Sex workers are getting used to online discrimination against their line of work. From sky-high payment processing rates to banks and credit cards denying them service to being kicked off of sex-negative social media platforms, they’ve been marginalized at nearly every turn. But through it all, since its inception, Twitter has been a bastion of relative safety. While accounts can still be terminated for violating the platform’s TOS, for the most part, Twitter has been one place online where adult content could be a part of the larger conversation.
But now, according to EJ Dickson of Rolling Stone and many people she talked to in and around the sex industry, the once-safe platform is suddenly becoming much less secure. Adult-oriented accounts, from sex workers to clip stores to adult-themed conventions, have been deplatformed at alarmingly high rates since late last year.
Ambery Rothfield, an adult-industry consultant, told Rolling Stone that, “Since the week of January 1st, out of the 5,000 sex workers’ accounts she monitors, 704 were deleted. Since January 1st, according to her data, there’s been an 82 percent increase in sex workers’ accounts getting deleted compared to the three-month period prior, with an average of 34 sex work-related accounts getting pulled per day.”
Those accounts included adult content platforms Clips4Sale and ModelCentro, kink trade show FetishCon, and many adult performers, all of whom advertised their respective businesses on Twitter—one of very few places online where their presence was still welcome.
For the most part, it appears, the accounts cancelled hadn’t violated Twitter’s TOS in any noticeable way.
Genesis Lynn, owner of FetishCon, had used Twitter to promote her show for eleven years to its 55,000-plus followers. Her account was suspended with no reason given, no violations to TOS made, not even any nudity in its posts. “We’ve been a small business for 20 years and losing this account is devastating to my business and my ability to connect with my customers,” she told Dickson.
Likewise, Kat Revenga, head of marketing and events for FanCentro, related that their accounts had been on Twitter for years “virtually without incident.” Revenga said, “The people most affected by this are those who use our platforms to build businesses and communicate with fans….this should frighten everyone.”
Goddess Aviva, a dominatrix who relied on Twitter to attract clients and to communicate with other sex workers, and whos account has also been suspended, said, “It’s incredibly important within this industry to connect with providers and other professionals to share info and keep each other safe.” She reported that Twitter initially suspended her account because of a suggestive image in her header. She changed it to something less suggestive, but within a few days her account was shut down again, and eventually permanently disabled. She’s set up a new account, but told Rolling Stone, “I feel unmotivated to be hustling online when I feel that at any moment, I can be erased again.”
A spokesperson for Twitter said that sex workers are not being targeted. “There have not been changes to our sensitive media policy this year,” they told Dickson. “Per this policy, ‘You can share…consensually produced adult content within your Tweets, provided that you mark this media as sensitive.’ We don’t have plans to change our sensitive media policy as it pertains to adult content.”
Rothfield, the adult-industry consultant, said that the account shutdowns don’t appear to be targeting adult content, but that they’re a casualty of a new public verification system. She said that non-adult streamers and YouTube accounts have been “deleted en mass” in recent weeks. Still, given the recent debacle at Pornhub and previous experience with Instagram, Tumblr, and other platforms kicking sex workers out, these moves don’t bode well for the adult industry on Twitter. “I’m waiting for the rug to be pulled out” from under sex workers’ feet,” she told Rolling Stone. “I expect it.”
In light of the pandemic pushing more and more people toward Clips4Sale, OnlyFans, and other online-only sex work platforms, and given that Twitter is the only major social media platform that still welcomes them, there is good reason to worry. Corey Silverstein, a lawyer who works with many clients in the adult industry, told Dickson that if Twitter does drop the other shoe, “It is going to cripple these people. They can’t go to Instagram. They can’t go to Facebook. They can’t go to Skype. You’re not leaving them with many alternatives here…They’re going to lose everything.”