How sex censorship killed the internet we love

1st February 2019, 2:24 pm

Joachim Beuckelaer / Jon Turi

Can’t even read it for the articles anymore.

When was the last time you thought of the internet as a weird and wonderful place?

I can feel my anxiety climbing as I try to find current news stories about sex. Google News shows one lonely result for “porn,” an article that is 26 days old. I log out of everything and try different browsers because this can’t be right.

I pop over to Yahoo News and try the same searches, exhaling relief to see 892 news articles for “porn” from outlets ranging from Associated Press to Rolling Stone. They’re there. It’s just that Google’s 2018 algorithm upgrade filters out news with the word “porn” in it. Like articles about porn performer suicidetips for revenge porn victimsparents who oppose porn website age-verification (turns out, today’s parents are more afraid of data collection than their kids watching porn).

Stories with the word “porn” in them are important because they’re about censorship, sexual health, business trends, sex work, politics, gender and women. They’re about people.

But not for the world’s most popular search engine. Google’s war on sex took root in 2011 when Google Plus launched with a strict no-sex policy. In 2013, the company enacted a porn purge across Blogger, and Android’s Google Keyboard was updated to exclude more than1,400 “inappropriate” words, like “lovemaking,” “condom,” and “STI.” In 2014 Google Play banned sex-themed apps, and an algorithm change in Search destroyed organic results for sex websites. That same year Google made changes to its AdWords policies to prohibit sex-related advertising.

When Google launched in 1998, Nerve was one of the internet’s leading websites. It was an online magazine about sex with articles and featured erotic artists, busy personals, packed forums. It published terrific sex books by writers and photographers, and had a wildly popular free blogging service (one of the first). From 1997 through the early ’00s, Nerve was the fun, exciting, sex-positive place to be and hang out, bursting with creative communities, optimism, and hope that a vital future was being explored.

For many, Nerve represented a new era in which we could finally, freely talk about sex, gender, orientation, sex culture — and exchange ideas. Thanks to Nerve’s “literate smut” tagline and ethos, private acts of creation could make tortured people feel valid and whole. People don’t make sites like Nerve anymore. No one can.

The erasure of erotic art, to me, represents a crisis point of culture, of democracy. Art effects the greatest change and empowerment when it’s transgressive, scandalous, nude, erotic. Visibility matters. Art is where minds are opened, ideas challenged, viewpoints explored, where people who hate have a chance to be changed, even if for a minute.

When was the last time the internet gave you hope?

I can feel my anxiety climbing as I look for the voices of adult performers and sex workers online. The silence is so overwhelming it’s suffocating. In 2018, an estimated 42 million sex workers worldwide were evicted from the open internet and essentially went into hiding with the passage of FOSTA-SESTA.

The censorship wave was unprecedented in internet history. Twitter, Facebook, and all major web service providers immediately changed their rules to tightly police what was posted and messaged about sexual content, by anyone. Entire online communities were kicked off services like Cloudflare (55,000 users of Switter), and hundreds of thousands were disappeared by the shuttering of safety forums and advertising-screening services. Reddit removed entire communities overnight. Recently, YouTube banned videos where people simply talk to sex workers.

The voices erased are the voices of women. Of gay and straight men, transgender people, the voices of people of color. These populations make up the majority of sex workers. So in America, FOSTA is analogous to how the World Health Organization is categorized as “pornography” in web filters used in Kuwait and the UAE.

I can feel my anxiety climbing as I type. Starbucks is filtering its WiFi with a secret porn blacklist. PatreonCloudflarePayPal, Facebook, Instagram, and Square will eject you for getting near a sex business, linking to perceived sex sites, letting the wrong people use your online business.

When was the last time you felt free on the internet?

I can feel my anxiety climbing as I type. Starbucks is filtering its WiFi with a secret porn blacklist. PatreonCloudflarePayPal, Facebook, Instagram, and Square will eject you for getting near a sex business, linking to perceived sex sites, letting the wrong people use your online business.

Facebook recently banned sexual slang; YouTube bans users for sex ed or LGBTQ content because it might be about sex; Twitter has a mysterious sex-shadowban that no one can get a straight answer on. Tumblr can’t tell a potato from a boobGuides on sexual self-censoring are popular — and necessary. Google Drive scans your files and deletes what it believes to be explicit content. Apple just straight-up hates sex.

When was the last time you thought of the internet as a weird and wonderful place?

We are on the other side now. Like everyone I know, my anxiety climbs as I open any new browser window, check any app or news site. As corporations have scuttled the weird and the wonderful, the taboo voices and forbidden artwork, we wonder only … what hate will we see today? What attacks await, now that the common rooms and public squares are the playgrounds of racist and anti-sex algorithms, of incels and Nazis, of advertisers and corporations ruling platforms with the iron fist of dated conservative values.

Because it is women, people of color, LGBTQ communities, writers and artists who compose the majority population of sex communities, it is everyone who pays the price. It is a curtailing of our freedoms, period.

The people who excised the erotic artists and photographers from Tumblr, who decided that sex talk on iTunes podcasts must not titillate, those who implement anti-sex language filters in anything … they will pay for it, too. Just not in the ways we’d like (their pocketbooks, their conscience).

Illustration by Koren Shadmi

 

I don’t know what would’ve happened if the internet could’ve been allowed to continue without the war on sex. But I know it wouldn’t be the terrible place of anxiety and fear we’re in now.

 

 

 

COMPLETE ARTICLE BY V. BLUE

 

 

 

 


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Tom of Finland Foundation presented a panel in October at their Art Festival, “How Do We Communicate On/With Social Media.” They invited reps from Facebook and Instagram to join the artists, activists, educators and lawyers on the panel. In April of this year, Rick Castro had one of his first solo shows at TOM House,… View Article

 

Published: 1st February 2019

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