Sex Workers Fight Back Against SESTA With Switter

Sex Workers Fight Back Against SESTA With Switter
Charlie Tetiyevsky

LOS ANGELES — As the sun sets on online freedoms, sex workers of all kinds — including adult performers — are quietly and swiftly being silenced on social media. Rightfully they’re fed up, and instead of sitting back and taking it, SWers are doing what they have done for centuries and taking their careers by the reins. The new website Switter, a portmanteau of “sex worker” and “Twitter,” began making waves in the community this week, an alternative social network that’s created by, and for, sex workers.

Switter’s creation was initially in response to sites like Twitter, where those in the sex industry have been finding themselves “shadow banned.” It’s a feature meant to hide spam that’s instead been leveraged, clearly, to silence “unwanted” voices. Facebook and Instagram don’t support adult content at all, and the latter outright bans accounts that imply too much raunchiness — even if that just means a nipple in a painting. And even Skype, the platform that many independent SWers use to run their private shows, has specified in their Code of Conduct that the services not be used for “inappropriate content or material” like “nudity” and “pornography.” 

With Twitter in particular the censorship got so bad, cam model and femdom QueenMisty420 explained to XBIZ, that they even “blocked certain hashtags from showing anything under the media tab, so if you used #fetish for example nothing would show under that hashtag in a search. My interactions went down to practically nil after I was shadow banned. It was so detrimental that I basically had to stop using Twitter.”

Not only do SWers have limited means of increasing their fan bases when they’re shadow banned, they are also hidden from the conversations at large and prevented from speaking their piece in movements like #metoo.

With the passing of SESTA/FOSTA these restrictions on SW visibility and web access have and will become even more stringent, possibly sending thousands of SWers off of the platforms that currently help them both bring in customers and trade information among one another to stay safe and informed.

Taking matters into their own hands

Assembly Four, a partially anonymous Australian company making tech for SWers, teamed up with SWer and SAAS marketer Lola Hunt to create Switter “as a direct response to [the] changes” caused by SESTA/FOSTA.

The social media of site has been exploding, growing by over 6,000 users this week to a total over 8,000 members, many of whom are “tooting” (sending status updates) from the U.S. The community is known as an “instance” of the open source social network Mastodon, making it basically one of a network of Twitter-like message boards that can communicate with one another. 

Hunt explained to XBIZ that the SESTA/ FOSTA legislation “not only impacts the sex worker community but [also affects] anyone who has privacy and censorship concerns.”

Switter does its best to address these privacy concerns, with a server in Australia (where sex work is legal) and an Austrian domain name. Mastodon Founder and Developer Eugen Rochko told XBIZ, “Twitter, Reddit and other sites are starting to ban sex workers from their platforms, while Switter is not affected by [the legislation]” because it is not U.S.-based.

“Mastodon also does not have any built-in tracking, doesn’t enforce real name policies, and doesn’t’ ask for any personal information for your profile.  … Unlike other platforms, it doesn’t employ dark UX patterns to get you to reveal more info about yourself.”

Coming together as a community

Hunt stresses the importance of banding together, especially “coming from a community which is so often misrepresented in the media and criminalized in many places — it is extremely important for us to take the lead in innovation. We often have people outside of the industry come in with bandaid solutions formed by a lack of in-depth knowledge of sex work.” 

Those in the know have been responding positively to the service, which they feel is certainly more targeted at their industry than other social networks.

Luna Sapphire, clips performer and “Lipstick Lesbian Dominatrix,” tooted at XBIZ, “Being sex worker-friendly, Switter already has such an advantage [over] Twitter as long as it keeps growing and clients/fans sign up! I think it’s awesome that sex workers are so resourceful and came up with this solution, and it’s already growing so fast. I was just shadowbanned for three weeks on Twitter, so a space where I don’t have to worry about being banned for doing my job is great.”

Adult performer Alice Fae explained to XBIZ, “I use Switter because it makes me feel more secure. … It’s not based in the U.S., which means that if/when the censorship hits us because of SESTA/FOSTA, this most likely won’t be affected. It’s a good platform to connect with other people in the industry and hopefully it’ll be a better place to advertise services.”

People like QueenMisty420 were relieved that the platform has no ads — a possible future that Hunt completely dismisses, “We want to keep this platform as accessible as possible. … This was a side project we put together purely to ensure we don’t lose the community if Twitter took action. We are aware that there will be increasing costs as we expand but our approach would more align with donations from the community rather than charging people.”

Performer/producer Jiz Lee, who champions the work of the Assembly Four team, explained that they were introduced to Switter “by a fan who reached out last year with concern about Twitter’s shadow ban actions and the future of free speech and sexual expression on social media sites in general. Unlike Twitter, Mastodon is open source with its ‘instances’ self-hosted, and it offers various functions (like the ability to add content warnings to posts, privacy options per post, closed captioning interfaces and much more). In that regard, it's currently ‘better’ than Twitter. 

“[I] will keep my eye on how the platform progresses,” they told XBIZ. “It has the potential to serve many sex work community needs, from information sharing to harm reduction resources, and even provide promotion of videos and tour dates, taking the place of sites which have shut down or social media sites that push sex workers out. It's about time the sex work community be proactive and take control of our space, stories, and safety — whether political or technical. Sex workers are a global community!”

Many Switter users are excited at the possibility of uniting this widespread network of SWers. Adult model Vaughn Wolff explained to XBIZ the importance of Switter helping those in the adult industry “have an open forum to communicate” — especially now that other, more traditional avenues are closing.

“I just joined yesterday,” tooted model and pro domme Miss Chloe Holloway at XBIZ, “and what I like about it already is the sense of camaraderie. It’s saying, ‘SESTA/FOSTA is bullshit, but we will adapt and not only will we survive, but we will [also] thrive and we will do it together.’” 

And if the first few days of Switter’s existence are any indication, thriving is exactly what the SW community will continue to do — with or without outside help.