Some things you must know about before you can understand this essay would be What FOSTA Is, and What Sex Work is. I no longer have the bandwidth to cover these things anew in my writing so follow along as best you can, or go read up a little first and come back. Your choice.
This piece was first conceived of for a large audience and pitched to VICE. I thank my dear friend Samantha Cole for helping me frame and edit my thoughts. Inevitably, the paper must cover things more quickly so I sold them the information and am now reframing the piece in a voice that more suits my personal blog. The fact of the matter is, things happen to quickly these days to cover them thoroughly in a commercial news setting. I find that my journalistic ideas take longer to form than what 2019/2020 allows without a book deal, but I argue that some things must be thought about thoroughly and in depth and present a lifetime’s worth of information, as much as we can possibly do it in this age of Fast News, and on top of being good information it needs to be made public quickly; like, as soon as possible.
As I write this amended introduction, we are only a few days away from 2020. Twitter has already released their new Terms of Service, disallowing hardcore visual content for the first time in the company’s relatively short existence. The “Wild West” of social media is about to be swiftly colonised by VISA/Mastercard, pillaged by PayPal, and painted “Gentrification Grey” by CEOs who seem to be more interested in gaining power than serving their users.
We are in the midst of an online War On Sex, with your Sex Worker friends out there risking it all on the frontlines, fighting Silicon Valley for everyone’s right to free adult expression.
As we did before, we must look towards porn and sex work again to give meaning and strength to The First Amendment.
The adult industry is yielding its power the best way it knows how: through innovation. What are the safe and sturdy alternatives to the social media hell we’ve found ourselves in? This essay will explore some of the best tools at our disposal to protect everyone’s Right to free speech through fighting for pornography and sex work to be protected once and for all. The internet was born by PORN, we aren’t going anywhere.
Twitter, which has only been around a little over ten years, has been a god send to freelancers of all kind, allowing one to promote their work without advertising fees or cold calls. With more account shutdowns for sex workers looming, it helps to understand what social media did for us, and what we did for social media.
When Bella French, founder of the adult social media site ManyVids, started camming in 2011, she would message her fans through Yahoo Messenger and let them know when she was going to be streaming live. Discovering Twitter a little later, her job evolved; the ability to alert all of her fans at once was a revelation. “Twitter was so much better because I could tell everyone without having to private message them individually,” French told me about what the basic function of Twitter does for business. But the freedom that she (and I) experienced for a few solid years didn’t last. “Slowly but surely, [Twitter] would censor more and more, and now you can be shadowbanned just for having a name associated with Adult,” she said.
“Shadowbanning” has been this confusing thing to sex workers, myself included. What does it mean, is it real, how do you get out of it? I leave this statement as-is, so you may feel not even an iota of the frustration that sex workers feel about this topic. Just imagine not knowing what it is or how to get out of it, just random surveillance state business with you in the spotlight. Enjoy.
As a CEO, Bella French has had the opportunity to see behind the curtain a little, with the privledge to see how her site is interacting with Twitter API and it’s algorythms – somewhat. For instance, she was able to tell me that the reason why so many performers don’t get the automatic sales notification tweets they used to is because of new policy Twitter has made to try and stop bots of all kinds, limiting the API to 300 tweets per hour.
The Twitter API allows for individuals to connect with each other a little more through automation, but also opens itself up to the rising amount of “reply by porn” spam that litters the Twitter timeline and other spam scams – most notably the spread of diversive propaganda during the 2016 election via twitter-bots in click farms.
Let me back up a little and tell you what “automatic sales notification tweets” are. When a ManyVids model makes a sale, they can choose to have it auto tweet – a feature that makes ManyVids a true godsend to content creators trying to announce their new work. Also, these tweets help us promote when we might be shooting, editing, at another job, raising our kids, working out – or what happens for me all the time – sleeping between long work shifts.
These posts link to the sold video and can generate a huge buzz around a clip that might otherwise be ignored. They don’t go out every time, we can set them to every 3rd or 5th sale if we get a tremendous amount of sales and don’t want to spam our feed. It is a cute way for our fans on Twitter to see themselves in our work, when one of their purchases gets live-tweeted on their favorite model’s feed.
Other helpful bots on Twitter have to adhere to the same rules, but nearly none of them are multi-user sites that would drain the system on the same level as a clickfarm. My favorite bots on Twitter (other than the legendary RESISTBOT use them now) deliver astrology memes, “tiny gardens” or randomly generated color combos. It seems like common sense to limit any kind of “posting robot,” but when it comes through ManyVids it’s actually spread out across many performer accounts – meaning ManyVids is indirectly targeted by this over-reaching API policy that limits tweets from an IP. ManyVids should be treated in the same way that YouTube or Vimeo might be, as a multi-user social media platform, not a single entity.
Whether “all of this” is a suppression tactic or not, Twitter has put us all in harm’s way by erasing legitimate sex workers while ignoring their spam problem, which seems as simple as turning off an API auto-reply/auto-comment feature. (See, I told you sex workers know how to innovate the internet. We made it. You’re actually, technically, On Our Turf. In Our Lane. Welcome. You’re Welcome. And also maybe we are sorry a little bit too. Sorry for the internet. Sorry for VHS, sorry for DVD, sorry for 4k televisions, sorry for virtual reality and 3DTVs if you got one of those. We invented all of those things and we will invent the next thing too.)
Many Sex Workers rightfully feel like they are being targeted for extinction, and it is worth noting that companies like Twitter and Facebook HAVE the technology to host adult spaces on their platforms, they just choose to use sexuality as a tool for suppressing women and queers. If this weren’t a plausible thesis, I wouldn’t write it. Do I need to argue point by point why I believe that Jack Dorsey and Mark Zuckerberg are xenophobic enough to try and exclude proud women and queers from their platforms? Could I leave that argument to an academic so I may continue on with what I think is more crucial information, like, how do we win this current battle; how will we Win this War On Sex, and what are we wearing to the afterparty?
Since the passage of the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act last year—a law that immediately harmed, and continues to impact and harm sex workers and all sorts of sex-positive communities online and off— FOSTA, many platforms that once thrived off of sex worker labor and subsequent traffic have been deplatforming and shadowbanning models – most notably Tumblr, which banned sex workers and erotic content from its platform on December 17, 2018—which also happened to be the National End Violence Against Sex Workers day. I’m sure they didn’t know. TUMBLR claimed it needed to drop adult content in order to be in the Apple store. (Can anyone tell me how that worked out for Tumblr?)
Annabelle Adams, a cam girl and independent queer content creator, told me that “under the guise of adhering to Apple store rules, sites have decided not to implement any of the readily available forms of age verification technology and just outright ban content that they claim they cannot moderate.” This is how many sex workers describe what the ugly network of VISA, banks, and governments handle adult businesses and what they produce, and how FOSTA laws have brought tech companies into the mix. There do seem to be options for mainstream sites to incorporate adult content while adhering to some kind of “family decency” clause – what makes them turn to punishing adult creators instead of working with them?
Adams started seeking out alternate platforms to support her career. “I use Discord as my go-to form of networking with adult industry fans,”. she said. “Discord explicitly allows 18+ content behind an age verification wall, and allows you to join other communities (like the Pornhub channel) or to create your own and invite fans to join in.”
Adams sent me an invite to the PornHub Discord channel, which I tried out and immediately had flashbacks to what Bella French mentioned earlier and what I used consistently since the late 90’s, Yahoo Messenger. Within 5 seconds I had connected myself to someone’s audio chat, got their attention, and handed them my link, since I was indeed just “checking out the platform.”
PornHub has also done a lot to create a social media experience, and will most likely rise to become the most popular adult social media site on the internet, but they are historically dealing with an unfortunately true reputation of being not performer-friendly and will likely drown the customers with advertising and data mining. I see PornHub as the inevitable “facebook of porn,” with all the exact same problems and none of the privacy settings. I did however, sign up for the Model Hub this month in an effort to try and grow with the tides of the industry. I have a PornHub Profile Now.
Amberly Rothfield, a phone sex operator and erotic labor advisor, posts her research on social media and SEO through YouTube (owned by Google), PornHub (by MindGeek), and AVN Stars (AVN!). One of her main research topics includes dissecting Twitter code to find potential shadowbanning patterns, showing how the Twitter API algorithms are punishing various users for sexual content or promoting content platform links. Rothfield has good reason to believe through friends who work for Twitter, that she’s been suppressed for revealing that the shadowban code was visible in publicly accessible HTML.
“My original account got locked out with mass unfollows,” she said. An email she received asked her to login via the mobile app and verify her phone number. “But on the app, there’s no start button. I tried 27 different things and couldn’t get start button to show up.” Twitter has begun selectively pushing the 2 step auth phone numbers, leading Rothfield to suspect that Twitter is identifying adult accounts purposefully, “and using data for nefarious acts.” Like Bella said before, Twitter is happy to shadowban anyone seemingly involved with “Adult.” Your name won’t come up in searches, while bots and catfish accounts don’t hit the “adult industry” algorithm and show up anyways – even though those are often the perpetuators of any scams or spam.
With no proof of what’s happening when or where, sex workers (and all of you who benefit from our online engagements!) are left to feel paranoid about their futures as sex workers, but it is actually the algorithms on sites like Twitter and Instagram, stripping them of the digital legitimacy to do business squarely, that’s the problem. Your mojo is probably fine. These companies have just been stripping sexual accounts of the exposure and engagement they need to survive in a now seemingly online-only world. Does that makes sense, that it’s not you as a sex worker that’s the problem, it is them? OK good. The first step in winning a war is realising you’re not your own enemy.
Rothfeild advocates for sex workers to try and be flexable with where they can advertise online, and I agree wholeheartedly. When it comes to places like Twitter, she says “this is somebody else’s house and we have to accept that. I look at twitter the same way I look at coupons. If I’ve got them, cool. but I’m not going to depend on coupons in order to eat.” Her view is thus, we had access to the Wild West for a while, now we have to go back to a time when sexual imagery was far more regulated. Sucks, but I guess I get it? I don’t want sexual expression to be tamped but I guess in some ways, I’m OK with playing modest in my advertising. More chances to show off my lingerie and clothes, I guess? Maybe now we can charge for titty pics again!
In order to survive on the mainstream platforms, sex workers will need to completely change their content to the platform and know the rules. I’m not sure whatthat means for automatic sales notification tweets – if your thumbnail is explicit, you could get banned. I’m not even sure ManyVids would keep the connection active if that were a danger.
The hustle now is that same as always: to find creative ways to fight censorship and insist on being strange in the face of tyranny. TO wear our red heels with pride, to march out into the streets be they real or digital, and demand safe spaces for our bodies and selves.
Many performers have switched to sex-worker-owned-and-operated online places like Switter or AVN Stars to try and interact with fans and monetize our social media feeds. I am a firm believer in syndication – take your content anywhere that will take it. AVN Stars is new and exciting because it is run by the 40 year old Adult Video Network, a news outlet focused on the adult industry. An adult media company needed to start a social media platform like, years ago. AVN has integrated all of their fan voting and subscriptions into their platform making it an essential platform for honest to god porn fans, and cutting bots and spam down to zilch. I think adult-owned social media spaces are great – I’ve been a member over at the XBiz and YNOT boards for years. AVN is fan-facing and throughout the month I even managed to figure out how to use the platform to cam, to stream a video game and editing software over a OBS (what is that, an Online Broadcasting System? do i need to know what it stands for or can I just call it “Twitch for Grown Ups”) . – AVN Stars could provide a really welcome, well-rounded space for adult stars and fans. Right now it is new and things are slow, but I still feel like it might be the answer – it’s either that or PornHub and IDK. I’m just not ready you guys. If they send me a varsity jacket I might be cool with them? I’m getting there. Thanks for sticking around while I protested the biggest tube site on Earth for many many years. I just KNOW that they caused a lot of problems, millions of people becoming accustomed to free porn every night of the week just sounds…. wrong on so many levels. But then maybe it’s also the sexual revolution? But who pays the porn stars?
Anyways, back to Annabelle Adams and her hacker approach. I still haven’t figured out the Discord server thing, but Adams has created a good community for herself off Twitter that seems to serve her. Rothfeild is able to back up a lot of Adam’s ideas with solid facts.
“There are Discord servers and Reddit communities for everything from hentai to schoolgirl stockings and those communities present a way to safely brand yourself and expand your circle without fear of being banned,” Adams said. “Offer your clients incentives for signing up for your email list and build a personal website,” says Rothfeild.
So… what do we do with our Twitters? “Don’t worry about making backups or cleaning up, just prepare to leave,” Rothfield advises performers and fans who use Twitter. This may seem apocalyptic but that’s what happened with Tumblr and if you’re reading this in 2020 it’s probably already too late.
Preparing to leave a mainstream platform is an ordeal in itself. When I left Facebook, I archived my account and tried my best to post a link to my personal website to let people know where to find me, before I finally deleted the account. I lost a ton of fans but I also lost track of a TON of real life actual friends.
When Tumblr announced it was banning all NSFW content, I also announced to my 14,000 followers there that I would need to leave that platform, and posted my personal website.
These past two months, I’ve been urging my friends and fans to follow me on AVN Stars so we don’t loose touch. That’s always the worse damage done in these battles. We lose our friends in the fights. And I’m not just talking about digital losses – some sex workers have been pushed so far out of the mainstream that they’re getting sick. And depressed. And dying. And it’s happening to the most vulnerable of us, too. Our trans sisters and sex workers of color are always the first targets, the ones who get hit the hardest, our frontlines. Respect. And protect.
I’ve never felt completely isolated online, because I have my own personal website and then also, a network of porn sites I run. At least on my own web site, I know I won’t be banned, and can post links to whatever other third party platforms I might be active using. How can one do that easily? Listen. GoDaddy’s not the most ethical company ever, but you can get a domain there for $0.99 with a promo code from retailmenot and then you can get your site hosted on a shared server at MojoHost or HostGator, and you find a little HTML code for a link list and a photo gallery or you pay a friend to make you a rad portfolio website. You can platform yourself today.
We need an expanding social media as well as a return to personal websites and private online spaces like Discord. We want avenues to promote our sales, and we also want to be able to just be our whole selves online without fear of punishment. Why PUNISHMENT, is what I’ve been asking this whole time. Isn’t there a way they could do all this without making it feel like we could go to jail if we accidentally post a nip slip? Social media companies MUST stop punishing sex workers with bans, suspensions, and suppression. They need to start working with us on NSFW filters, adult algorithms, and making sure that the rampant fake accounts/bots/trolls/stalkers/bullies can’t fuck with us, or the feed.
All adult humans deserve the right to be their whole selves online.
The War On Sex is insulting and stupid. The way social media giants treat sex workers and all adult content providers is fucked up and unfair, but they are not the only place to be. Right now, contact your favorite online sex workers and ask them where else you can follow them. Register for adult social media platforms and start exploring the multitudes of social communities out there on AVN Stars, ManyVids, Reddit, Discord, and beyond. Otherwise, your feeds are going to start looking mighty bland without us—and sooner than you think.
QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS WELCOME I CLAIM NO AUTHORITY OVER ANY OF THESE TOPICS IM JUST A SLUT K THANKS BYE FOR NOW!
This essay was originally prepared for VICE Motherboard, please follow Samantha Cole for current reporting on this stuff, as well as Gustavo at XBiz and Amberly on AVN Stars. This essay would be nothing but a pile of scared thoughts in my brain without them. Also, thank you to Bella French at ManyVids for giving me an hour of her time to answer some hard questions. Please keep these people on your radar – I can’t possibly keep you up to date on all of this myself; I’m also planning on trying for some more personal writing in 2020 so please, follow the sources on this – not me! I’ll be on to the next idea as soon as I hit send. 🙂
If you want to thank me financially for this essay, you can either join me for $3/month at AVN Stars for a NSFW experience, or join my Patreon to support my long-term academic and artistic efforts. You can also just buy some porn from TROUBLEfilms.Com – that’s always fun!