liba rubenstein

Tumblr users are…

  • 50% more likely to go to a political rally
  • 2.2 times more likely to advise others on current events and politics
  • 108% more likely to be registered to vote

I remixed this slide from a presentation by Tumblr’s Liba Rubenstein (libawr).

Note: These comScore figures compare Tumblr users to the “average user of the Internet between ages 18 and 34.” According to Tumblr, the 18-to-34 age segment is the platform’s largest — making up 41% of Tumblr users.

Sources: TED Open Conversation (one-hour video) on May 28, 2014, data from comScore and photo by James Cridland.
Millennials and the Age of Tumblr Activism

(From the New York Times, which gets it remarkably right: “Tumblr is kind of like a gateway drug for activism,”)

On a recent day, the feed of a Tumblr blog called Black Culture featured a drawing of Lupita Nyong’o, a video of a protest at William Paterson University and a text that read, “black lives > white feelings.” The blog FreeQuency Frequently Writes posted a Tweet from Solange Knowles decrying depictions of outspoken women, while another called Soul Revision turned up a post with the hashtags #SeasonOfInconvenience and #BlackLivesMatter.

As protests sparked by a grand jury’s decision not to indict Darren Wilson began spreading nationwide, furor was also growing in cyberspace, in the social-justice halls of Tumblr, a social-blogging platform dominated by users in their teens, 20s and early 30s. Their feeds were vivid mash-ups of articles, GIFs, cleverly labeled images, court documents, smartphone videos, stickers and cartoons, and their posts contained news about Ferguson, along with tidbits about identity, inequality, police abuse, racism, body shaming and more.

“A lot of millennials have been discouraged for a long time,” said Zellie Thomas, 30, creator of Black Culture. “Now, with social media, they feel empowered, like people are hearing their voice. And Tumblr is a great platform for all types of media.”

There are more than 215 million blogs on Tumblr and, according to comScore, an analytics company, 50 percent of Tumblr users are from 15 to 34 years old. The company’s internal surveys show that 64 percent of users say that they care about social causes and look into them on Tumblr. These numbers suggest that millennials, who have long been pigeonholed as an apathetic bunch, have a strong interest in social issues — it’s just hidden from the eyes of their elders.

On Facebook and Twitter, users tend to engage with people they know, while on Tumblr, they connect based on themes and interests. Because of the anonymity it allows and the variety of media it can host, Tumblr gives young people a chance to experiment with different personas, many of which might not match the ones their friends and family are familiar with.

“You can create your own identity via Tumblr,” said Moya Bailey, 31, a postdoctoral fellow at Northeastern University in women’s studies and digital humanities. “I see many more diverse images on Tumblr than I see anywhere else. It’s one of the few places where I see fat people, trans women and trans women of color who are celebrated.”

The cyber social-justice movement is always brewing on Tumblr, and it picks up steam when shocking news hits the country or when protests take place offline. On Dec. 4, when a jury decided not to indict in the Eric Garner case, Tumblr experienced what Liba Rubenstein, director of social impact and public policy at Tumblr, called “extreme peaks” in the use of the “social justice” and “black lives matter” tags.
“Tumblr is kind of like a gateway drug for activism,” said Philip Howard, 44, the principal investigator at the Digital Activism Research Project at the University of Washington. “Once you connect to other people who feel strongly about race or crime or gay marriage, you stay engaged on that one issue area.”

Because Tumblr allows users to post anything from a video to a Tweet, and because reblogging a post is as easy as two clicks, Tumblr is an ideal dumping ground for media that might not easily coexist on Facebook or Twitter. “So much of activism is driven by digital artifacts like a video or a photo of someone beaten up by cops, and Tumblr helps people post and repost these,” Mr. Howard said.

The platform’s capacity to spread messages quickly is key, said Kim Moore, 29, creator of Soul Revision. Ms. Moore turned to Tumblr to raise awareness of social issues. “I thought this would be a good place to branch out more,” she said. “I went on Tumblr and never left.”

Mwende Katwiwa, 23, creator of the FreeQuency Frequently Writes Tumblr and a community organizer offline, thinks Tumblr has helped create new opportunities for engagement. “The last national movement in the black community didn’t have access to social media like this,” Ms. Katwiwa said. “Without those retweets and reposts, we wouldn’t still be talking about Trayvon Martin.”

Ms. Bailey said that many people describe what they do on Tumblr as getting an education on topics that aren’t explored deeply in standard school textbooks, like African-American history or colonialism. Similarly, Mr. Howard, whose Research Project devotes time to measuring the success of digital movements, said that while many online campaigns don’t force changes in public policy, they keep stories in the news and help expose people to new sources of information.

But whether passion on Tumblr translates into participation in the real world is up for debate. Ms. Katwiwa described a time when she used Tumblr to promote a protest in New Orleans. She was disappointed when of the thousand or so people who promised to show up, only 400 materialized. “One fault of social media is that it has people thinking that’s all you have to do,” she said. “I think it’s a tool in a toolbox. It should be used in conjunction with ground-level activism.”
Ms. Moore, on the other hand, recalled organizing a moment of silence in San Diego after Michael Brown was killed. Nearly 400 people attended the event — a number that’s large for the small and conservative San Diego, Ms. Moore said — and many others followed up with emails asking to participate in the future. “I was blown away at how engaged and how passionate people can be on Tumblr,” she said.

An emotionally difficult downside of using Tumblr is the negative responses activists receive from commenters. As part of her thesis project at Wayne State University, Amanda Levitt, 29, creator of Fat Body Politics, collected disparaging comments from a blog she moderates, This Is Thin Privilege.

She saved a total of 4,200 negative comments, some of them suggesting she should die. There were points at which the messages overwhelmed Ms. Levitt and she took breaks from using the platform, but she always returned. “A lot of people I enjoy talking with are online so it’s hard not being in that space,” she said.

Mr. Thomas shares the sentiment. “Activists online deal with a lot of hate and death threats, and very vicious attacks,” he said. “It’s something a lot of us have to try to ignore. And it’s still worth it.”

While online attacks may be unpleasant, Mr. Howard suggested that they are a part of contemporary political engagement and can help activists develop a psychological armor. “We all make mistakes with whatever media is new to us,” he said. “It’s part of contemporary growing pains. Each generation has had to learn what activism means for them.”

Watch on

Liba Rubenstein, Director of Outreach for Politics and Causes at Tumblr, and Jen Dulski, President and COO discuss online organizing for change with Alexis Madrigal at The Atlantic’s Silicon Valley Summit.
Bernie Sanders Is Leading the Democratic Primary Race . . . on Tumblr
The blogging site and social-media forum wants #Sanders4Prez.
By Sulagna Misra

On July 1, my Tumblr dashboard, the social-media site’s equivalent of the Facebook or Twitter timeline, approached peak Bernie Sanders: every other post on my dash was #feelingtheBern.

Two of the day’s posts were long, extended ones discussing not only millennials as a voting bloc, but detailed instructions on how to register to vote in the general election and in the primaries, along with the dates for each state’s primary. “Those in power want you to react,” explained the author of those posts, theliberaltony, who maintains a blog on politics and progressive views among millennials. “The are banking on us acting this way,” the 29-year-old retail supervisor said, when asked about the popularity of his posts.

He has prominently placed FAQs on both Bernie Sanders and the 2016 election on Tumblr, answering questions about why he’s voting for Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton, about Sanders’s viewpoints on foreign policy, and how young people can vote in the primaries. His most reblogged posts are the aforementioned ones on voting in the primaries, and they’ve led to his being viewed as an authority on the subject among Tumblr users. “This is information that so many people were never taught, and they thirst to participate in electoral politics, they just do not know how.” He believes people turn to Tumblr for this kind of simple information, when it seems forgotten in mainstream media. “You oftentimes do not even have to look for it [on Tumblr],” he points out. “It just shows up on your dashboard because someone else you follow thinks it is important.”

This makes sense to Liba Rubenstein, Tumblr’s director of social impact and public policy. Unlike Reddit, where toxicity can seem par for the course in Reddit’s largest, most mainstream sections, and the better, actually helpful subreddits are mainly found in niche communities, and Twitter, which only last year added new harassment policies to combat the lethal amounts of bullying on its platform, Tumblr sees itself as a place where “folks are quick to help out when someone is asking for help, or give information when someone asks,” says Rubenstein, noting that information can be everything from politics to fandom to personal crises. According to Rubenstein, the three types of Bernie Sanders posts with the most engagement are the dedicated fan blogs, mainstream-media pieces with a lot of traction, and ones by individuals like theliberaltony. (An example of a fan blog might be Sanders4Prez, which has found 6,500 8000 followers in the space of three months.)

Seven days of news, one day at a time. 

  • Polyvore, the social e-commerce site, just arrived at the big purple Yahoo party.
  • Also new around here: Don Steele (dfsteele​) formerly at Comedy Central, joined Tumblr as our new head of audience development.
  • Smart guy Matthew Yglesias explained why he isn’t looking for a job outside of digital media just yet.
  • Over at The Guardian, a profile of GIF Artists Collective, a community-driven project to promote the best GIF artists on Tumblr and the whole internet.
  • PopSugar is cool boots af. You could be too.
  • Tumblr is #feelingtheBern and it feels so good. Our love affair with Bernie Sanders via Vanity Fair (vanityfair) and our intrepid head of public policy, Liba Rubenstein (libawr).
  • Plus, everyone’s favorite scientist, Bill Nye, did an Answer Time to promote his new film, smartly titled The Bill Nye Film. Background and more here.

Image by pi-slices via gifartistscollective