Free speech advocates are up in arms after yet another media outlet recently moved to ban nudity from their website. Social site Tumblr, which had previously been a safe haven for sexual expression, released the statement in a public post on December 3rd. The website announced that they would be banning all sexually explicit visual content by users, effective December 17th. The move has many concerned about the greater implications of online censorship, especially as it relates to adult media.
Tumblr is only the most recent battle lost in the war for sexual expression. Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are also reigning in adult content in light of heightened internet policing. First Amendment advocates had cautioned that FOSTA, which was recently passed in the United States, could lead to greater widespread censorship. Their fears proved to be true; the broad-sweeping legislation caused sites like Craigslist to remove their personals sections, and other sites to shut down entirely in fear of legal consequences.
To their credit, Tumblr did seem to be making some effort to preserve user freedoms, and CEO Jeff D’Onofrio’s post specifically mentions making room for sex-positive content. The new content standards apply only to visual media, and excludes protest nudity as well as classical art nudes. “We recognize Tumblr is also a place to speak freely about topics like art, sex positivity, your relationships, your sexuality, and your personal journey. We want to make sure that we continue to foster this type of diversity of expression in the community, so our new policy strives to strike a balance.”
Media bans have an acute effect on sex workers in particular, as fewer points of online contact not only decrease the safety of their work, but increase social isolation and depression. Many activists have called legislation like FOSTA a veiled attack on sex work, and say that the ramifications go far beyond the intent of the law. “For many of us, this is yet one more platform lost to congregate, advertise and cultivate a living making our lives exponentially more difficult and dangerous,” posted sex educator Scarlett Sin. “This goes well beyond sex work. Sex therapists, educators, coaches and many more who even remotely touch on adult themed content are also affected.”
Of course, sex is no stranger to censorship; history is laden with examples of fights for the freedom of expression. In the end, the right to revel in the beauty of the human experience has always triumphed. Sex workers have always found a way of sticking around. “In the meantime though, pay for your porn…” continued Sin. “…And support the people and organizations that fight tirelessly for your right as a consenting adult to freely express yourself and enjoy ethically produced adult content and the services of consensual sex workers.”
Romano, A. (2018, April 18). A new law intended to curb sex trafficking threatens the future of the internet as we know it. https://www.vox.com/culture/2018/4/13/17172762/fosta-sesta-backpage-230-internet-freedom
Scarlett Sin. (2018, December 3). https://www.facebook.com/100008996989425/posts/1950382878604926/
Tumblr. (n.d.). Adult content. https://tumblr.zendesk.com/hc/en-us/articles/231885248-Sensitive-content
Tumblr. (n.d.). A better, more positive Tumblr. https://staff.tumblr.com/post/180758987165/a-better-more-positive-tumblr