Illustration for article titled Twitters NSFW Purge Looms
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Terms of Service updates are messy, particularly for sex workers, who are always a casualty of moderation wars. Instagram shadowbans fully-clothed bodies; Patreon suspends adult content creators; Tumblr boots them altogether; payment processors indiscriminately shutter accounts. So when Twitter, the last major social media sanctuary for porn and artful nudity, announced that it’s banning “violent sexual content” and “gratuitous gore,” cries echoed across the web. Writer Ana Valens, who first reported the news on the Daily Dot, pointed out that Twitter tweaked its “sensitive media policy” over the summer, but the latest amendment gives Twitter broader latitude to expunge content.

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Twitter needs to take out its trash, yes, and removing violence, hatred, and glorified rape is undeniably a good thing; Twitter’s rationale is that such videos could “have the potential to normalize violence and cause distress to those who view them.” But Twitter’s terms of service are vague—“graphic violence” includes “blood, feces,” and, bewilderingly: “semen.” When I asked a Twitter representative whether this would mean a sweeping ban on BDSM content, they said they had no comment outside of their stated policies. So we can only speculate as to how they’ll implement these policies, which are so overbroad that a moderator’s loose reading of them could potentially take as instructions to wipe out erotic content creators along with the violent offenders.

Another stipulation prevents users from posting “violent, hateful,” but also “adult” content on “highly visible” areas of Twitter, including “live video”–the bulk of many professional porn accounts which include lots of clips to advertise content. “Adult” would even likely extend to non-photographic portrayals of sex, since Twitter’s “adult” content is defined, vaguely, as anything “intended to cause sexual arousal” and explicitly covers “cartoons, hentai, or anime involving humans or depictions of animals with human-like features”—i.e., furries.

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And the potentially catastrophic knock-on is that when you do regularly post “adult” content, you have to put your entire account behind the interstitial veil by marking it “sensitive,” meaning that everything you tweet (adult or not) is blocked with a warning label.

While the loss of Instagram meant sex workers and artists were deprived of a marketing platform, and that was too bad, Twitter is an essential organizing tool. It was where sex workers protested Prop 60 (which would have required porn performers to wear condoms) and raised alarms about FOSTA/SESTA and get together to spread safety information. Getting shut down, even temporarily, means you’re broken from the web of potentially hundreds of thousands of followers cultivated after years of dutiful posting, who help to spread your message. Journalists know that this is how most sex work stories break, and it’s the only platform where the subjects of our stories are starting the conversations.

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Celine Loup, an artist whose work includes editorial illustrations for stories about sexual abuse, has no reason to trust that Twitter will stop after its latest tweak of its “sensitive media policy”, based on the running history of ToS changes that ramped up after FOSTA/SESTA, she told Gizmodo. (When I asked a Twitter spokesperson whether it would make artistic exceptions for depictions of sexual violence, they simply said: “Depends on the context and content.”)

Tumblr, for one, implemented a similar “explicit” account designation in 2017 so that pages wouldn’t show up when browsing via an opt-in “safe mode.” Then it made “safe mode” the default, then it banned adult content outright. Users could elect to label their posts as “sensitive” or their whole accounts as “explicit” before moderators did it for them.

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“[The explicit account tag] ended up just being a way for Tumblr’s algorithm to more easily find sex workers and erotic artists and shut down their blogs without warning,” Loup said. “All of my friends lost their Tumblrs, which could have thousands or tens of thousands of followers and allowed them to monetize their work as independent creators.”

Loup calls Twitter’s “sensitive” marker “an insane solution.” She said the vast majority of her tweets were innocuous images of “food, or of ancient Greek and Minoan art, with only an occasional dirty drawing. But very soon after we began complying with this policy, we noticed that accounts who used the sensitive content filter were being shadow banned with increasing frequency. This started in sex work Twitter, but made the jump to erotic illustration accounts.” From the standpoint of artistic speech, evacuating Twitter means migrating artwork to sites like Pornhub, where it will ultimately be swept away by the tide of semen.

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Staff reporter, Gizmodo. wkimball @ gizmodo

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