Meanwhile, in the new Tumblr Verizon regime
In 2014, Tumblr was on the front lines of the battle for net neutrality. The company stood alongside Amazon, Kickstarter, Etsy, Vimeo, Reddit, and Netflix during Battle for the Net’s day of action. Tumblr CEO David Karp was also part of a group of New York tech CEOs that met with then-FCC chairman Tom Wheeler in Brooklyn that summer, while the FCC was fielding public comment on new Title II rules. President Obama invited Karp to the White House to discuss various issues around public education, and in February 2015The Wall Street Journal reported that it was the influence of Karp and a small group of liberal tech CEOs that swayed Obama toward a philosophy of internet as public utility.
But three years later, as the battle for net neutrality heats up once again, Tumblr has been uncharacteristically silent. The last mention of net neutrality on Tumblr’s staff blog — whichfrequently posts about political issues from civil rights to climate change to gun control to student loan debt — was in June 2016. And Tumblr is not listed as a participating tech company for Battle for the Net’s next day of action, coming up in three weeks.
“TUMBLR HAS BEEN UNCHARACTERISTICALLY SILENT”
A representative for Battle for the Net told The Verge in an email, “Outreach for the day of action is very much an active and ongoing process… I wouldn’t read too much into who is and isn’t on the list so far.” Still, a rep for Tumblr declined to comment on whether the company would be participating, and AOL’s senior VP of brand communications Caroline Campbell responded to an inquiry about whether Tumblr would maintain its stance on net neutrality, writing “[It’s] just too early to answer your question.”
One reason for Karp and Tumblr’s silence? Last week Verizon completed its acquisition of Tumblr parent company Yahoo, kicking off the subsequent merger of Yahoo and AOL to create a new company called Oath. As one of the world’s largest ISPs, Verizon is notorious for challenging the principles of net neutrality — it sued the FCC in an effort to overturn net neutrality rules in 2011, and its general counsel Kathy Grillo published a note this Aprilcomplimenting new FCC chairman Ajit Pai’s plan to weaken telecommunication regulations.
Now, multiple sources tell The Verge that employees are concerned that Karp has been discouraged from speaking publicly on the issue, and one engineer conveyed that Karp told a group of engineers and engineering directors as much in a weekly meeting that took place shortly after SXSW. “Karp has talked about the net neutrality stuff internally, but won’t commit to supporting it externally anymore,” the engineer said. “[He] assures [us] that he is gonna keep trying to fight for the ability to fight for it publicly.” Karp did not respond to four emails asking for comment, and neither Yahoo nor Tumblr would speak about the matter on the record.
On the day Verizon’s Yahoo acquisition was completed, Tumblr was hit by a wave of layoffs. A number of current and former employees shared a post by social media industry commentator Andréa López entitled “Layoffs and Tumblr the Centipede.” In it, López theorizes, “In addition to the real life talented human beings impacted by these layoffs, the move is a warning and reminder — Tumblr is no longer in the protective purgatory of pre-Verizon Yahoo.” If Mayer’s Yahoo didn’t really know what it was doing with Tumblr, that meant Tumblr was free to do what it wanted. That extended to politics: Yahoo didn’t give Tumblr any official blessing or encouragement when it decided to become the tech industry’s fiercest net neutrality defender three years ago. Now things are a little bit stickier.
Bryan Irace, an engineering manager who worked at Tumblr from March 2012 to November 2015, explained Tumblr’s culture to The Verge in an email, writing, “We all [participated]. As with many other causes (e.g. SOPA/PIPA), [net neutrality] was a hugepart of the company culture. A free and open Internet was a prerequisite for Tumblr to grow from an idea in David’s head into the platform that it is today… During my tenure there, Tumblr never shied away from speaking out about causes that the team collectively believed in….