Do Emojis Really Lead to Sexual Trafficking?

2 min read

Facebook’s latest TOS enforcement borders on the absurd

Sex and social media have been at war lately, and the latest battleground is something beyond silly. Facebook (the parent company of Instagram and current patriarch of social media sites) has moved toward banning sexually-charged emojis — the cute symbols we commonly use to add festive emotional flavor to plain text messages — including the eggplant/aubergine, peach, and waterdrop graphics. It claims that the use of these innocent looking pictures can contribute to sexual trafficking and solicitation.

Facebook’s battle against sexual expression has apparently moved toward the farcical, but the reasoning behind it is anything but. SESTA-FOSTA, a recent addition to US law, has placed website providers such as Facebook under strict legal scrutiny in what lawmakers called an attempt to crack down on human trafficking. SESTA holds all service providers liable for what individual users post on their sites — which creates a legal, but morally and constitutionally reprehensible way for them to censor content on their platforms.

Initially, Facebook and Instagram responded to SESTA by ramping up their enforcement against sexual imagery, but within the year, quickly caved to legal pressure and banned a number of other, less direct sexual references in the name of “trafficking prevention.” They tightened Terms of Service on both sites, and many others have followed suit, blocking countless sex workers from their audiences and creating a financial crisis in the adult community. This exclusion from their support networks has been at the center of many conversations regarding suicides and depression in the adult industry.

Of course, these services have every right to control content published through their websites. But the repercussions are far greater than seeing fewer sexy selfies — or in this case, seeing fewer peaches and eggplants. Sex workers are removed from the conversation here, which leads to more ostracization, more covert methods of finding clients, and more secrecy that can cover up the untimely deaths made more likely by social exclusion, as well as creating more smoke and mirrors for the real sexual traffickers to hide behind.

Banning innocent cartoons is a farcical front in the latest legal loophole that would hold Facebook accountable for human trafficking violations that take place on the mega-site. By enforcing laughably explicit terms of service agreements, the social media giant attempts to assure that no further lawsuits can touch their company — while leaving both sex workers and trafficking victims subject to censorship and its repercussions. While SESTA-FOSTA was introduced as a means of prosecuting potential panderers, its enforcement by bureaucrats continues to be a jumbled mess of inexpertly applied red tape for already marginalized workers such as sex educators, escorts and porn actors who rely on social media and other online advertisements for the success of their businesses.