

The announcement that Tumblr would begin complying with the KCSC comes after massive protests in South Korea inspired by the #MeToo movement asked the government to crack down on invasive spy cam porn.

On June 9th, nearly 22,00 women protested in Seoul, asking the government to crack down on “molka,” or spy cam porn, according to Gizmodo. According to the Korean Women Lawyers Association, 24.9 percent of sex crimes in South Korea involved cameras in 2015.

South Korean women protest spy cam porn.

Tumblr’s Pornographic History

Tumblr has been struggling to deal with pornography on its platform for years. While a 2016 study revealed that less than 1 percent of users post porn on the platform, it also found that 22 percent of users sought out porn on the platform, while 28 percent of users were unintentionally exposed. The figures explain why Tumblr has become synonymous with online pornography.

While pornography can pose an issue for monetization, analytics firm SimilarWeb estimates that 20 percent of visits to Tumblr’s desktop site are driven by porn.

In an attempt to address the situation without completely cutting off adult content, Tumblr rolled out the “safe-mode” filtration system, which was automatically turned on for all users. If you’ve stated that you are above 18 users can turn the filter off.

Censorship Case by Case

In March, Tumblr paid the price for refusing to censor adult content by request from Indonesia’s government, and was blocked in the country.

Large tech companies have largely navigated the issue of government censorship on a case by case basis. Google, which has been widely censored in China after it refused to cooperate with the government, has shown willingness to censor in other ways in different countries — removing the gay dating app Blued from Indonesia at the request of its government.

While Tumblr’s large, SFW LGBT communities will ostensibly stay safe from South Korean censorship (all LGBT content was under the purview of South Korean censorship until 2003) other large communities may face new censorship with Tumblr’s cooperation, including sex workers. South Korea’s online censorship laws explicitly target content related to prostitution. Even if posts aren’t sexually explicit, such as political organizing or support, they may be subject to censorship.