How Tumblr reconciles political activism with business

How Tumblr reconciles political activism with business

Tumblr is an Internet property known for its pronounced activist streak. That’s as true for its community as it is for the company as a whole.

Where other businesses have remained silent, the youth-oriented blogging service has been at the center of several fraught battles, including net neutrality, reproductive rights, and the fight against SOPA — the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act.

David Karp, speaking on-stage at TNW Conference with with Martin Bryant, former TNW Editor-at-Large and current community editor at Tech North, discussed how he reconciles his role as a business leader, with his desire to effect change in the wider world.

We realized that some causes were important to whole swathes of our community that needed a catalyst – a push – because the topics were confusing, or felt too big.

An early trial for the company was SOPA. Using the power of its community, Tumblr was able to direct tens of thousands of calls from constituents to congress. SOPA was so unpopular, so toxic, that the Obama administration ultimately withdrew the contentious bill, and affirmed a commitment to net neutrality.

The activist image works for Tumblr, but by no means is it a cookie-cutter model that works for every company.

There’s no playbook on this. These are brand new waters we’re all exploring. I see more and more colleagues and companies around the world — especially in New York — stand up and attach themselves to these issues in any number of ways — from education, to calling congressmen, and signing on to amicus briefs.

With the Trump administration having taken its place at the seat of power in American politics, Karp believes that the role for activism from the corporate world is more vital than ever. “This is too critical of a movement for these brands to sit on the sidelines,” he told Bryant.

Tumblr was acquired by Yahoo in 2013. Yahoo was acquired by Verizon in 2016, with the deal finally closing this February. Despite that, Karp isn’t daunted, and doesn’t see Tumblr’s new status as a cog in a larger corporate behemoth as something to worry about, but rather as an opportunity to effect change on a larger scale.

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