Sex Censorship Online: Artists, advocates and educators affected
Continuing on from Sex Sells, But Not Online we are discussing how educators, artists and advocates are affected through sex censorship. In the majority of bans, no nudity was shown in pictures and accounts strictly followed community guidelines. They knew if they didn't they would be removed so they were extra careful. And yet, it appears as if accounts are merely being terminated due to the account holders status as an adult performer.
This censoring of the adult industry does not stop at just workers, it includes artists who work with erotic content, advocates and allies, educators, and even those that are speaking out against abuse within the industry. Instagram has vague policies on nudity such as removal of “some photos of female nipples” and “close-ups of fully-nude buttocks,” exemptions are granted for “photos of paintings and sculptures.” However, prominent artist, Betty Tompkins was banned from the platform when she posted an image of her 1969 work titled “Fuck Painting #1.” While the image does depict penetration and thus genitalia up close it is a drawing. While she had faced the removal of her posts in the past, this time she was unable to log in.
Followers, friends and fellow artists begun rallying behind her in support. Hundreds of people personally submitted requests for the restoration of her account, which happened four days later without any notice. In the time between she contemplated how she would promote shows and show work if the ban was permanent. Making her realise just how embedded Instagram was in her professional life. She states that “I started to become very aware of how much they control this section of the art world. Here we have a totally unregulated, privately owned entity that has tremendous control over artists’ lives and ability to earn an income.” Another artist, Los Angeles based model Rachel Clugston, found her account banned after posting a screenshot of a lewd message from a photographer warning others not to work with him. After 20 days, and dozens of emails she was reinstated, but she estimates that she lost out on 7 potential jobs and thousands of dollars of pay during that time. Claiming “I literally would have been homeless if I did not get my Instagram back. I don’t know what I would have done for work.” Clugston sadly said she will avoid speaking out against abuse in the industry for fear of being censored again.
In Australia we currently have an international pop scandal happening underneath our noses. Artist Zheani wrote and published a song depicting her experience with Ninja from Die Antwoord, a popular band with millions of followers. After receiving a cease and desist letter she found her song removed on all platforms, and her account facing bans and subsequent shadow bans when reinstated. The band broke Australian law when resharing paid-for-porn videos that were illegally recorded and then shared to their audience of younger fans. In Australia acts of ‘revenge porn’ is illegal and even though the law is on her side, Instagram is not. She continues to be censored and every post is under a scrutinous eye.
In May this year, a not for profit focused on privacy called Electronic Frontier Foundation launched a campaign tackling account and post takedowns. The project, TOSsed Out, tracked terms of service (TOS) agreements and allowed users to submit examples of removals that were unevenly enforced. As companies like this come to the aid of the public, Facebook appears to be providing more insight into their removal procedures, even reinstating 45000 pieces of content that were appealed and 668,000 pieces of content the company deemed removed by error. Numbers were not provided for how many Instagram posts or accounts.
While there is definitely attention to this subject, the reality is sex workers, their incomes and their safety are at the mercy of online regulations.