Instagram Policy Team Meets With APAG, Listens to Adult Performers' Concerns

Instagram Policy Team Meets With APAG, Listens to Adult Performers' Concerns

MENLO PARK, Calif. — Representatives from the Adult Performers Actors Guild (APAG), a federally recognized union, met today with top-level Instagram Public Policy executives at Facebook headquarters in the Bay Area to discuss a number of issues concerning adult performers who are active in the world’s leading image-based social network.

APAG was represented by union President Alana Evans, Vice President Ruby, Parliamentarian Jorge Reano, and member Michelle Montana. Spankchain’s Rickey Ray and photographer Steve Nelson from Adult Industry News also attended the meeting invited by APAG.

Instagram, a Facebook-owned company, was represented by key members of their Public Policy team, which is tasked with creating, updating and enforcing their controversial terms of service. Headed by Instagram's Head of Public Policy Karina Newton, the meeting’s hosting party also included Public Policy Assistant Manager Aparajitha Vadlamannati, communications officer Stephanie Otway and Facebook Associate Manager of Product Policy Kim Malfacini.

XBIZ was the only member of the adult trade press invited to sit at the meeting. After strong reaction to our recent article “Instagram and the War on Porn: An XBIZ Explainer,” Otway reached out to this chronicler to facilitate an introduction to Evans and the union.

“I think we can help Facebook and Instagram understand our point,” Ruby told XBIZ immediately before the meeting. “If they’re reasonable people, I think they’ll understand what we’re saying.”

Evans, who had just conducted a phone interview with the BBC, told XBIZ that APAG “is taking on the fight for marginalized workers who believe they’ve been wrongfully deleted from a social networking platform that purports to be inclusive of all.”

Inside the Facebook Mothership

APAG’s leadership drove up overnight from Los Angeles to Menlo Park, in the heart of Silicon Valley, in a chartered minibus, which also included members and supporters who did not participate in the meeting. The other APAG members had planned an #Instastrike protest outside of Instagram/Facebook headquarters to raise awareness of the issues that Evans and the others were directly addressing with the company’s official representatives.

The chartered minibus picked up this XBIZ reporter at the nearby Starbucks and we all rode towards the Facebook building. Trying to find the appropriate entrance proved enlightening, as the APAG contingent became solemnly aware of the sheer size and scope of Facebook’s on-the-ground operation.

Resembling a military base in terms of architectural complexity (and branches of employees and contractors tasked with traffic management, security, reception, badge-issuing, etc.), the Facebook mothership spreads over several imposing buildings, the main of which sits across a post-apocalyptic, 270-acre salt pond.

After finding the entrance to the right lobby, APAG’s party was met by Kim Malfacini, the friendly Associate Manager of Product Policy who was the first of many people to make the adult performer representatives feel welcome at the Millennial-Corporate-Chic-style headquarters.

Before we could access the building proper, we all had to be issued badges by signing into the ubiquitous iPads that can be found all over the building. The badge-issue process includes agreeing to a lengthy contractual text scroll that turned out to be a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) regulating what we could and could not do and, particularly, photograph within the headquarters.

Photographer Nelson and this XBIZ chronicler were told we could photograph the APAG members in front of anything — building walls, structures — except for any information on screens or whiteboards. We were told that under no circumstances we would be allowed to photograph Facebook or Instagram employees, including the very friendly officers who were holding the meeting with APAG.

(This explains why you can only see Evans and the other APAG members on pictures of the meeting. We were explicitly told to frame the shots so you could not see Newton and her team.)

The APAG contingent was joking during the ride that they should not accept any free food or drinks from Facebook. “They might poison us or dose us!” someone jested. The caution was thrown to the wind when passing by the legendary snack area of the social media behemoth, a fully stacked food island with free snacks, hot and cold drinks and all manner of edible goodies, including a “candy of the week.”

“My kid would love that,” commented Michelle Montana, walking by the vast food areas and the free bicycles for employees to get around the massive Facebook campus.

We were ushered into a cozy conference room, encased, like much of the divided space inside the cavernous, factory-like design, in a kind of semi-finished plywood that makes the space look oddly under-construction.

Two enormous screens flanked the head of the table, and at some point during the meeting they both lit up at once with a satellite map of the world showing no national boundaries, but, most likely, Facebook usage as lit areas on the map.

“One Person’s Artful Nudity Is Another Person’s Porn”

Karina Newton, a young executive (like most of Facebook’s public faces) who recently turned 40, was wearing stylish-casual dark clothes and sunglasses on top of her head. She was clearly the authority among the Public Policy hosting team, and thus instinctively sat at the head of the table, with everyone else mixing around it.

After everyone introduced themselves, APAG President Alana Evans offered her initial thoughts. Evans had been tirelessly working for months trying to raise awareness of what appeared to be a campaign to erase adult performers from Instagram, and now the company’s top brass was actually listening.

“I’ve been one of the organizers of our movement,” said Evans, her voice noticeably moved by the importance of the unprecedented occasion when a company that many perceive to be above even individual nations was listening to the concerns of sex workers.

“From the bottom of my heart, I want you to understand how appreciative we are for this meeting. Our intention here is out of respect and appreciation for being able to have a conversation.”

“We put together a great mix of people that come from every facet of the adult industry,” Evans continued. “Two months ago, girls were getting their accounts deleted and people were first saying ‘who cares, it’s just social media,’ but soon we started getting reports that some of these people were generating sponsorship with clothing companies and other things because of their status as influencers, so their livelihood was being taken from them.”

“We represent performers. We don’t represent all sex workers — it’s not our scope,” Evans clarified. “We also understand that some people sometimes are deliberately not compliant with the policies, and we try to separate that issue from account deletions that are unfair or that are inconsistent with what Instagram allows.”

After that conciliatory opening, Evans and Ruby got to some specific questions for the Instagram reps.

The APAG leaders first brought up the company’s Reporting System. “Is it true,” they asked, “that you use programs measuring the amount of skin on a picture and then deciding it’s probably nudity?”

Newton acknowledged the existence of such a program. “We have one billion users worldwide,” she explained. “We do use machine learning to proactively try to identify content that is likely violating. Yes, you could say the machine learning identifies ‘percentage of skin,’ though the reality is a bit more nuanced and complicated. But, yeah, we do use machine learning to detect likely violations of our nude policies.”

The Instagram team explained that on many occasions when the AI detects “too much skin,” it doesn't, in their words, “get actioned on” (i.e., doesn’t result in a removal of content or deletion of an account). “But sometimes it happens.”

“We have some nudity filters,” Kim Malfacini clarified. “If a piece of content comes down because a machine perceives that it’s violating, that can be appealed. And there’s a different machine that sends it to a human. We try to weed out ‘false positives.'”

The Instagram reps stressed that when one someone appeals “something that is done by a machine,” then “it goes to a human.” Appeals to a machine decision, in their account, are never reviewed by another machine.

“We addressed the concerns of the doula community, for example,” said Newton. “The nudity policy is pretty clear, but we allow nudity while giving birth, or showing post-masectomy scaring is actually allowed.”

“So other communities [besides sex workers] are adversely impacted by the likelihood of skin content,” she justified.

“Are nipples allowed?” asked APAG member Michelle Montana.

“No.” The negative was said in unison by all the members of the Instagram team, the clearest response during the entire meeting.

Melissa brought up mainstream influencers and celebrities posting pictures with mesh shirts or transparent fabric.

“Well, if there’s an attempt to cover,” explained Vadlamannati, “we consider that as ‘non-violating nudity.’”

Some around the table rolled their eyes at Instagram now-familiar wishy-washiness concerning rule enforcement.

Malfacini, smiling like someone who works for a company that’s only accountable to itself, doubled down.

“It may feel inconsistent. But it’s not. I assure you.”

“At the level of content we see,” again, the appeal to the sheer size of Instagram’s very big Big Data, “it’s not gonna feel right in 100% of cases. But we are trying.”

“It feels like discrimination when Kim K. or Miley Cyrus post their breasts,” interjected Ruby. “If you would let Kim K. get away with this, we’re gonna think maybe it is within your standards.”

And then Ruby played the eternal card that has been used to protect sexual free speech since the dawn of time.

“One person’s artful nudity is another person’s porn,” Ruby told the Instagram execs, who scribbled it down in a stylish notebook (Newton) and typed it down (Vadlamannati) like they were hearing that for the first time.

Ruby then brought up FOSTA/SESTA, the supposedly “anti-sex-trafficking” legislation that was passed by members of congress from both parties. FOSTA/SESTA has been criticized by virtually every single sex worker and free speech advocacy group.

“I just re-read FOSTA/SESTA,” Ruby told the table. “And for me the key word is ‘knowingly.’ Technically you guys would have to know. And that wouldn’t happen unless you’d be picking through everyone’s DMs.”

“Look, I am very excited to start this dialog,” APAG’s Vice President told Newton, “but all this talk about AI is a little Orwellian!”

The O word elicited nervous laughter from the Instagram contingent. They seemed to have heard this one before.

"We Are People"

“I have a daughter and a son,” continued Ruby. “I don’t think these platforms are for children, I really don’t. There are parents in this industry that really want to keep content from the hands of children. But also social media opens them up to a plethora of things, good and bad. And I also know censorship is not good.”

“A lot of us are parents,” added Evans. “We are moms, we are parents, we are dads. For us it’s important to keep children safe as it is for everyone else.”

“But when you delete our accounts, many of us are losing photos of pets and loved ones. Everyone changes phones, but Instagram is always supposed to be there. We want you to know we are people. You have done an amazing job of setting up these platforms. But you can see how we’d feel when we are deleted for things that didn’t happen.”

“We are people,” repeated a visible moved Evans.

“We are not judging you,” replied Newton. “We really aren’t. We want you to know that if people are using our reporting process as a weapon to try to silence things, we consider that harassment. We want you to feel safe reporting that harassment.”

“We want to dispel another myth,” said Newton. “You can’t get an account deleted by reporting it 1,000 times. It doesn’t matter if you report me once or a 1,000 times. We evaluate every report on the validity of each individual report.”

The table moved on to the thorny issue of “sexual solicitation,” something Facebook and Instagram are adamantly against, even among consenting adults and even if it is non-commercial.

“Look, there are 13-year-olds on Instagram. I don’t think they should see a post where someone says ‘I want to meet up someone to have sex with,” a source within Facebook recently told XBIZ.

“How about dating sites?”

“Dating is fine. Sex is not fine,” the source replied.

“This is about stopping sex trafficking,” Vadlamannati justified at today’s meeting, apparently unaware of how “sex traffic panic” is deployed by religiously motivated moralists to attack all sex workers. “We encourage people to report sexual solicitation to make sure that there isn’t sex trafficking. Those trafficking people are being very creative — they pretend to be girls, or whatever. We are trying to tamper down anything that might be contributing in the exploitation of any individual.”

Rudy mentioned that actually looking at the FBI statistics on sex trafficking, which are nowhere near as widespread as the Sex Traffic Panic Industrial Complex makes it seem, would be useful for Instagram.

“Sure, but that’s the U.S.,” Newton retorted. “Our community is international. There is a lot of sex trafficking around the world.”

“When it comes to solicitation and trafficking, first we want to find the worst of the worst,” stressed Vadlamannati. “After we weed those out, then we’ll be looking at the grey area. We have 15,000 well-trained people around the world reviewing posts. That particular policy — sexual solicitation — is one of the toughest policy areas to enforce.”

“But we don’t want to hurt people who try to make their living,” conceded Newton. “It’s a grey area. We do deal with people who are malicious actors and walk that edge in terms of community standards. But we have a great team and we listen to a lot of voices, like law enforcement, trafficking survivors…”

“I am a trafficking survivor and I work in the industry.”

It was Michelle Montana who spoke, silencing the high-minded executive.

“Would you be interested in listening from me?” Montana added.

And then it happened: the Instagram team unequivocally opened the door to an ongoing dialogue with APAG.

A New Appeals Process Is Coming

“We would love to have some kind of liaison,” Newton told Montana, “and develop a type of program in which everyone can develop life experiences.”

“We are cognizant that we want a diversity,” added Malfacini. “I’m personally and professionally thrilled to be having this conversation. This could be a start of this conversation. We are eager to know who this policy is affecting in the real world.”

“With the Omid case we looked at 300 accounts,” explained Otway, “so we found that there was a higher amount of removals than expected. Then we looked at the training material and we found that there was a language there that was nonspecific. Unclear language in the training was resulting in overenforcing.”

Evans thanked Instagram for recently providing two clear links where people can appeal their account removals.

“It’s definitely a people-process,” confirmed Vadlamannati. “Humans are reviewing the account.”

Several Facebook and Instagram sources, on and off the record, confirmed that the company is currently reviewing the appeal process for individual posts and for whole accounts and that some of the feedback provided by sex workers and adult performers in the last few months have proven crucial.

The same sources confirm that the new appeals and warning processes will be rolled out “within a couple of months.”

“We think people should appeal content removal,” emphasized Newton. “We are just starting to roll this out. A better warning system.”

“We acknowledge there is more that we can do.”

Who Polices the Policymakers?

XBIZ was granted two questions near the end of the meeting.

We asked Newton and her team what was the background of these inhouse, apparently all-powerful policymakers who make the ethical decisions that affect one billion users worldwide. Are they engineers? Humanity scholars? Philosophers? Theologians? Ethicists?

“There is a really wide variety of background in the Policy Team,” said Newton. “Engineers, I’m pretty sure, are not working on this,” she laughed, with a mischievous look at her team members who work daily in a well-guarded citadel largely staffed by STEM grads. “We have a lot of ‘recovering lawyers,’ people with policy backgrounds, an amazing terrorism team, and then we consult with people who are recognized authorities in a particular area of expertise.”

For example?

“Oh, organizations that have particular expertise. Law enforcement, teachers, a lot of policy wonks, people who spent a lot of time in D.C. and Sacramento…” Newton trailed off, possibly referring to lobbyists. “And recovering lawyers, many of those.”

At the mention of law enforcement, the APAG contingent tensed up.

“Would you like some retired adult performers for your policy team?” asked a smiling Ruby, who was not entirely joking.

Everyone laughed, but the point was made. This meeting could be the beginning for sex workers getting some kind of seat at this powerful table.

The meeting was running long. One of the unavoidable iPads at the center of the table started emitting an eerie green-yellow glow — a human-less way of letting everyone know that the conference room was going to be needed for a design pow-wow.

Two more points closed the encounter.

Evans brought up the financial extortionists who claimed they could take down and bring back up Instagram accounts for a ransom payment.

“We are totally against that,” declared Newton. “I have deep-felt empathy for people who are going through this. We go hard after scammers and other criminals. We want to hear from everyone who’s being extorted through our platforms. Everyone. Doxxing is not allowed on Instagram.”

Finally Evans requested that Newton receive an emailed list of all the performers who have had their accounts deleted in the past few months, so “we don’t have to strike outside.”

Newton agreed to this request and expressed that the meeting should serve as the beginning of “an ongoing conduit for reporting specific cases.”

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