Sex workers are calling out a specific wording in Instagram’s terms of service regarding stripping content, which they say harms their ability to make a living.
Under the ‘Objectionable Content’ rules, which were updated in November this year, ‘sexual solicitation’ is listed as a bannable offence, strictly prohibited from both Instagram and Facebook.
This includes “pornographic activities, strip club shows, live sex performances and erotic dances.” These anti-nudity rulings are not new at all to platforms like Instagram, but according to members of the sex work community, they need to change, especially when they highlight that filming within a strip club is not acceptable.
“Sex workers are often the canaries in the coal mine of digital erasure and constriction of online liberty,” Livia M. Roth, a sex worker who first called out the rules online, told PEDESTRIAN.TV.
“For strippers, many of us use our online presence to bring in clients to the club. Not only [do the rules] have the potential to be financially damaging, but also emotionally damaging.
“Sex workers are routinely chased off of social media by puritanical terms of service restrictions, and many have messaged me telling me that they feel hopeless and disenfranchised.”
According to members of the sex work (SW) community, a post that contains a strip club in the background or contains a comment that reads ‘come visit my show’, is often flagged, and can be a target of deletion and possible shadowbanning.
The problem here is that despite the post adhering to guidelines, the promotion of work can be flagged as a sexual solicitation, and can completely damage an individual’s hopes of using Instagram to further their own career.
According to Roth, there are certain words that a sex worker cannot even use if they want to remain untouched by the current Instagram algorithm.
“Instagram uses bots and AI to flag posts and accounts that have posted content that goes against the terms of service,” Roth said.
“When an account has had posts flagged multiple times, even if they’re not taken down, the user becomes more vulnerable to ‘punishments’ such as shadowbanning. Instagram claims that they don’t practice it, but they have been quietly shadowbanning sex workers and our venues for years.
“We’ve been able to deduce that the use of certain phrases and hashtags makes someone more vulnerable to shadowbanning.”
Sex workers have also flagged that under the current rules, there are fears that pole dancing content shot within strip clubs will be banned by the algorithm, while influencers are free to flex their brand new pole videos from their Byron Bay fitness classes.
“The pole fitness community has a bad reputation of outwardly hating sex workers,” said Roth.
“The hashtag #notastripper is a good example of that. Many people who do pole fitness fight very hard to differentiate what they consider to be a ‘sport’ or an ‘aerial art’ from its roots in strip clubs.
“Ultimately, the attitude toward pole fitness is that when people who aren’t strippers pole dance, it’s simply artistic expression. Whereas when strippers pole dance, it’s unacceptably sexually suggestive.”
Naturally, these rules did not land too well with the sex work community, who addressed their concerns over the rules via Twitter.
What if IG banned cooking videos but only when they're filmed in resturants— Sasha Darling (@xoSashaDarling) November 29, 2020
Makeup tutorials but only in salons
Tattooing but only in shops https://t.co/XktukiZXQO
There’s so many things wrong with this decision ig made. How will you allow pole fitness but won’t support actual strippers doing it. Where do you think pole fitness came from
— MeetSophiaSilk.com (@SilkSophia) November 28, 2020
However, a spokesperson for Facebook (which owns Instagram) said the online backlash was misinformed, claiming Instagram supports sex workers and sex-positive content.
“We want Instagram to be a place where people can express themselves, but we also have a responsibility to manage content that may be inappropriate for young people and others on Instagram.”
Despite this clarification, there is still concern over videos shot within strip clubs, and comments that encourage users to visit strip clubs and see shows.
“All Instagram users should be able to post as freely as influencers and celebrities, without fear of deletion,” says Roth.
“I think that Instagram could support sex workers best by revoking rules that are clearly written to discriminate against us.
“Most sex workers acknowledge that Instagram will never be as free and adult-friendly as Twitter, and are not asking for the ability to post full nudity or sexual content. We simply want to be able to express ourselves as other users can, and be able to speak openly and freely about our jobs and the issues that impact us.”