Update, August 28: All content has been removed from IvanTheTroll’s Tumblr account. Tumblr has not responded to a request for comment.
Banned by the major social media platforms, the 3D-printed gun community migrated this summer to less-trafficked corners of the Internet. But the most provocative proponent of homemade firearms, Deterrence Dispensed, hasn’t given up just yet: On July 31, its de facto leader, an online anarchist who calls himself IvanTheTroll, set up an account on Tumblr, the niche microblogging site. Deterrence Dispensed is now using Tumblr to post weekly updates, and share updates to gun construction, including blueprints to print weapons at home.
3D-printed guns can be manufactured at home out of cheap plastics. They lack serial numbers, making them untraceable to law enforcement. While creating gun parts with a 3D-printer is allowed in many states, the legality of disseminating blueprints for the builds is more precarious. Democratic lawmakers have called for social platforms to prevent the sharing of plans, arguing that failing to do so facilitates the spread of dangerous weapons unknown to authorities.
Twitter, YouTube, Reddit, and Facebook all prohibit the sharing of 3D-printed gun plans. Several of the platforms have removed content posted by Deterrence Dispensed and IvanTheTroll, or banned their accounts. Tumblr has no policy against the distribution of 3D-printed gun plans.
As Social Networks Crack Down, 3D-Printed Gun Community Moves to New Platforms
Deterrence Dispensed’s expansion to Tumblr comes at a transitional time for the microblogging site. The platform’s growth has steadily declined since Yahoo purchased it for $1.1 billion in 2013. Under the new ownership, Tumblr banned adult content in December 2018, a move cited for the loss of a third of its users. In mid-August of this year, Automattic, the parent company of WordPress, acquired Tumblr for just $20 million.
Despite Tumblr’s ban on adult content, the site still remains a gathering place for controversial groups. Reports by several news organizations identified a thriving community of white supremacists on the platform. Likewise, NSFW content creators continue to use the site in large numbers.
Deterrence Dispensed’s presence on Tumblr harks back to the early days of the 3D-printed gun movement, when Defense Distributed, the first well-known organization to share plans, used the platform to share updates and florid calls to action. (Defense Distributed had stopped posting on Tumblr in 2016.)
In interviews following Tumblr’s acquisition, Automattic’s CEO, Matt Mullenweg, has signaled a willingness to stake out a harder line on content moderation. Mullenweg told The New York Times that he believes he “can take a humane and iterative stance” to policing site content, one that “strikes a really good balance between nurturing the type of conversation and communities and user experience that you want people to have while still allowing for a wide variety of expression.”
Mullenweg has not publicly addressed the issue of 3D-printed guns.
When contacted about Defense Distributed’s use of its platform, a spokesperson for Automattic directed The Trace to Tumblr’s press team. Tumblr did not respond to a request for comment.
IvanTheTroll also declined to be interviewed for this article. On Keybase, the encrypted chat app used by Deterrence Dispensed to communicate, many members of the group reacted approvingly to the group’s existence on Tumblr, but some were skeptical. “If Tumblr seems like a weird venue for this content, don’t worry,” one member wrote in the group’s chat. “I’m sure it will move again soon when [Ivan] gets banned there.”