Social media’s misogyny and discrimination against sex workers is devastating and relentless

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      Social media is waging a war against sex workers.

      While many of you likely worry about the effect that your daily doom scroll might have on your mental health, the managing of social media accounts has an added layer of anxiety for any woman in sex work—or even in sex-adjacent industries like pole fitness and burlesque.

      As sex workers, we open our social media profiles with gritted teeth, preparing ourselves for our accounts to simply not be there one day. It has happened to me twice on Instagram and seven times on Facebook. I actually gave up Facebook; my latest account still exists, but every time I log in, I’m served a notice saying I’m on a 30-day probation—despite my best efforts to be a good girl for daddy Meta. 

      Anyone running a business in today’s world understands the importance of social media platforms. Given their ubiquity, shouldn’t they be responsible for inclusivity? Or, at the very least, have a system in place that prevents the irresponsible removal of accounts?

      You’re probably wondering why I can’t just stay within a platform’s community guidelines. The thing is, the very act of being a person in sex work is against such guidelines.

      Many celebrities have dipped a toe into Onlyfans, and those profiles are easy to find. Most celebrities seem to be immune to Meta moderation, too. Which brings me to an important point: we are not monitored equally.

      Sex workers are often shadowbanned—a term meaning that a user’s account is suppressed from being found on the platform. Sometimes a person in a full dress can be flagged or removed. You can ask for a review, but then it comes down to a single Meta employee—if you’re lucky (sometimes it’s just AI that will confirm or deny your complaint). The employee has no one to answer to and has no obligation to explain their decision or justify it.

      The answer is X (Twitter), right? It allows porn, so surely sex workers and female bodies are accepted? Nope. 

      We’re technically allowed to post this type of content, but it means we’ll face heavy shadowbans and even risk removal.

      Then there’s TikTok: our newest social media sensation and the worst of them all. Women’s bodies are heavily moderated based on looking “too sexy.” I’ve seen two girls wear the same dress on TikTok; one went viral, while the other—who was more voluptuous—had her completely nonsexual post deleted. Anecdotal, but true.

      I could, for the sake of argument, only post photos of myself in oversized sweaters. That might fly for Meta or Twitter, but not for me: I’d be denying my brand, my profession, and my very identity. I have spent 20 years honing my craft to present myself under the branding of soft goth, sex positive, and kinky female, and my audience follows me for that.

      Is it really ethical to make community guidelines that deny almost all of a person’s identity? There are entire communities being denied the freedom to exist on social media due to who they are fundamentally as a person. How are we allowing this level of marginalization by big tech companies in 2024?

      Censorship has always been a problem for women and queer folk, but it really amped up with the introduction of SESTA/FOSTA laws in the USA in 2018. That’s when sex workers everywhere were suddenly thrust into a very dicey predicament. The laws basically made it so that a website’s owner was responsible for any criminal activity that happened on it. In response, Backpages—a long-standing place for adult service listings and personal ads—was shut down. The dating section of Craigslist was also shut down. Anywhere sex workers advertised, no matter how subtly, was suddenly being heavily moderated. Sex workers always knew that SESTA/FOSTA would have a negative impact on our livelihood, income, and safety. We were right. 

      So what can we do to best combat the harm that social media moderation causes to sex workers? If a sex worker you know gets deleted, report to Meta that an important profile in your community is not viewable. If you are someone who has ever reported a post, think twice about doing it again; you could be putting a person’s living and possibly safety at risk. Share sex workers’ posts! The algorithm won’t do it for us, so we need more support from our followers than the average profile. Keep putting pressure on Meta and others to be inclusive. Most of all, spread the word and educate others on the harm that this discrimination causes. The more people who know what’s going on, the more allies we have.