From eBay to OnlyFans, Trump’s anti-sex internet crusade silences LGBTQ culture
In August, OnlyFans, a website known almost entirely for selling nudes, said he will no longer host sexually explicit material. The jokes on Twitter likened the move to a grocery store prohibiting shopping, and the bidet brand Tushy falsely advertised he would follow OnlyFans’ lead by ceasing sales of his key product. The risky website reversed its decision less than a week later.
This is good news for those of us who have become accustomed to websites banning – and banishing the shadows – consensual adult sex. The online world is still struggling to clean up to comply with a federal bill that President Donald Trump enacted in 2018, the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act and the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act.
As the OnlyFans debacle points out, the fight to supposedly make the internet a safer place has a series of side impacts. In particular, it has a silencing effect on key aspects of LGBTQ culture. But that’s great for anti-LGBTQ groups who have lobbied Congress to crack down on OnlyFans and sexuality in general.
August 10, more 100 conservative-leaning congressmen wrote letter to the Department of Justice asking him to investigate OnlyFans. Alleging the sexual exploitation of children, lawmakers cited research conducted by a group called the National Center on Sexual Exploitation. Formerly known as Morality in Media, NCOSE denies being an anti-LGBTQ organization. But in the past he has boycotted disney to extend benefits to same-sex partners of its employees and called for a boycott of Time Warner after the 1992 release of Madonna’s book “Sex,” which the group called “sick and violent pornography.” Its president, Patrick A. Trueman, previously headed the American Family Association, which the Southern Poverty Law Center designated a hate group for its long-standing anti-LGBTQ views and campaigns.
NCOSE’s board of directors includes former Defending Freedom Alliance chairman Alan Sears, whose 2003 book “The homosexual agenda: exposing the main threat to freedom of religion today” hardly needs further explanation. NCOSE publishes an annual Dirty Dozen List of what it calls “major contributors to sexual exploitation”; Netflix, Amazon, and Google Chromebook are all listed alongside OnlyFans this year.
NCOSE isn’t the only group lobbying corporate and government interests to stamp out sexual content, but it is arguably the leader in the field, having denounced public manifestations of sexuality since 1962 and spending $ 5.1 million do it in 2020.
Another major player in the anti-porn wars, Exodus Cry, has similar roots in anti-LGBTQ sentiment: its founder has refers to homosexuality as “immoral” and “toxic”. The two the groups declared victory after the signing of FOSTA-SESTA, with NCOSE thanking the supporters for contacting their elected officials to lobby for the law.
I’m not going to argue about whether or not there is sex trafficking on the Internet. But many groups leading the charge against him have other objectives, and their unique attempts to protect the internet from traffickers end up not only fooling well-meaning supporters, but also threatening the incomes of already marginalized workers and workers. engulfing entire communities in a devouring mouth of fundamentalist and anti-sex Christian censorship.
Their unique attempts to protect the internet from traffickers end up not only fooling well-meaning supporters, but also threatening the incomes of already marginalized workers.
These changes may seem trivial. In May, eBay announced it will close its “adults only” category and prohibit the sale of “material of a sexual nature”. The impact on the low-risk LGBTQ historical archives has been swift and devastating.
In August, The New Yorker spoke with queer historians about how the ban eradicated a market for materials, from concept art to the vital gay leather magazine Drummer, on which even museums depend for their acquisitions. The drummer featured plenty of shirtless men on his covers, but he also included important information for the leather community. And underlining the seemingly arbitrary nature of this ban, the iconic female erotic magazine On Our Backs has been somewhat spared.
Meanwhile, FOSTA-SESTA made a queer comic to cancel publishing her own book (in which a sex worker was interviewed) because she feared being accused of sex trafficking. “We already face significant hurdles in advertising due to the tendency in mainstream society to portray LGBT people as inherently sexual, regardless of their level of heat,” the romantic writer said. Katie de Long told Rolling Stone in 2018. “It will only get worse with policies that say just mentioning terms related to our sexuality or who we are can get us banned.”
The impact of FOSTA-SESTA has also had a silencing effect on sex educators, a vital resource for the many LGBTQ youth across the country who do not receive any information in school about their sexuality and gender identity. Of the 50 U.S. states, only a handful demand that school-based sex education be inclusive LGBTQ people. In most of the United States, gay and trans youth are asked to ask questions about identity and gender on internet search bars and social media accounts. These questions often have life-changing implications, whether the answers are aimed at preventing sexually transmitted infections or simply feeling less isolated and less weird about your desires.
While not necessarily related to FOSTA-SESTA, queer and trans social media users have complained about censorship of terms of identity on platforms due to their proximity to porn, among other things. In 2017, Twitter was criticized for blocking the word “bisexual”, saying at the time that it had been added to a list of terms “generally associated with adult content.”
Earlier this year, TikTok users have complained that terms like “intersex” and “lesbian” were forbidden by the shadows; searches for the words did not return any results, and lesbian users launched the tongue-in-cheek hashtag “the $ bean” after finding that content with the hashtag #lesbian was frequently deleted. Both platforms have apologized or said the issues were mistakes, but the ever-evolving content moderation policies seem to regularly target the LGBTQ community: In 2019, feminist magazine “Salty” was banned from advertising her latest cover featuring several fully clothed trans. women of color – because Instagram’s algorithm mistakenly flagged it as an ad for a escort service.
Prompt action by platforms to address such missteps is important, but don’t answer the question of why it keeps happening – because it doesn’t seem to have stopped. This week, popular queer TikTok star @therealclaybaby posted an Instagram video complaining that he was repeatedly blocked from his account for violating community guidelines regarding sexual activity.
The Texas-based creator is known for his messy streak, irreverent rants and improvised raps, but the “adult nudity and sexual activity” he has been reported for does not appear on the account. It’s unclear if it’s flagged by homophobic viewers or just flagged by some flawed algorithm, but the creator’s income from sponsored posts has been threatened anyway. To say that it’s frustrating for queer and trans people to be automatically associated with pornography just by existing would be an understatement.
This type of algorithmic bias has a similar effect to platforms that ban LGBTQ content under restrictive “adult” bans to comply with FOSTA-SESTA: both silencing the floor and preventing entire communities from being able to connect. in line. Few of us can say that we have never deleted a post, or that an entire account has been temporarily or permanently disabled because we used a self-describing LGBTQ term (such as “dyke”) in a post or poster. legend, or because something we posted was deemed inappropriate for some mysterious reason.
The great irony is that many of the content rules that silence LGBTQ expression online may have been put in place to protect us from harassment, much like the rules that deexualize the internet claim to protect us from abuse. And as anti-sex panic continues to sweep through online spaces, it’s natural for gays to expect our very existence to continue to be confused with pornography by algorithms and whoever oversees the divine task of creating. keyword lists.
In the new GLAAD Social Media Safety Rating, the first report to measure the online safety of LGBTQ people, algorithmic bias is only a small part of a report that largely monitors hate speech. But just as lawmakers need to better distinguish between sex trafficking and healthy, consensual human sexuality, platforms need to better distinguish between hate speech and pride speech.
There is no comparison between an underage girl who gets prostituted by a trafficker and a barista who tries to get hired by posting sexy videos on sites like OnlyFans. And there’s a huge gulf between a young lesbian using the #dyke hashtag to connect with friends and the vitriolic hate slurs used to terrorize and harass someone. Yes, training algorithms to find this difference is a challenge. But if he manages to control queer and trans users at current levels, surely he can learn our language too.
UPDATE (Sep 14, 2021, 2:30 p.m. EST): This article has been revised to add NCOSE’s denial that it is an anti-LGBTQ organization.