Tumblr: The New Platform for Debate

Over the years, tumblr has emerged as a prominent social media site. Unlike Facebook and Twitter where people [mostly] communicate with others they know, tumblr users connect based on similar interests. Everyone uses the site for different purposes. I have been a tumblr user for around 3 years now. I enjoy reblogging pictures of my favourite bands, television shows and actors, and posting random thoughts. Others may use the site to promote their photography, poetry or fan fiction; to express their thoughts/feelings or to partake in debate about current issues.

Since its creation in 2007, tumblr has evolved, becoming a platform for debate in the public sphere. According to Habermas, the public sphere requires discourse and quality for debate, quantity of participation, opportunity and capacity to deliberate in public spaces. Forums and social media sites such as tumblr and twitter provide unlimited opportunities for quality debate in the public sphere. Anyone can participate in debates on tumblr. Click reblog, add your text and enter- its that simple!

In fact, tumblr has become a source of activism. The company’s internal data revealed that 64% of tumblr users care about social issues and use the site to look into them. Philip Howard of the University of Washington notes that “once you connect to other people who feel strongly about race or crime or gay marriage, you stay engaged on that one issue area.” As a tumblr user, I have noticed many of the people who I follow become activists and engage in debate regarding issues such as sexism, sexuality, gay marriage and racism. Activism is fuelled when significant events occur, such as the shooting of Mike Brown. This event sparked activism regarding racism, particularly in America, and led to the emergence of the “black lives matter” tag. Such activism is driven by photos/footage that are not portrayed by mainstream media sources. The ability to spread messages quickly on tumblr allows these images to go “viral”, creating awareness of the issue. Here are some text posts:

Screen Shot 2015-04-08 at 1.46.26 am Screen Shot 2015-04-07 at 4.51.06 pm

Screen Shot 2015-04-07 at 4.50.20 pm

The Occupy Wall Street debate in 2011 sparked activism and debate on tumblr. The blog “We Are the 99 Percent” was created to tell first person stories of hardship and unemployment. For example, one post stated: “my mom worked on Wall Street for almost 30 years. In 2008, when the market crashed, the company she worked for shut down. The CEOs were taken care of, but all the loyal workers were left with nothing. My mom still hasn’t found work. I am the 99 percent”. Jesse Emspak notes that the site was a critical force behind the Occupy Wall Street protests, increasing the number of demonstrations from dozens to thousands.

As the site gained more attention, a conservative competitor site was set up. This site, “We Are the 53%” claimed to represent the 53% of Americans who pay federal income tax. The first post stated: “I work 3 jobs. I have a house I can’t sell. My family insurance costs are outrageous…shut it up you whiners. I am the 53% subsidizing you so you can hang out on Wall Street and complain.” However, they could not compete with their predecessor. These sites are prime examples of tumblr being utilised as a platform for debate and activism in the public sphere. Anyone can reblog these posts, express their opinion freely and engage in quality debate.

Fellow tumblr users: do you engage in debate on tumblr? What issues appear on your dashboard? Is tumblr a good forum for debate in the public sphere?


Jurgen Habermas: The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere

Safaronova, V 2014, ‘Millennials and the Age of Tumblr’, The New York Times, 19th December 2014, viewed 9th April 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/21/style/millennials-and-the-age-of-tumblr-activism.html?_r=0.

Sutter, J 2011, ‘Tumblr Becomes Platform for Occupy Wall Street Debate’, CNN, 12th October 2011, viewed 9th April 2015, http://edition.cnn.com/2011/10/12/tech/web/tumblr-occupy-wall-street/.


5 thoughts on “Tumblr: The New Platform for Debate

  1. I have never used Tumblr, so it’s very interesting to learn about how much it has evolved in the past few years. I wasn’t aware that it was a source of activism, but it’s definitely a good thing, especially for sending such powerful messages. Your example of the Wall Street debate is a very good one that helps me understand to what extent Tumblr users go to, to contest about such things.

    Personally, I don’t and never have used Tumblr, but after reading your blog and realising what it can be used for, I feel like it would be a good time to start. Although I haven’t used it, I feel indecisive about whether or not it would be a good forum for debate in the public sphere, as it is very different to other types of forums.


    • It definitely has! With no word limit, a large audience and freedom of speech, Tumblr is becoming a more powerful forum for debate in the public sphere. However my only criticism of Tumblr as a platform for debate is the lack of respect that is sometimes evident. People who share the dominant view tend to gang up on those who don’t and slam down their opinion. There is a definite lack of respect and even bullying sometimes. That’s why I personally prefer not to use the site for activism and debate, but more for my own entertainment. Despite this I would still encourage you to give the site a try 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Much like yourself, I have been using Tumblr for a few years (four years), and during the course of them, I have seen a number of issues appear on my dashboard. And although I haven’t really joined in the debates that people are having, I have participated in the activism that takes place on the site.

    Aside from that however, Tumblr has introduced me to several political and societal issues, including but not limited to the following:
    • Feminism and relative feminist topics (e.g. the filibuster of Texan governor Wendy Davis over anti-abortion laws in 2013 was widely spread through the site)
    • LGBTQ rights/representation (e.g. the suicide of transgender teen Leelah Alcorn at the end of 2014, which lead to a petition entitled “Leelah’s Law”- a law which aims to ban psychologists in the US from using “conversion therapy” or other discreditable psychological practices on patients.)
    • Racism (e.g. the Ferguson riots (Aug. ‘14 to Feb. ’15.))
    • Awareness of mental health issues such as depression or social anxiety amongst teens/young adults.
    • Political elections- from the USA to Australia.

    But although I do agree that Tumblr is a good platform to spread awareness of these topics and others, I have found the most of the debates that are conducted on various posts rather weak, as they don’t provide any evidence to back up their arguments, and would rather have people take their word for their experiences or their opinions. For example, a fortnight ago I found a great post on how rape jokes apparently “cause rape” and perpetuate the concept of “rape culture” in society (this issue falls under the topic of feminism), upon which one of the numerous contributors on the post actually provided a plethora of sources to back up their argument against it- in order to make it more credible, whereas the other contributors had just gone off their own experiences or their own opinions of the subject. The post that I am referring to can be found here on my Tumblr: http://iampikachuhearmeroar.tumblr.com/post/115120863465/tenaflyviper-cleverity-vikinglumberjack-do

    So all in all, Tumblr is a good place to start if a person (mostly in their teens or early 20s) wants to become aware of the topics that are mentioned in this post, but they should do their own research in line with the topics, so that then they don’t just go off the arguments (which may be just opinions with no facts) that Tumblr provides.

    Wendy Davis:

    Rape Culture:
    Williams, 2015,”The Personified Puddle Of Bitter Irony”, Weblog post, Posted April 3rd 2015:

    Leelah Alcorn/Leelah’s Law:
    Diblasi Loren, 2015, “President Obama Calls For An End To LGBTQ Conversion Therapy, MTV, Viewed 17th April 2015:
    Capehart Johnathan, 2015, “Obama Comes Out Against ‘Conversion Therapy’ To Support ‘Leelah’s Law’”, Post Partisan blog- The Washington Post, viewed 17th April 2015:


    • I have come across many of the same issues appear on my dashboard. Have you noticed that its only in the past year (or just over a year) that these issues have become more prevalent? Ferguson was definitely a big issue- some people I follow still post about it now! I agree with you in that the debates are weak; they seem to be based on opinion more so than fact. Consequently, most of the time, I don’t believe what I read. I read the post about the rape jokes- its so good to see people actually use credible sources to back up their arguments! I actually came across a post this morning claiming “80% of disabled women are sexually assaulted.” Someone reblogged the post asking for statistics. Nobody reblogged the post with statistics or facts- only personal experience and opinion. I will not believe it until I come across valid statistics. Once again, I agree with you- Tumblr is definitely a good place to start, but other research is essential.
      And thanks for your comment! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, I have noticed that some of the issues have become more prevalent, especially topics such as racism and police brutality/killings in the US, as it seems more and more racially motivated attacks on individuals by police officers are happening there. Ferguson is still an issue that appears on my dashboard from time to time, from the blogs that specify that they’re mainly social justice bloggers.

        On the other hand, I’ve also seen the rise of Tumblr feminist movement, which started for me back in mid-2012, to become a fully-fledged movement by this year, though most of it was spurred on by the aforementioned filibuster of Wendy Davis in 2013, as well as certain celebrities taking part in the movement- e.g. Beyoncé, Lorde, Taylor Swift (though that’s more this year I think than previously, after she made an account on the site), Emma Watson (after her #HeForShe speech too UN in Sept. last year) and Joseph Gordon-Levitt to name a few. But again, I believe that there are problems with this movement, mainly in terms of those who post about feminism and it’s other relevant topics (much like myself actually, I’m not going to lie), don’t know what they’re fighting for or what feminism itself actually is, but are just going along with it to maintain their Tumblr credibility, if you will. And plus, there’s the whole “If you’re not a feminist or don’t identify as one when you support equality, then you’re what’s wrong with society” kind of mindset on Tumblr from time to time, which I find to be completely disrespectful for those who mightn’t hold the feminist view, but still believe in equal rights amongst the sexes.

        I agree with your standpoint on not believing what you read on Tumblr, as most of the stories that people post on there are more than likely to be or have actually been proven to be false, and are used for I believe to be shock value to:
        • Possibly gain notes or followers in a deceiving way.
        •Gain supporters who will be easily sucked into what they read on the internet (which concerns me, as there are so many teenagers on there who can be easily manipulated by older users.)

        Then there’s also the people who won’t have read the post at all, but would’ve reblogged it because they were on an automatic reblog mode (I’ve been in this situation myself recently, while I’ve been fighting a continually lost battle with clearing out my blog, realising that half the stuff that I’d posted a few years back was just blindly reblogged without actually taking notice of what I had actually posted at the time.)

        Like you, I’ve also seen a vast array of posts on there that include statistics, much like the one you’ve mentioned, but include no sources for background reading or links to where they got the stats they’ve mentioned from, so they’ve kind of used like a vast, sweeping generalization. The “rape joke post” as I’ll call it for now, is the best example of a researched and well thought out argument on Tumblr in my opinion- I’m happy that you took the time to look at it. I have seen a few others like that but they don’t have the same amount of sources posted. It’s also one of the few posts were the argument didn’t end with one of the contributors being called an “idiot” or a “stupid fuckhead” or any other type of insult that gets thrown around on Tumblr in arguments/debates.

        Anyway, on a lighter and less serious note, thank you for replying 🙂


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