Article Lead Image

Twitter fight exposes Tumblr’s editor problem

Volunteer tag editors could sabotage Tumblr's plan for more professionally selected content.


Fernando Alfonso III


Posted on Feb 13, 2012   Updated on Jun 2, 2021, 9:30 pm CDT

Tumblr is hiring professional editors to bring some order to the sprawling blog network. But those prose pros are far outnumbered by a volunteer workforce of “tag editors”—and users’ confusion of the two is leaving bad feelings all around.

More than 1,700 Tumblr users have expressed unhappiness with Alexander Ryking, its top politics tag editor, after he used obscene language on Twitter over the weekend to respond to people who disagreed with his choices of posts to highlight.

The irony: Ryking is a volunteer, who earned his status algorithimically through fellow users’ ratings of his picks—not one of Tumblr’s small but growing number of editorial hires. That distinction seems lost on many of his critics, however.

On Thursday afternoon, a self-proclaimed feminist named Raven (@unknowablewoman) decided to start deliberately baiting Ryking.

Two days’ worth of trolling proved to be enough for Ryking, who took to Twitter to respond to a tweet from Raven calling him a misogynist.

The conversation quickly escalated, with Ryking calling Raven a “feminazi.” He also used a particular four-letter word considered beyond the pale in some English-speaking countries to respond to other tweeters.

“You are a homophobe, a misandrist, and a hypocrite,” Ryking tweeted to Raven. “I may not have behaved my best tonight, but neither have you.”

The entire exchange spilled over into Tumblr, where Raven posted a screen shot of some of Ryking’s tweets and questioned whether he should retain his position as top editor.

Raven’s post has collected 1,807 notes from Tumblr users. While it’s not possible to characterize the response of users who reblogged the post—they may simply have found it interesting or provocative—most of the comments are highly critical of Ryking.

“Totally. Unacceptable,” wrote invisiblemoose.

“Gosh, I’m sick of him and people like him,” wrote subtletysmyweakness. “Shut him UP already.”

But for Tumblr, shutting him up would require a complete rethink of how the service works. Ryking, an outspoken liberal who is Hispanic and gay, responded to the controversy in two lengthy blog posts explaining why he tweeted like he did. He also clarified his role of tag editor.

“Everyone can go to my Twitter stream and see what kind of garbage I was replying to, so let’s not pretend you and your three friends are beyond reproach. Further, for the most part I have never provoked any of the fights I’ve been in on Tumblr or anywhere else. I have merely stated my opinions and was then attacked and bullied by a segment of so-called ‘feminist progressives’ who are anything but feminists or progressives. … What’s really at issue here is not my rude behavior but that you and others like you want to punish any man who refuses to conform to your rancid, misandrist orthodoxy by discounting everything he says and using his gender and race as the excuse for doing so. “

As the dust continues to settle, Raven has returned to her normal routine. Same goes for Ryking, although it is unclear how long his will continue.

According to Tumblr’s FAQ, editorships rotate after one to four weeks, though editors sometimes serve extended terms. So those calling for Ryking’s head will be able to claim victory over an automatic event—just as they’ve been decrying Ryking’s algorithmic selection in the first place.

It’s far more fun to argue with a person than with a bot, though.

Photo by Old Shoe Woman

Share this article
*First Published: Feb 13, 2012, 3:05 pm CST