Roundtable: Tumblr and fandom

Lori Morimoto

Virginia, United States

[0.1] Abstract—Roundtable discussion led by Lori Morimoto with participants Amanda Brennan, Elizabeth Minkel, Keidra Chaney, and Aja Romano.

[0.2] Keywords—Fan activism; Fandom conflict; Journalism; Social media

Morimoto, Lori. 2018. "Roundtable: Tumblr and Fandom." In "Tumblr and Fandom,"edited by Lori Morimoto and Louisa Ellen Stein, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 27.

[1] Lori Morimoto: Welcome! To introduce our roundtable participants, we have Amanda Brennan, who is senior content insights manager for TumblrInc. and runs Fandometrics on Tumblr; Elizabeth Minkel, a fan culture journalist and half of the Fansplaining podcast; Keidra Chaney, cofounder and publisher of The Learned Fangirl website; and Aja Romano, web culture reporter for and a longtime fan culture journalist. Thanks to everybody for being here today.

[2] To begin, I'd like to ask you, Amanda, to explain a bit how Fandometrics works—what it does and how you measure it.

[3] Amanda Brennan: Fandometrics is ranked by a trending score in the nine different categories we have right now: TV, music, videogames, celebrities, internet celebrities, anime and manga, K-pop, and ships. Our trending score factors in all the data about searches, original posts, reblogs, and likes for specific tags in a seven-day period. So, all the activity in that week will calculate the trending score. And there's some limitations to this. People don't always tag consistently, the use of tags has evolved as the language of the internet changes, and it's just a fact that people who are die-hard fans will always tag more. We also work with global data, which has advantages and limitations in that, for example, K-pop is so huge on Tumblr, but we can't tell where the fandom is coming from. Is it American? Is it Korean? It's just the global data; like, Bangtan Boys, for example, is often the number one tag on all of Tumblr in a time period, above every other tag. And we can't place where that content is coming from—it's just a global community.

[4] Morimoto: Since I do transcultural fandom studies, I wish you could tell where it's coming from!

[5] Brennan: Same!

[6] Morimoto: So, based on the data you see, what do you think are some of the continuities in Tumblr fandom, and what do you think has changed?

[7] Brennan: Supernatural, hands down, from the time I started working with this type of data, has just continued to be so huge, not only with the show, but we see the characters trend, and we see the actors around the show trend. Misha Collins just did his third Answer Time—Answer Time is our Q and A on the site, and he's just so successful and they get such great engagement that we had him on for a third. And he loves doing them, so it's very exciting to see that. As for changes, anime and K-pop have both really surged since I started working here. I mentioned that Bangtan Boys is often one of our top tags of all the tags; if it's not Bangtan Boys, it's Yuri!!! on Ice. So, to see this anime kind of overtake the whole community and trend so much higher than everything else on the site—it's just wild to see how things ebb and flow. And One Direction—I'm actually working through some 2013 data for a project I'm working on in secret right now (, and most of the ships from that year are One Direction ships. And now it's very rare to see the Larry Stylinsons come out. It just feels like One Direction was this cornerstone of Tumblr fandom in the beginning, and now it still exists in different metadata, because people are talking just about Harry or just about Zayn, and it just has ebbed and flowed. It's on the way down.

[8] Morimoto: The Yuri!!! on Ice thing …

[9] Brennan: Yeah, it's wild. People love anime with sports. Haikyu!, the volleyball anime, is also huge, and Free, when that happened, also was such a cultural phenomenon. When the first trailer came out for Free, a whole fandom sprung out of just the trailer—there was no information about the characters or anything. People just went in on headcanons and found something to connect with, with just a few seconds of content. So, there's something about sports anime!

[10] Morimoto: Moving on to Aja, you've been writing about fandom for a long time. Could you talk a little about how fandom is covered in the media—both mainstream media and online fan production or other fan culture-related media?

[11] Aja Romano: I started out as a geek culture reporter—I really started out as a fandom and Tumblr-centric reporter, then branched out into other areas of geekdom. So, a lot of the writing I've done on fandom in the past has been specifically around Tumblr fandom communities and how they're interacting with their creator franchises, and so forth. I've also written a lot of cultural critiques, a lot of analysis of the shows themselves, reviews, that sort of thing. Now that I've moved over to Vox, I mostly do cultural analysis. It's rare that I get to write about a fandom kerfluffle, although that does happen. I feel like I write fewer of those, because the audience for Vox is more niche, so now I mostly do cultural analysis. But I try to do that analysis with an awareness of what people are saying about a show in fandom, Tumblr Discourse—with a capital D.

[12] We're still, to some degree, seeing a lot of shock—this thing exists and it's got a fandom around it! Those kinds of articles. And they take a lot of different forms. Even when they're trying to be respectful and perfectly nice, I think sometimes the act of elucidating a fandom phenomenon can take on a spectator/gawker quality. But I think we're seeing a lot of advancement in how those subjects are treated in the media, and that's probably thanks in part to the mainstreaming of fan culture generally, and the fact that more reporters themselves are identifying as fans and coming up from fandom. And I think we're seeing this across the board, whether in mainstream media reporting or specific geek sites.

[13] Morimoto: We've talked so much about how there's been a rise of fanboy producers, fanboy auteurs, and how that comes out of geek culture. Do you see outlets for fans becoming journalists or people writing on fandom evolving in the same way? Is there any one publication that you think made the difference?

[14] Romano: The Daily Dot made a difference by hiring me and giving me the title of Fandom Reporter, because I don't think it had ever been done before. The Mary Sue, definitely, which came before the Daily Dot. The Mary Sue was founded in 2010, 2011, and I started writing for them in 2011. I wrote for them for a year, then was recruited directly by the Daily Dot. So, they not only made a difference in making geek spaces more comfortable for women in general, but making women more visible as geeks, and making fandom reporting a part of that. And the other key piece of that is BuzzFeed's complete integration with Tumblr fandom. I don't know that BuzzFeed itself has necessarily done a lot to be like, hey, we're going to talk about ourselves as if we're reporters who are also geeks. But what BuzzFeed really did that made such a difference was it just proceeded with an assumption that everyone was on Tumblr, everyone was in fandom, everyone knew what these things were. There was no, we have to explain this; it was just, let's dive into this and celebrate it because we're all fans. And it's that mentality that BuzzFeed put forward that really made a difference.

[15] The thing about BuzzFeed is—even though I was hired to be a fandom reporter at the Daily Dot, I was constantly fighting. In the beginning, I was constantly having to explain why I shouldn't have to explain things. In order to translate fandom for the masses you sometimes have to explain things, but if you're constantly stopping to gawk and say, this is what this is, it creates this spectator quality. And I think BuzzFeed sidestepped that so neatly that, after they'd been doing it for a while, think about the speed with which fandom shot into the mainstream, specifically after Fifty Shades of Grey and the Veronica Mars Kickstarter. It was so rapid and so complete, and a big part of that cultural osmosis was the fact that BuzzFeed was just like, here, you're going to get it or you're not going to get it. I thought that was so smart of them, and it's obviously paid off well for them.

[16] Morimoto: Keidra, could you describe your relationship to Tumblr both as a professional and as a fan?

[17] Keidra Chaney: I pretty much run the TLF (The Learned Fangirl) Tumblr, and my TLF cofounder, Raizel Liebler, is, for the most part, the voice of the TLF Twitter, and we've only really talked about it formally a few times. But we decided the TLF Twitter would be the learned part of TLF, and the Tumblr part is the fangirl part of TLF. The Twitter arm of things would handle speaking to the more academic-y, acafan issues, and the Tumblr would actually be participating in fandom. This wasn't something we came up with on purpose—it just fit the way that we used each of the platforms personally. But, I think, in fandom and participating—you can't really be on Tumblr and get fandom in the same way if you just sit there and post things. It's so interactive, and if you don't participate, you're missing out on a lot of what makes it what it is. So, for me, there was a point, I think early on, where I was like, well, we're just going to post TLF stuff. And I have other Tumblrs that are very specifically about other things, so I was like, let me just make it specifically about TLF. But I couldn't not participate, especially with a lot of the K-pop stuff I'm into. I'm like, "I just gotta say something; I can't help it!" I couldn't stay away from it, on a personal level. So, I was like, screw it, it's not hurting anything. I don't think it's hurting the TLF brand. If anything, it's like, look, we're actually into this stuff. We're not sitting back and trying to analyze folks, we are y'all. So know that we're on the up-and-up, because I'm commenting on fanfiction just like the rest of y'all. For me, I think it makes sense.

[18] TLF started about five or six months after Tumblr started, so what was interesting about it was that we were looking at fandom through the lens of what I guess would be called old fandom or even pre-social-media fandom. Social media as the conduit for fandom didn't really exist at the time—it was very much LiveJournal and these, if not actually closed spaces, they felt closed because you didn't have wider public audiences peeking in on conversations that were fandomoriented. And then you had closed spaces like Yahoo! Groups and message boards, stuff like that. So, with Tumblr, we didn't know what it was going to be at the time we started TLF, and there was a lot of speculation about what Tumblr would be and how it would play a role especially in the early days, because no one really knew at the time. I think it's interesting, and if I have the chance to even go back and look at some of the older posts where we do reference Tumblr, and see what we thought of Tumblr at the time …

[19] Morimoto: That would be really interesting.

[20] Chaney: Yeah, because I do wonder if—there were a lot of things that I think we were fairly decent at anticipating, and a lot of things that we didn't. We were more concerned with the possible death of LiveJournal than what Tumblr would be.

[21] Morimoto: And Elizabeth, I know you've used a variety of different platforms in order to reach different iterations of fan communities. How do you approach Tumblr?

[22] Elizabeth Minkel: Well, I guess it depends on which of my things we're talking about. I don't post that often, but I'm there constantly. So, for the Rec Center—the newsletter, and my partner there, Gavia Baker-Whitelaw, I think is just as active on Tumblr as I am, probably more of a poster—we're always pulling out things that we like. That's more a site about things that are pleasurable about Tumblr, which I often—no offence to Amanda, but you know that I think Tumblr is a hellscape, right?

[23] Brennan: No offense taken, it's alright.

[24] Minkel: Okay, I just want to preface that. As a journalist, I'm different from Aja or Gavia in that I don't necessarily write about what's happening in fandom. I often write about the way fandom is butting up against other spaces—in particular, creators or pop culture entities, or the broader pop culture conversation—how fandom slots in and often mostly clashes with that. So, a lot of my experience with Tumblr is on a personal level, and that informs the conversations and the approach that I have. If I am trying to explain the worst behavior of fandom, I will often fall back on things I've personally seen as a fan, not in a research way, in the way I know that Aja does for her own reporting—or, at least, the way she did when she was at the Daily Dot.

[25] Morimoto: How does Tumblr fit into …

[26] Minkel: How do we use the Fansplaining Tumblr? Well, when we set up, we were like, well, obviously, there should be a Tumblr. Like, even my own website,, is on Tumblr, which is possibly not professional, but I don't care at this point. I know other people who do it, too. But, our Fansplaining Tumblr—we made a decision early on, unlike Keidra, to not make it an expression of our own fannishness. Otherwise, right now it would literally just be Flourish (Klink) posting pictures of Harry Styles, and so I think we made the right decision. And probably me sneaking in pictures of pirates. I don't think we have to prove to anyone that we're deep-level fans, and possibly too invested in these things. We use it more … we do reblog stuff that is panfannish. Mostly text posts about fanfiction or memes about fic. But right now, in the last six months, we've gotten a lot more engagement directly from our listeners on Tumblr. We turned anon on, and mostly that hasn't been a terrible mistake. We've gotten some negative comments, but we haven't gotten anything super hateful. And so now I feel like we're using it as the main place we can really correspond with our listeners and make that kind of community.

[27] Which is interesting, because people do talk back to us on Twitter, but it doesn't feel the same as someone leaving us a thoughtful message in our Ask box. They are expecting us to put that out in the world, and then for other people to engage with it. It's different than any other way people can communicate with us. I think that's something very unique to the platform.

[28] Morimoto: I'm going to move on and ask each of you, how do you see Tumblr changing fandom?

[29] Brennan: I think Tumblr has made fandom way more accessible, and it feels less niche. It's not like other social networking, where someone might feel like they have to hide their passions from their family and friends. On Tumblr, no matter what you love, this is the place to connect with people who love it as fiercely as you do. And while other sites may have done that, like LiveJournal or, the attention to multimedia posts and reblogging makes fandom feel more rounded and immersive, so you can really dive in and be part of something bigger.

[30] Minkel: That's what I was going to say. When I came on to Tumblr, which was only five years ago, I was a lurker. I was a lurker for most of my time in fandom, from the late 90s until two years ago. And LiveJournal always seemed very closed-off. I saw people on LiveJournal, but—I have a friend who last year brought up the metaphor of LiveJournal being a dinner party, and Tumblr being a coffee shop. And, obviously, I love throwing a dinner party, but that's not very open. That being said, you're having much more engaged conversations at your dinner party than you are in your coffee shop. So, Tumblr can feel a little surface-y. I do think that specific user experience choices and design choices of the platform cause a specific kind of conflict within fandom that we did not see previously. It has to do with context collapse: the way that a post can be written and reblogged, and suddenly it is an utterly different post. That's something we do not see on any other social network. That being said, it means that ideas can spread much farther than they could elsewhere, and you see posts that have, really, 100,000 notes. You don't get that on Twitter. You don't get that on Facebook in that way. But it also means the conversation branches in ways that can cause strife.

[31] Chaney: The two things I think Tumblr really changed are, I think before Tumblr the primary language of fandom was text-based, and it was very much fic and filk—very text-oriented. I think Tumblr changed it so that the culture of memes as a form of communication and visual communication really became, not just a primary, but possibly now the primary way that fans communicate—the shorthand fans use. I think Tumblr played a large part in that, because before, platforms were based around text and there wasn't an easy way to share—and it was before people really got comfortable with GIFs. So, changing to a visual language in fandom is a lot of what I think we can thank Tumblr for. But I also think there was a lot of fragmentation in fandom pre-Tumblr, specifically because you had different platforms—you had LiveJournal folks, you had Yahoo! Groups folks. And especially if you were in Groups, it was super specific, and you could have a whole community just based around one particular ship and never really venture out into other places. And now Tumblr creates more of a panfandom community where there's overlap between fandoms, there's conversation that's relevant to different fandoms. You can kind of have it all in the same space, while previously it was much more difficult, and it would be discouraged. You can't talk about this here because … whatever. Now I think that Tumblr makes it a lot easier to have those panfandom conversations without feeling like it's distracting from something else.

[32] Romano: So many ways. Starting with the fact that we all left LiveJournal. And those of us who didn't leave LiveJournal, who came up on Tumblr, have just accepted so many of Tumblr's norms as being the way things are in the culture, like Tumblr's emphasis on queer-friendly relationships and queer shipping, general emphasis on diversity and racebending and call-out culture. These things that we sort of proceeded towards with very hesitant steps and hand-wringing on every other platform before Tumblr—now fans are just absorbing them like, that's life, that's just how things are. When you think back to 2009 and the year-long, deep, dramatic struggle and saga that sci-fi fandom went through over the Racefail debate and discourse and discussion, and how fraught and heavy and intense that was, that would have been like a half-hour on Tumblr. It would have taken half an hour, involved fifty people, and everybody would have been on the side of people who were talking about Racefail from the perspective of characters of color and people of color and the experiences of people of color. It wouldn't have been as much drama so much as this is how things are now. We accept that diverse voices are necessary, we accept that the experiences of people of color should be represented in fiction, and you just move on from there.

[33] Morimoto: Do you think that's a platform-specific thing?

[34] Romano: I think it's very much part of Tumblr's ethos within social media. I think social media has had a huge hand in evolving our discourse as a culture around this, because social media makes the voices of minorities and the voices of people of color so much more prevalent and so much more visible. If you go on Reddit, you don't get those voices because they are being drowned out by alt-right trolls and gamers and misogynists. And so, you really need to have spaces where those people feel comfortable talking and where they feel comfortable having discussions. I would say that Tumblr definitely has had a hand in elevating that discourse and those ideas.

[35] Morimoto: What are your thoughts about the use of Tumblr to attract a certain kind of user by corporations?

[36] Minkel: I have a more positive framing of that. So, you're like, brands on Tumblr, and I'm like, ugh brands, terrible. But it's not just brands: the University of Iowa Special Collections or JSTOR or Oxford University Press. So, coming at it as a digital humanities person, I don't want to draw hard lines between, like, Denny's and Oxford University Press, or whatever. I love that non-human things can go on there and construct a persona and engage and genuinely have fans. As we were just saying about the Fansplaining Tumblr, obviously, it's the two of us, but we can also be there like someone who's in a conversation, and I think that's really great. Obviously, if you get into brands, then there's money involved and that's a different thing. But I do like how it's a broader conversation, and that's really interesting.

[37] Brennan: There's two ways to really look at this. There's a specific language of Tumblr. When I meet Tumblr users, you talk about Tumblr and you feel like you're part of something much bigger. You understand the language, you speak the memes, and it's like a code word. And when a brand comes in and figures it out, it feels different than if they're just showing you some sort of ad on Instagram. Like, they have an Instagram ad for Beanie Babies—what is that, even? But when people come in and speak your language—when Denny's is like, "Who up?"—it feels more personable. It's funny you bring up the University of Iowa Special Collections, because I always use that as an example of a good entity, because they have a special collection of miniature books, and who's going to go look at miniature books? They're kept away from people, and it's all this really cool history and awesome stuff that's just sealed away. But on Tumblr it's given an audience. There's tons of book lovers here. And once they learned how to make GIFs and really make the posts interactive—they're just bringing this content to a brand-new audience of people that would never get to see it in their lifetimes. It's just this amazing way that Tumblr can democratize that kind of content from an archivist or museum, aquarium, all that kind of stuff.

[38] Minkel: JSTOR is doing it right now. It's really good.

[39] Brennan: I love the JSTOR Tumblr.

[40] Romano: I bring up Denny's all the time when I talk about this, but Denny's was, like, 2012, and Amber has moved on so completely from that—Amber, who ran the Tumblr at the time. Now she's got her self-care app and she's just in a completely different realm of marketing. And Denny's itself has tried and mostly succeeded in continuing that vibe, but I don't think that other marketing people on Tumblr have necessarily had that success. The only corporate Tumblr we can say with any certainty has achieved that level of complete integration with Tumblr is BuzzFeed. But that's because BuzzFeed is also using Tumblr and deliberately making Tumblr language part of its overall brand. Whereas most brands that come to Tumblr are just looking for ways to soak up users and soak up new customers. And this is also why I'm skeptical of the term superfan, which is a whole different thing, but I think that idea that fans are there just to be exploited and just to fall in love with your product and find it and then go buy it, is—I don't think brands who come to Tumblr necessarily get that they can engage with fans. But you have to do the work of figuring out what the fans want, and allowing them to have critical responses to your product, allowing them to make deep emotional attachments that might make you uncomfortable.

[41] So often we see creators that start out with this, yay fandom! But when they actually start getting fans at their most fannish—you know, you start getting the slash and the RPF shippers, and then there's this element of, wait, wait, we didn't want you to go this far.

[42] Morimoto: Do you think Tumblr draws certain kinds of users? What do you think about the overlap between fandom and social justice issues, if you see one?

[43] Brennan: Yeah, Tumblr can be something different to everyone, depending on who you follow and what kinds of tags you participate in. There's lots of different pockets of Tumblr, and I think that anonymity, where you can be the best version of yourself and really explore who you want to be, draws people here who want to explore their identity. When it comes to fandom specifically, I see people who are drawn here because they want to participate in fandom, whether by creating something or even just curating from the people and the conversation—the people you would see at a con.

[44] Minkel: Are we talking about labeling culture? I think this is a bleed between broader Tumblr culture and specifically fan-focused culture, right? I don't think that there's a bunch of fans who are wandering around the internet desiring to label their sexuality and race and their Hogwarts house in their bio, like, "Oh, my space is here!" Also, it seems like for teens and people in their young 20s right now, that kind of labeling culture is just inherent. You have a big list of things about you. And it seems like expressing this fannishness is also—like, I'm in a new fandom right now, so I'm finding blogs that are specifically set up for a character or show or ship or whatever, but for the most part, a lot of these are fans and it's the whole production of yourself. So, it's the things that you're into, and also the ways that you label yourself.

[45] Romano: Yes, but it's not like people who label themselves are saying that this is the only thing I am. I tend to look very askance at the—a lot of those blogs are troll blogs, and a lot of them are like, hi, I'm a feminist—like, every single label they can cram in, and a lot of it is done specifically to troll parameters. This gets back to the question of does Tumblr fundamentally attract certain kinds of people? I don't think it does, because we're obviously increasingly seeing trolls and members of the alt-right who are coming to Tumblr specifically to troll social justice warriors. But I think initially, yes, for many years there was a certain type of Tumblr user, and demographically we know it's slightly younger, slightly more female, slightly wealthier, in terms of disposable income.

[46] Minkel: This is the fundamental question of critiquing fandom. I definitely think that labeling culture within fandom on Tumblr contributes to trivializing actual identity categories, whether it's race, sexuality, able-bodiedness, etc., with people talking about their Myers-Briggs results and their Hogwarts houses.

[47] Romano: I think there are two sides of fandom that we identify. One is the curative side, which is focused on recitation of facts and really upholding creators' original visions. I don't want to say putting them on a pedestal, because there's a lot of critique that happens, but the emphasis is not on reshaping what the creator has done, but anticipating what the creator is going to do next. It's a very top-down way of looking at the creator-fan relationship, because you're basically accepting greedily what the creator gives you and digesting it from there. And that's also the male-dominated side of fandom, and that's really the kind of fan culture, and the kind of geek culture, that people were familiar with for decades. But obviously, as we've seen in the last two decades, there's also the transformative side of fandom, which is the female-dominated side, all about re-creation and taking it and making it your own, and writing fanfic and making fan art and all that stuff. I don't want to say there's something inherently more progressive about the transformative side than the curative side, but I think in terms of the discourse that comes out of one side and the other side, that seems to be how things shape up, at least right now. Because I think the act of saying, what could I do instead, what could I do differently, what is this creator not doing that I want to do—those basic questions lead you in the direction of finding subversive solutions and thinking outside the box, which leads you to have an open mind, which leads you to be more politically aware, and so forth.

[48] And the people who are asking those questions are people who are already on the outside of various cultural narratives we tell ourselves. The people who are going to want to transform the text are the people who want to make it something that appeals to them more directly, and that tends to be people who are marginalized, people who are outside the curative space where everything is pristine and there's a certain set of values that are held in place. Whereas transformative fandom is every person for themselves. So that leads to a naturally more diverse space to begin with.

[49] Minkel: I just feel like I've seen too many posts where people conflate being a fan, or being whatever Hogwarts house, with being marginalized, and I'm just tired of that.

[50] Chaney: Yeah, for me, I came relatively late to Tumblr as a place for fandom. My other Tumblrs were very specific, and I kind of had my fandom space so I didn't really go to Tumblr for that until a few years ago. So, my perspective is a little different. How that has evolved would probably be different from other people. People use different platforms differently, and you can't take away what it means to be a marginalized person online, especially now, over the past few years, when you could indeed be putting a target on your forehead by self-identifying in certain spaces and having people come at you. Depending on how you are marginalized in society, there are certain spaces that you see as safer for you to be who you are and put it out there. And I think that for many people who use Tumblr, it is a space where you can feel safe to be open about your identities, your intersectional identities, without feeling like it's possibly putting you in harm's way.

[51] But I think a lot of why that is, is because it's not about transparency in the same way as, like, Facebook, where your name and your face and all of that are the identity that you put out there, visually. And even Twitter, to a certain extent, is about putting your face out there, your identity out there, visually, and identifying yourself that way. Tumblr, just the structure of it, puts other images in the forefront and makes that the focus, as opposed to yourself. That, to me, makes it easier for people with marginalized identities to be out and open with that, knowing that it's going to be whatever content they put out that's going to be the focus. Not, here's my visual identity as a marginalized person out here for you to possibly attack. And so I do think it makes people feel safer.

[52] That being said, I think for different groups it may not even matter as much. If you're there to talk about fic, and something happens in the news or in the world that you want to comment on, that may reflect who you are—your identity—but it's not necessarily going to be the focus of what you talk about, because you're there to talk about fic. So, I think it's part and parcel of how Tumblr is structured—that it creates that space for people to be upfront and open about identity in a way that, in other places, since you're visually leading with who you are, people feel less safe doing. And I think that's a good thing, because it offers people that opportunity to be upfront about their identities, but it gets complicated when people use that as the thread of conversation, like, "as a so-and-so and so-and-so…", and then people start to use that as a way of leading the conversation, where on other platforms you have some kind of visual identifier telling the world, the other people in that community, who you are. To me, it's really a lot about the structure of that that's created the way people interact and talk about social justice, identity, and all that. The idea of having political arguments online is certainly not anything new at all, but I think that the nature of the conversation and how it is led—a lot of it does have to do with how the conversations are threaded, how they're presented, how individuals are presented, and who's perceived to be talking to who at any one time. And Tumblr's setup is so specific and so different than any of the other platforms that, I think, it changes the nature of the conversation.

[53] Morimoto: To move the identity question a bit further, what do you think of the characterization of fans on Tumblr?

[54] Brennan: For the actual stats, teens and millennials ages 13 to 34 account for more than 50 percent of the Tumblr audience, and that's straight from the comms team. But in my personal experience, I see the same thing. Fans range from teens to their 30s, and I talk to a lot of these people when I do conferences or I speak at colleges, and the range of voices that talk to me about their experience is just phenomenal. I've had people tell me that they met their partner here, or something as simple as they found a new fandom. I had a teen come up to me and tell me how Tumblr saved his life. The wide range of people that are here—everyone has a different experience based on what you come here for.

[55] Minkel: Do you have a breakdown? Thirteen to 34 is hilariously broad—we could be the parents of a 13-year-old (I'm 32, for context). The last time I saw a stats presentation from you guys, the actual teens—under 18—was a small percentage of the overall user base. Which is something I've clung to as people outside Tumblr, and on Tumblr too, go, "I know it's mostly teens here, but …" Every time we have a stupid ageism-in-fandom conversation, one person I know who's 40 will be like, "I know everyone here is 16, but…" when not everyone here is 16, even remotely. We need to reframe this; people in their 20s and 30s are probably the majority of users—I don't know if that's true.

[56] Chaney: I think [the perception] is negative. People use Tumblr anytime there's something they don't understand about what's going on socially—let's just blame it on the millennials. It does skew younger, and that's fine. Fandom reporting and talking about fandom really tends to go forward. It's very immediate, and it's always looking to the future. But the fact is, if we look back on fandom history, there's nothing to be surprised about what's happening now, because it's already happened. And people blame it on millennials because they're young; and because we don't have a lot of spaces for fandom history, millennials often don't know that this kind of ridiculousness has happened before elsewhere. I think if there was more understanding about, like, hey, this has a history of—pardon my French—there's a history of fuckery that has happened in fandom. It's nothing new—then maybe we wouldn't be so quick to deride millennials for things that they don't understand, because it's actually not very different from fandom fights that have happened before.

[57] I know that there's data that says Tumblr skews young. I'm sure it does—I'm convinced it does. But in general I feel like fandom in general has traditionally been more closed off to different folks and, if anything, Tumblr has made it possible for people who are into something to have a space to talk about it, without feeling like they're getting into somebody else's space. I don't think it necessarily attracts a narrower definition of fans, I think it attracts a more diverse, a wider definition of what a fan is. And it skews younger because a lot of the older fandoms may not necessarily be on Tumblr, so it's almost like it's a different space. A Star Wars fan who's newer or younger may not go to, or whatever. But they will go to Tumblr and have those conversations. So, if for no other reason than that it's a space that people know about and are familiar with, it will attract a different kind of fan than, say, a legacy fan who already had a space.

[58] Minkel: We're coming on the heels of what I thought was not a very fantastic thinkpiece in the New Republic about—did everyone see this? About adult women fetishizing teen girls? The way I came at that article—we don't need to go into the details of the article, but the kicker was the final paragraph, which said something like adult women and teenage girls don't belong in the same cultural space. And I was like, this is the weirdest thing I've ever read as someone coming from fandom, because I have been in the same space with adults since being a relatively young teen, and now I currently share a space with teens. It's hard to draw lines these days.

[59] Also, to tie it into fandom and fandom on Tumblr, I think it kind of equates the idea of youthfulness as being—[the author] mentioned pre-sexual, the idea that if it has anything to do with sex or romance—sex, in particular—it's adult. The way I read stuff like this, it's as if being fannish as an adult is something that's inherently immature, which is obviously a stereotype that all fans, classic dude-fans included, fight. So, I think because Tumblr is a big open space where there's a lot of crossing streams, for all the problems that causes, it's also a space where people can just be really into stuff. I've seen people posting this: if I'm reblogging you or engaging with you and you're underage, and you feel uncomfortable because you know I'm an adult, tell me and I will unfollow you right now. Like, this is in your court, I need you to know that I respect you. But beyond that, it seems like it's just a way for everyone to have these big conversations and not be ashamed, and not bifurcate what is a proper adult interest and a proper youth interest.

[60] Romano: I don't think they skew very young, but I think people are always surprised by how many older people are on Tumblr, because the stereotype is that it's so much younger, that it's full of teens and preteens. And we know that that's not true, but it does skew slightly younger. I think that the biggest takeaway is that people on Tumblr are all speaking a common language that's very millennial, even though we're not all millennials. I have a friend who I talk to every day, and I constantly have to remind her that we're the same age, because in her head she thinks I'm younger, for some reason. I think it's because I write about internet culture and I'm on top of all these trends, but you can say that about anybody on Tumblr.

[61] Minkel: Last summer, Aja and I went to a convention. This convention, which I enjoyed generally, had a lot of older—they weren't even older, they were just from a different era of platform fandoms, so they were all on LiveJournal and they venerate LiveJournal, and the derision for Tumblr that I encountered in those five days was astounding to me. And it actually left me with a negative overall impression. Nothing against anyone there, this is what I read into this. It was like [those fans thought], I don't know these people, there's too many random people, I know everyone on LiveJournal—it's going back to the accessibility thing. Also, there seemed to be this undercurrent of, and everyone there [on Tumblr] wants to talk about social justice and maybe call me racist—I got a little of that vibe, too. And so, there are some fans from older eras who are not participating, so you do get those posts on Tumblr where they'll be like, I was mimeographing a zine back in whatever, you know. And you need to respect me. That's not a good conversation starter, right? I mean, Lori, you're older than me, right?

[62] Morimoto: I'm 50, yeah.

[63] Minkel: You're Gen X and I'm a millennial, but we engage fannishly in the same way. And I know fans who are boomers, who are my parents' age, who are also engaging in the way we are. You have to adjust to the platform, and I understand that it's hard for some people to get in, especially if you're a teen and all your friends are on Tumblr, it's going to seem more accessible. But I think it's a problem that there are people who are not willing to join this conversation. I think the lack of these voices is one of the reasons we get these weird divisions. And also why we don't seem to have any historical memory. Obviously, there are many reasons why we seem to have trouble with historical memory.

[64] Morimoto: This is the kind of conversation that could go on for days, but as a final question, how do you think the ways conflict plays out on Tumblr is specific to the platform?

[65] Minkel: I have endless feelings about this. It's impossible to have a normal conversation. Amanda, please put the replies back.

[66] Building on what Keidra was saying earlier about anonymity, and not really knowing who you're talking to, I see that as a double-edged sword. I really value anonymity, as someone who's lurked for a long time. But, that being said, I think part of the problem, bringing the context collapse into it, is you have people coming into what you think is one big conversation, but in fact everyone is having 150,000 different conversations, and not all of them are in good faith. So, I might be coming into it saying, I want to talk about queerbaiting in X show, and someone might be saying that they want to have the same conversation, but actually they want to yell at me because I ship the guy on top that she ships on the bottom. And she's going to call me a pedophile somehow, because that's always where it winds up in these conversations. It's really, really hard, and it makes me feel really, really bad about conversations about representation and shipping. Because I don't feel like everyone's approaching it in good faith, and you have no way to know, because people zing out of nowhere.

[67] There are so many people with such good intentions and so little knowledge, and I think this is true across social media. I see it a lot on Twitter, too. But it is embedded in the fabric of Tumblr discourse. People who want to fight racism, who want to critique media, who want to fight for queer representation, but who lack any—obviously, there are people who have been working on this stuff for decades. So, you see people throwing around terms, you see people with different amounts of knowledge, but you don't see a lot of listening. Obviously, these are problems that are endemic to a lot of platforms, but I really feel like there's something about Tumblr culture that needs to be critiqued, because I think it causes a lot of harm.

[68] Romano: You basically can't have a conversation on Tumblr because of the way reblogs are and aren't threaded, and the culture of not tagging any type of critical reaction or response. And the way tags are used to hold discussions and so forth is so antithetical to the way tagging taxonomy is used on any other platform. People don't have conversations in the text; they have conversations in the tags. You can't use tagging on Tumblr to categorize anything. If you go to somebody's Tumblr, they're just as likely to have nothing tagged or just as likely to have a sea of tags of them talking about themselves, or them talking about whatever; like, tags as sentences, tags as whole conversations. And yet there are also the universal fandom tags that do come up, and it's sort of weird, because you have this sea of people just talking at each other in tags, making the tags that they use completely useless, while also being, don't tag your hate, while also checking the fandom tags. The category tags. I think it's really interesting that you have both of these.

[69] Chaney: As Elizabeth talked about, when threads of conversations get misinterpreted because it's less about the original post—that is so Tumblr-specific. Like, people are reblogging something not for the original post, but for the comments to it, but then there's all this misinterpretation that happens. It happens so often, and that's something I've never seen anywhere else. And sometimes I even fall victim to it, like, wait a minute, and then I have to go back and read the rest of the thread. But the one thing that I've seen that's just so troubling to me, and I don't know if it's a Tumblr thing or K-pop Tumblr thing, but anti-fans get really specific about harassing an individual. And this is not about anything deep—this is not about politics or anything. This is just, I DON'T LIKE THIS GUY AND I DON'T LIKE THAT YOU LIKE HIM, AND I'M GOING TO MAKE YOUR LIFE MISERABLE, for months; or, YOU SHIP THESE TWO DUDES AND I DON'T LIKE IT BECAUSE I LIKE THESE TWO DUDES, SO NOW I'M JUST GOING TO HARASS YOU, for days, months, years. The worst of it seems to happen with the anonymous asks, because people just use them as an excuse to just be cruel. And very specifically cruel; it's like a concerted effort among a bunch of people to say, let's make this person's life miserable, or these people miserable. Now you've got some of the anonymous asks ability on Twitter. I don't have one of those, but I guess I get why people do it. But the harassment I've only seen on Tumblr. It's like, it's never going to be led back to me, so I can do and say whatever, and be as abusive and cruel as ever, and know that it'll never get back to me. That is something I've only really seen on Tumblr. It just freaks me out.

[70] Morimoto: I want to thank you all for your time and your thoughts—see you back on Tumblr!