PALO ALTO, Calif. — This past summer, without much fanfare, Facebook updated their Community Standards statement concerning sexual expression on the company's platforms, including Instagram.
The new language, under the guise of preventing “sexual solicitation,” restricts even further the posts that sex workers are allowed to share, making them even more exposed to targeted harassment campaigns by anti-porn crusaders.
Among the new things that could get someone Instagram's account flagged and/or removed for "Sexual Solicitation": the eggplant or peach emoji in conjunction with any statement referring to being horny; nude pictures with digital alterations or emojis covering female nipples and buttocks; and any mention of porn being available or any linking to pages offering adult material.
According to Facebook’s Recent Updates page, the main revision was made in July 2019, with an amendment in August 2019. However, the Community Standards page preserved by archive.org for September 7, 2019, the most recent day it was recorded and archived, shows the announced revisions had not been inserted by then.
Sometime between September 7 and now, though, the new language was quietly inserted into the Facebook Community Standards, which are the ultimate arbiter of content for Facebook and also Instagram.
The new language was brought to the attention of XBIZ by BBC journalist Thomas Fabbri, who covers sex worker issues and is currently researching a piece on social media bans for the U.K. news corporation.
This is the new language inserted in the Facebook Community Standards:
DO NOT POST
Content that meets both of the following criteria:
Criteria 1: Offer or Ask
Content implicitly or indirectly* (typically through providing a method of contact) offers or asks for:
Nude imagery, or
Sex or sexual partners, or
Sex chat conversations
Criteria 2: Suggestive Elements
Content makes the aforementioned offer or ask using one of the following sexually suggestive elements:
Contextually specific and commonly sexual emojis or emoji strings, or
Regional sexualized slang, or
Mentions or depictions of sexual activity (including hand drawn, digital, or real world art) such as: sexual roles, sex positions, fetish scenarios, state of arousal, act of sexual intercourse or activity (sexual penetration or self-pleasuring), or
Imagery of real individuals with nudity covered by human parts, objects, or digital obstruction, including long shots of fully nude butts
Content must meet Criteria 1 (offer or ask) and be implicitly or indirectly offering or asking for sexual solicitation in order to be deemed violating.
For example, if content is a hand-drawn image depicting sexual activity but does not ask or offer sexual solicitation, it is not violating.
An offer or ask for pornographic material (including, but not limited to, sharing of links to external pornographic websites).
Several things stand out in the new language:
- Facebook/Instagram now include two necessary conditions to consider a post in violation of their Sexual Solicitation policy.
- You cannot post “content implicitly or indirectly*” — it is unclear what the asterisk after “indirectly” refers to — which offers or asks for nude “imagery,” or sex or sexual partners (including non-commercial activities among consenting adults), or sex chat conversations, if it is posted together with the following:
- Commonly sexual emojis or emoji strings (unclarified, but they probably mean the eggplant, the peach, the drops of liquid, etc.)
- Regional sexualized slang, which is interesting because any word can become sexualized in context (e.g., in the 1950s, people would advertise for “Greek lessons” to request anal sex).
- Mentions or depictions of sexual activity including hand-drawn, digital, or real world art. This covers an enormous amount of images. Since a court of law would deem this “overbroad,” Facebook gets extremely specific: sexual roles, sex positions, fetish scenarios, state of arousal, act of sexual intercourse or activity (sexual penetration or self-pleasuring).
- Imagery of real individuals with nudity covered by human parts, objects or digital obstruction, including "long shots of fully nude butts."
This last one is downright bizarre: leaving the oddly specific and casually worded “long shots of fully nude butts” aside — is this the Facebook team idea’s of an Easter Egg inside joke? — now you cannot post nudity with emojis covering nipples and buttocks, if it is in conjunction with any mention of an offer of sex, even non-commercially among consenting adults.
Things that violate the newly worded policy now include, for example, someone posting the famous “Austin Powers” sequence with the catchphrase “Do I make you horny?”:
Or someone posting the ending of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1959 classic “North by Northwest” (spoiler alert), saying “Anyone wants to share a bunk bed?”:
The new language also targets those offering or asking for "pornographic material," and explicitly includes sharing links to "external pornographic websites."
The August 2019 amendment expands the earlier "nude images" to include "nude photos/videos/imagery."
Reports of bans for “Sexual Solicitation” seem to show a pattern of the company specifically targeting sex workers, including those who take pains to abide by the general spirit of the community standards.
“My second Instagram ban [of three] was for Solicitation,” adult performer Kendra James told XBIZ, “after I told a man who DM’d me demanding free nude pics that this was my job and he could join my site.”
Facebook’s new language further encourages this kind of snitching, entrapping and “revenge reporting” on sex workers.
Facebook’s stated “policy rationale” is that the company has decided to “draw the line” when content “facilitates, encourages or coordinates sexual encounters between adults.”
The company has repeatedly stated that they make no distinction between commercial and non-commercial sexual encounters, excluding both kinds from their platforms.
Moreover, going beyond actual "facilitation, encouragement or coordination," Facebook’s rational also states that the company “also restrict sexually explicit language that may lead to solicitation because some audiences within our global community may be sensitive to this type of content and it may impede the ability for people to connect with their friends and the broader community.”
The one exception explicitly made by Facebook regarding the discussion of sexuality is when it is done in order “to discuss and draw attention to sexual violence and exploitation.”
When pressed about this seeming “lowest-common-denominator standard” for Freedom of Speech and Expression, some sources within Facebook last spring, who asked not to be publicly identified, gave XBIZ “the Muslim world” as an example of “some audiences within our global community” that are supposedly uneasy with sexually explicit language.
Today, XBIZ contacted a representative who asked to be identified as a Facebook company spokesperson to inquire why the July/August 2019 change of wording had been put into effect, who made the decision within the company to change it, whether sex workers were consulted, and if the unusually worded reference to “long shots of fully nude butts” was an internal joke.
We also asked the Facebook spokesperson why the company continues to fine-tune its policy about sexual expression on their platforms seemingly only in order to kick sex workers out, and why the official statements keep repeating that Facebook is welcoming of the sex worker community.
The Facebook company spokesperson declined to answer any of our questions, but offered XBIZ the following statement:
“We often make updates to our Community Standards. We publish these changes on our Community Standards site so our community is aware. With this update, nothing changed in terms of the policy itself or how we enforce it, we simply updated the language to make it clearer for our community.”
For more of XBIZ's coverage of Instagram (and Facebook) and the War on Porn, click here.