I jokingly say that everything I learned about social media marketing I learned from being a sex worker, but it’s not altogether untrue.
I’m going to start out here with a disclaimer - I’m kind of a tech-y person, a bit of a geek- I spend a lot of time on my smartphone or my tablet. I began my social media marketing really with blogging, years ago, before Twitter had even kicked off. Now the adult industry has taken to social media fairly easily, with sex workers of all sorts using various platforms to reach out through the internet. From tweeting about recent porn shoots or clients to instagramming saucy photos, the DIY marketing possibilities aren’t lost on many- and with the loss of Craigslist’s adult services, any free potential advertising platform isn’t bad either.
However, we’re discovering many of these platforms aren’t without their share of problems. Facebook censors nudity, albeit often haphazardly, and could suspend or even delete your profile for even a suspicious looking elbow. Instagram frowns upon breasts and bums (enjoy a list of banned hashtags), and genitalia will likely get your profile shut down with no possibility of a reprieve. Vine’s censored porn too, along with violence and medical procedures (so no zit popping Vines, sorry everyone). Twitter’s mobile app will censor “sensitive” material for you by default, bless them. I live in desperate prayer that if I’m to live in a breastless world that this sort of censorship policy would at least be as firm about misogyny, racism, and cissexism in comments sections, but let’s be honest, that’ll never happen.
Then we had the rash of censorship around blogging platforms. Let’s start with Google’s Blogger, who in late June sent out emails telling those using their service that if they had an “adult” blog (“adult” being a term undefined by the content policy, mind), it would be deleted in 3 days if they were found to be "displaying advertisements to adult websites". This could mean a sex toy reviewer who had affiliate links. It could mean someone who reviewed softcore pornography and linked back to the sites (often a requirement for reviews). It certainly meant any sex worker or escort who had porn, lingerie or sex toy affiliate links. For many sex workers, while affiliate links might offer an extra way to earn some cash on the side it was mainly a place to draw attention to other places they worked, like on a cam site, as pornstars, or a phone sex line. It was a safe, free, and self-hosted place to advertise where they could decide on their own representation and their own terminology, and Google took that away.
Wordpress, of course, had already banned the practice of self-monetization, so that wasn’t a safe option either. Neither was Tumblr, but a lot of people had already created Tumblr accounts as a supplement to their blogs, so they worked with that as an alternative. Which was fine, because Tumblr was pretty much known to be for porn. Since sex workers could post photos on Tumblr and then link to those photos on Twitter to Facebook (no previews though!), too, it was a good multi-platform way to reach out.
Then Tumblr in mid July decided to crack down on adult blogs as well, removing them from tagged searches both internally and through Google, Ask, AOL, Baidu, Bing and Yahoo:
“The only way to find a post from a blog marked adult - or to find and discover adult blogs - is to receive the link directly, such as if another user reblogs a post, you are already following the blog, or you are sent a direct link.”
-Violet Blue, Adult Tumblr blogs now removed from every form of search possible, July 19 2013
This not only hit blogs where the user tagged their blog as NSFW, but also blogs that Tumblr had deemed adult… including LGBT content. A few days and a giant outcry later Tumblr quietly restored adult content’s indexing to their blogs, combining the “adult” and “nsfw” tags into one. Unlike Blogger, at least, it seems that Tumblr is listening to its user base. But for how long?
(As an aside, after trying to prevent anyone from searching for porn, a recent technical error had Tumblr posting random porn on various blogs accidentally with no way to remove the posts… oh sweet irony.)
Now at first, all of this sounds kind of shitty, but not terribly serious. I mean, ok, so a Twitter account gets shut down, or a Tumblr account, but whatever, you can just start a new one, right? Except one big issue is that for many people, and sex workers in particular, your name is your brand, and how people find you. For me, for example, my Facebook and Twitter are both under the username kittystryker. Since I was booted off Instagram for a nipple (before Instagram was particularly clear about that not being ok), I lost the name kittystryker, and had to reopen an account as missstryker. This makes it more difficult for potential fans or clients to find or engage with me there, and interrupts my brand identity- thus censorship can cause issues for sex workers who are trying to navigate the tricky waters of attracting and appealing to followers while also not getting the banhammer.
Not only can it be just a simple issue of branding, but a more serious issue of slutshaming or even legal/professional consequences. Whether you decide to pair your legal name with your online persona, or someone vengeful does (a family member, an ex, PornWikileaks), the combination of your sex work or even just explicit blog with your legal name has been known to have real life consequences. Zoe Margolis was hounded by the press until her identity was revealed, and she subsequently lost her job. Kendra Holliday found herself sued for custody of her children. These are older stories, but they do keep happening, often to sex workers who become outed. Sometimes we self censor, afraid of these consequences, afraid we might be forever branded, and it's a real concern. And yet as our options online become more and more limited, we have less room to move.
As a sex worker who has made part of her living off of having a blog, I think a lot about sex work and blogging and this censorship trend. It worries me, especially because I think it’s only getting more serious. I think about the UK’s ISP filtering plan, which plans to automatically filter not just pornography (the initial stated goal), or violent material, but file-sharing sites, sites about alcohol or smoking, esoteric material (?), web forums (???), and web blocking circumvention tools like Tor. In order to access these things, you’ll have to register to opt in, which if it’s anything like opting in to get over 18 material on your mobile phone, means going into a shop in person, giving them your id and telling them you want to see this material. I can imagine this being problematic in multiple ways- why not have people opt into the filter, rather than forcing them to opt out?
Or for another example I can look as close as California, where we’re considering a law to make “revenge porn” illegal. This law would make it a crime to post photos of anyone in a state of full or partial undress, even if taken consensually, if the intent is to humiliate or cause emotional distress. On the surface, this sounds like a worthy goal. Internet bullying is awful and it’s good for it to be taken seriously. Unfortunately, similarly to the ISP filtering, it doesn’t seem like the law is entirely about revenge porn- it’s now been amended furtherto outlaw cruising, cover an incredibly wide definition of prostitution, and outlaw a lot of consensual pornography as well. As a blogger, if you have a photo set of you with an ex lover on a porn set using a sex toy and you use photos from that for a review, can that possibly get wrapped up in these laws? It’s kind of hard to tell, because the language, as it is with pretty much all these guidelines, and so many guidelines and laws around sexual material and behaviour, are pretty arbitrary.
All these grey areas make it difficult to know how to work legally. What's the best place to start to probably be safe? Well, I recommend any sex worker who blogs, whether you have a blog that focuses on personal written content, on flirty confessionals, or on image/video clip content that works as extra advertising, to take the jump and self-host. Really it’s the best thing to do to make sure that you don’t wake up one day and your blog has disappeared, plus it gives you a lot more options around how it looks and what you can do with it. My self-hosted Wordpress, which Ned Mayhem of Meet the Mayhems designed and graciously runs for me (because he’s amazing), manages to work as a personal site, advertising for services, a blog, a gallery, and, if I wanted to, could host video content as well. It looks a lot more professional, too, and comes up first when you search my name in Google.
If you’re just starting out, I recommend self-hosting a Wordpress. If you aren’t, I recommend transferring to a self-hosted Wordpress. In my experience they’re the most user-friendly and the possibilities are the most expandable without getting too complicated.
HeyEpiphora wrote a really great piece that spells out all the various concerns- her piece is mainly pointed at sex toy reviewers, but sex workers, particularly ones who may work in some area of the porn industry, may also find it useful.
Dreamhost offers some really easy instructions on how to transfer your Blogger to a Wordpress, and one-click Wordpress installation, plus they’ve said they’re sex positive and reached out during the Great Blogger Purge.
HostGator is another possibility that makes it pretty easy for you to transfer your blog over if you have a Google Blogger. You might still be able to use the code HEYEPIPHORA for 25% off!
I think the walls might be closing in on the internet being for porn and sex workers. So back up everything. Self host. And never take any platform for granted, because you never know when it might stab you in the back.