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Please Calm Down About a '2020 Instagram Sex Worker Crackdown'

PHOTO OF INSTAGRAM ON A COMPUTER.

This time last year, we reported that a rumored "2020 Twitter porn ban" was not in the works. At the time, a few sites had reported the social media platform had changed its rules and we were set to see a massive crackdown on accounts that had NSFW material, which would likely all but eradicate sex workers who were on the platform. Our report has turned out to be true. Now, in the past few weeks, similar posts about a crackdown have been going viral, now on Instagram. And again we come to you to ask for you to please calm down.

It's important to understand that context is key. Over the past few years, we have seen an increasing dark wave of censorship online. This has extended to once-bustling sites like Craigslist and Tumblr, which have basically eradicated their NSFW content. We've seen this as a result of how mobile app stores set their guidelines which mandate what apps that hope to be stocked there can and can not allow. Just last week, Pornhub purged its site of all unverified accounts, deleting tons of homemade content in one day. And we feel the impact even here as what can and can not be shown on this site is regulated by advertiser sensibilities as well as mandates set by Google. All of this can make social media users — particularly queer ones, or sex workers, or better yet queer sex workers — hyper-vigilant and aware of impending changes in guidelines that might adversely impact them. But it can also lead to a lot of misinformation.

Over the last few weeks posts have gone viral on Instagram regarding a new supposed update to the platform's Community Guidelines that would prove a death knell for sex workers. In particular, these guidelines outlined "objectionable content," and would ban “attempted coordination of or recruitment for adult sexual services” and “explicit sexual solicitation.” Further, “suggestive elements” like “regional sexualized slang” and “contextually specific or commonly sexual emojis," would not be allowed. These new updates would spell an end to sex workers trying to spur traffic to their pages, already suffering under the ongoing pandemic. It would also penalize those who created erotic art. But this seemed all too familiar.

In 2018, we reported on updates to Facebook's objectionable content — as Facebook owns Instagram, they share guidelines. At the time, the guidelines which prohibited soliciting nudes, and posting erotic art among other things were called a "sex panic." We called them Puritanical at the time. In 2019, they went further adding language that banned sexual emojis and disallowed people to forward followers to pages where porn is viewable among other things. Yes, all of these updates instituted in 2018 and 2019 are the same updates that people are now saying will get put into place beginning this month — as a result, some have gone so far as to boycott Instagram for the day. 

When reached by Out, a spokesperson for the company said that only the Terms of Use was updated, not the Community Standards which define what is and isn't allowed on the platform. The update, in particular, revolved around branded content and personal data usage. 

This isn't to say that all is fine and above the board. Instagram and Facebook have a history of dubious practices. Their history when it comes to sex workers and sex-related content is quite poor, and their moderating tools are notoriously spotty — which is to be expected when moderating a platform so large. But what this does mean is that for those who explect some sort of over night switch to be flipped today — or in the coming days — that drastically changes how the app handles this sort of content, you can rest a bit easier. 

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