Facebook has added a new category of censorship, sexual solicitation. It added the update on 15thh October but no one really noticed until recently.
The company has quietly updated its content-moderation policies to censor implicit requests for sex.The expanded policy specifically bans sexual slang, hints of sexual roles, positions or fetish scenarios, and erotic art when mentioned with a sex
act. Vague, but suggestive statements such as looking for a good time tonight when soliciting sex are also no longer allowed.
The new policy reads:
15. Sexual Solicitation Policy
Do not post:
Content that attempts to coordinate or recruit for adult sexual activities including but not limited to:
Filmed sexual activities Pornographic activities, strip club shows, live sex performances, erotic dances Sexual, erotic, or tantric massages
Content that engages in explicit sexual solicitation by, including but not limited to the following, offering or asking for:
Sex or sexual partners Sex chat or conversations Nude images
Content that engages in implicit sexual solicitation, which can be identified by offering or asking to engage in a sexual act and/or acts identified by other suggestive elements such as any of the following:
Vague suggestive statements, such as "looking for a good time tonight" Sexualized slang Using sexual hints such as mentioning sexual roles, sex positions, fetish scenarios, sexual preference/sexual partner preference, state of arousal,
act of sexual intercourse or activity (sexual penetration or self-pleasuring), commonly sexualized areas of the body such as the breasts, groin, or buttocks, state of hygiene of genitalia or buttocks Content (hand drawn, digital, or real-world
art) that may depict explicit sexual activity or suggestively posed person(s).
Content that offers or asks for other adult activities such as:
Commercial pornography Partners who share fetish or sexual interests
Sexually explicit language that adds details and goes beyond mere naming or mentioning of:
A state of sexual arousal (wetness or erection) An act of sexual intercourse (sexual penetration, self-pleasuring or exercising fetish scenarios)
Comment: Facebook's Sexual Solicitation Policy is a Honeypot for Trolls
Facebook just quietly adopted a policy that could push thousands of innocent people off of the platform. The new " sexual solicitation " rules forbid pornography and other explicit sexual content (which was already functionally
banned under a different statute ), but they don't stop there: they also ban "implicit sexual solicitation" , including the use of sexual slang, the solicitation of nude images, discussion of "sexual partner
preference," and even expressing interest in sex . That's not an exaggeration: the new policy bars "vague suggestive statements, such as 'looking for a good time tonight.'" It wouldn't be a stretch to think that asking
" Netflix and chill? " could run afoul of this policy.
The new rules come with a baffling justification, seemingly blurring the line between sexual exploitation and plain old doing it:
[P]eople use Facebook to discuss and draw attention to sexual violence and exploitation. We recognize the importance of and want to allow for this discussion. We draw the line, however, when content facilitates, encourages or coordinates sexual
encounters between adults.
In other words, discussion of sexual exploitation is allowed, but discussion of consensual, adult sex is taboo. That's a classic censorship model: speech about sexuality being permitted only when sex is presented as dangerous and shameful. It's
especially concerning since healthy, non-obscene discussion about sex--even about enjoying or wanting to have sex--has been a component of online communities for as long as the Internet has existed, and has for almost as long been the target of
governmental censorship efforts .
Until now, Facebook has been a particularly important place for groups who aren't well represented in mass media to discuss their sexual identities and practices. At very least, users should get the final say about whether they want to see such
speech in their timelines.
Overly Restrictive Rules Attract Trolls
Is Facebook now a sex-free zone ? Should we be afraid of meeting potential partners on the platform or even disclosing our sexual orientations ?
Maybe not. For many users, life on Facebook might continue as it always has. But therein lies the problem: the new rules put a substantial portion of Facebook users in danger of violation. Fundamentally, that's not how platform moderation
policies should work--with such broadly sweeping rules, online trolls can take advantage of reporting mechanisms to punish groups they don't like.
Combined with opaque and one-sided flagging and reporting systems , overly restrictive rules can incentivize abuse from bullies and other bad actors. It's not just individual trolls either: state actors have systematically abused Facebook's
flagging process to censor political enemies. With these new rules, organizing that type of attack just became a lot easier. A few reports can drag a user into Facebook's labyrinthine enforcement regime , which can result in having a group page
deactivated or even being banned from Facebook entirely. This process gives the user no meaningful opportunity to appeal a bad decision .
Given the rules' focus on sexual interests and activities, it's easy to imagine who would be the easiest targets: sex workers (including those who work lawfully), members of the LGBTQ community, and others who congregate online to discuss issues
relating to sex. What makes the policy so dangerous to those communities is that it forbids the very things they gather online to discuss.
Even before the recent changes at Facebook and Tumblr , we'd seen trolls exploit similar policies to target the LGBTQ community and censor sexual health resources . Entire harassment campaigns have organized to use payment processors' reporting
systems to cut off sex workers' income . When online platforms adopt moderation policies and reporting processes, it's essential that they consider how those policies and systems might be weaponized against marginalized groups.
A recent Verge article quotes a Facebook representative as saying that people sharing sensitive information in private Facebook groups will be safe , since Facebook relies on reports from users. If there are no tattle-tales in your group, the
reasoning goes, then you can speak freely without fear of punishment. But that assurance rings rather hollow: in today's world of online bullying and brigading, there's no question of if your private group will be infiltrated by the trolls
; it's when .
Did SESTA/FOSTA Inspire Facebook's Policy Change?
The rule change comes a few months after Congress passed the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act and the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (SESTA/FOSTA), and it's hard not to wonder if the policy is the direct result of
the new Internet censorship laws.
SESTA/FOSTA opened online platforms to new criminal and civil liability at the state and federal levels for their users' activities. While ostensibly targeted at online sex trafficking, SESTA/FOSTA also made it a crime for a platform to
"promote or facilitate the prostitution of another person." The law effectively blurred the distinction between adult, consensual sex work and sex trafficking. The bill's supporters argued that forcing platforms to clamp down on all
sex work was the only way to curb trafficking--nevermind the growing chorus of trafficking experts arguing the very opposite .
As SESTA/FOSTA was debated in Congress, we repeatedly pointed out that online platforms would have little choice but to over-censor : the fear of liability would force them not just to stop at sex trafficking or even sex work, but to take much
more restrictive approaches to sex and sexuality in general, even in the absence of any commercial transaction. In EFF's ongoing legal challenge to SESTA/FOSTA , we argue that the law unconstitutionally silences lawful speech online.
While we don't know if the Facebook policy change came as a response to SESTA/FOSTA, it is a perfect example of what we feared would happen: platforms would decide that the only way to avoid liability is to ban a vast range of discussions of sex.
Wrongheaded as it is, the new rule should come as no surprise. After all, Facebook endorsed SESTA/FOSTA . Regardless of whether one caused the other or not, both reflect the same vision of how the Internet should work--a place where certain
topics simply cannot be discussed. Like SESTA/FOSTA, Facebook's rule change might have been made to fight online sexual exploitation. But like SESTA/FOSTA, it will do nothing but push innocent people offline.
The Israeli Prostitution Task Force Committee's
promise to carry out 'a large-scale offensive to root out lap dances from strip clubs' is just one several concurrent attacks on sex workers' rights currently being launched by the Israeli Knesset (Parliament). Ministers are
sponsoring amendments to the law in order to criminalise 'striptease' under prostitution law, stating that both stripping and other sex work "perpetuate harmful and humiliating attitudes towards women and their bodies".
Israeli law conflates those suspected of being trafficking victims and migrant sex workers, usually resulting in people being deported or refused entry at the border. The number of deportations from Israel had subsided in recent years, but 2018
has seen an increase again -- in the first 8 months of this year, 288 people were turned away at the border
"on suspicion they planned to work in prostitution " (an 87% increase compared to last year).
In October, after parliamentary recess, the Knesset will consider a Bill proposing criminalisation of the purchase of sex, which was
approved to be taken forward in August . This is the 8th year that Israel's Knesset has considered a proposal for sex work law reform resembling the '
Nordic Model ', which criminalises the purchase of sex. So far no version of the Bill has progressed beyond the first reading (in Israel a bill needs to pass through three readings before coming law).
The most recent proposed legislation proposes civil penalties, instead of criminal charges, for those who attempt to purchase sexual services; the Bill proposes a fines system, with first time 'offenders' facing a fine of NIS 1,500 ($405). The
penalty can increase to NIS 3,000 ($810) for those who repeat the offense within three years, and courts would be empowered to raise the fines to a maximum of NIS 75,300 ($20,400.) Fines would be applicable to those who pay someone for their
labour when it includes the provision of sexual services. As in many countries who have the Nordic Model, Israel also plans to make it an offense to attempt to pay for sexual services regardless of whether the act or the payment actually takes
The Council of State Administrative Law division has upheld restrictive rules for brothel owners, that were initially introduced in 2013, but have been postponed due to a legal challenge.
The brothel keepers in Amsterdam's Red Light District must ensure that prostitutes should meet the minimum-age requirement of 21.
The owners are also obliged to interview sex workers in order to spot signs of human trafficking. A previous 2015 court judgement requires that Dutch brothel owners must speak the languages of the sex workers they hire. Reports of these
interviews should then be made available to municipal supervisors. However personal data of sex workers obtained during interviews does not have to be shared with municipal supervisors.
Among rules not upheld by the court is the requirement for the owners of window-based brothels to be held responsible for violations of hygiene rules, including cleanliness of the rooms and sex toys.
The decision by the Council of State is irrevocable and leaves no room for another appeal, the Parool reported.
Israel's state prosecutor's office has issued a miserable new directive clamping down on such lap dances in the country's strip clubs, claiming that under some circumstances dances could be considered an illegal act of prostitution.
Deputy State Prosecutor Shlomo Lamberger has instructed police to increase the enforcement against such lap dances, which, in certain circumstances (such as the duration of the dance and the nature of the physical contact between the dancer
and the customer) will be considered as an act of prostitution-- which does not have a legal definition.
According to the new directive, law enforcement officials will be able to act against owners of strip clubs by issuing closing warrants, discontinuing the clubs' business licenses, and in case of violations of the directive, filing indictments
against such institutions.
The police have begun issuing warning letters to strip club owners around the country detailing the change in policy and warning the owners of potential future police action. Anti-prostitution activists have hailed the new policy for giving the
police an effective enforcement tool that will make it easier to close down strip clubs on the claim that prostitution activity is occurring on the premises.
The new policy was developed after a Tel Aviv district court judge ruled that a strip club near the Ramat Gan Diamond Exchange could not be granted a license as a place of entertainment. The prosecutor's office then assembled a team to look into
grounds for deeming strip clubs as places of prostitution.
YouTube has banned Erika Lust's series In Conversation with Sex Workers.
There was NO explicit content, NO sex, NO naked bodies, NO (female) nipples or anything else that breaks YouTube's strict guidelines in the series, Lust wrote on her website. It was simply sex workers speaking about their work and experiences.
Presumably the censorship is inspired by the US FOSTA internet censorship where YouTube would be held liable for content that facilitates sex trafficking. It is cheaper and easier for YouTube to take down any content that could in anyway
connected to sex trafficking than spend time checking it out.
Erika Lust, a Barcelona-based erotic filmmaker, wrote in a blog post on Wednesday that YouTube terminated her eponymous channel on July 4, when it had around 11,000 subscribers. The ban came after an interviewee for the company's series In
Conversation With Sex Workers, which had been on YouTube for about a week, tweeted to promote her involvement in the film. Within hours of that tweet the channel was terminated, citing violation of community guidelines.
Gardai have only initiated 2 prosecutions under a law passed last year to criminalise the purchase of sex. The 2017 Sexual Offences Act -- which introduced the so-called Nordic model criminalises the customers of sex workers.
Under the law, women must be willing to participate in court proceedings against their clients. This contrasts with Scandinavia where the law lets police officers testify about the paid for sex.
The Times say Garda sources claim some women are often frightened to face a punter in court, as they may be linked to organised crime gangs who can threaten the women's family and friends. But in reality the women aren't going to do very well in
business if they don't look after their customers.
Gardai sources also claim the force is missing out on valuable tip-offs from punters about trafficked women, because men are unsurprisingly unwilling to get involved when they themselves would be prosecuted.
Oxfam officials will try to convince the government it should keep its government funding - despite claims of sexual misconduct by its aid workers.
Aid workers apparently paid for prostitutes in a villa rented by Oxfam. The charity noted that there was no evidence of the sex workers being under-aged. It is also reported that no recipients of aid were involved.
Four of the aid workers were sacked and 3 were asked to resign.
And for some reason, these punishments are simply not enough for a baying lynch mob of the politically correct.
There are suggestions that the aid workers should have been reported to the local police as sex work is illegal in the country. But what sort of people would call for people to be allowed to rot in a foreign prison as punishment for something
that is not even a crime in the UK.
The UK Government's International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt has said Oxfam must account for the way it handled the claims or it risks losing government funding, worth 2£32m in the last financial year. Michelle Russell, director of
investigations at the Charity Commission will also be part of the talks.
Mordaunt told the BBC's Andrew Marr the charity had failed in its moral leadership over the scandal. She said Oxfam did absolutely the wrong thing by not reporting details of the allegations. She said no organisation could be a government partner
if it did not have the moral leadership to do the right thing.
Ahead of the government meeting, Oxfam announced new measures for the prevention and handling of sexual abuse cases. The charity will also introduce tougher vetting of staff and mandatory safeguarding training for new recruits.
Perhaps job adverts for aid workers will now read: "Only saints need apply. If the halo slips, must be willing to be burnt at the stake or be left to rot in foreign jails".
Many Thai women become sex workers not because they are poor, but in order to escape poverty. In doing so they have become providers and heads of households, and they deserve respect for that accomplishment.
Women in Thailand hold the responsibility and pride of supporting the family. In modern times the needs of the family cannot be grown by hand, but rather women must find cash to provide. Opportunities for women with no qualifications and no
capital are limited. The work we can find is undervalued and is always the same every day. There are few surprises and no bonuses.
A small number of us, after many minimum wage jobs, decide to apply for work in karaoke lounges, massage parlours, brothels or bars ... we decide to become sex workers. We are making a choice between the options available to us. We cannot choose
options that do not exist.
Corrupt authorities use the law to make us pay for our human rights.
As sex workers we earn at least double the minimum wage. We make enough to support five other adults in our families. The work can be hard and sometimes boring, but it is rarely the same. There are lots of surprises and many bonuses.
In the modern form of sex work in Thailand we apply for our jobs and are hired or rejected. Our workplaces have regulations. There is no pimp, mafia, or gang -- there is only the motorcycle taxi guy and the business manager. Our work concerns are
similar to those of other workers, e.g. inadequate paid leave, lack of social security coverage, occupational health and safety.
We work to buy land and build houses. We work to pay taxes (including bribes to corrupt police), to finance the university fees of our brothers or the rental costs of shops for our sisters, and to cover any other emergencies. We become the bread
winners and so make many of the big decisions for our families. Sex workers also build up the country. As far back as 1998, the International Labour Organisation reported that we were sending $300 million home to rural areas each year, larger
than any development project. We are also the backbone of the tourism industry, which makes up around 10% of Thailand's annual GDP.
Sex work has become a way out of generational poverty for us and our families that also boosts the country's wealth. We don't do sex work because we are poor, we do sex work to end our poverty.
Adapting to survive
Sex workers in Thailand have been organising, resisting and responding to change for centuries.
Each generation of sex workers has had to invent and learn new skills that in earlier years were never imagined. We adapted to the end of slavery and the arrival of a cash economy. We keep track of world events, politics, economics, and sports to
understand our customers. We learned about passports, visas, and travel. We used post cards, telegrams, pagers, emails, mobile phones, web cams, and now apps.
We want to know, if society were asked to think of us, not as criminals, immoral women, or helpless victims, but as humans, mothers, workers, and family providers, what laws and systems could be imagined?
We have also greeted many new customers over the years. Starting with the Chinese migrants of the late 1700s, the list also includes Japanese soldiers during world war two, GI's from the US during the war in Vietnam, American and other allied
troops on leave from their wars in the Gulf countries. Despite being denied schooling we learned new languages -- Chinese, Japanese and English. We learned about dealing with the trauma of war. We learned the customs of many countries. Today we
meet more than 15 million men from every corner of the world when they visit amazing Thailand each year.
Society has relied on sex workers to keep working, bringing in the money to mend the problems.
In 1960, when the Suppression and Prevention of Prostitution Act first made it illegal to buy or sell sex, we had to learn another new skill -- working on top of criminal law. We quickly learned that corrupt authorities use the law to make us pay
for our human rights; the right to work, the right to safety and justice. We learned that criminal law is a way to suppress our rights -- it is not designed to promote them.
In the late 1980s the country was building up its tourism and industry. Thailand welcomed millions of tourists. Thai sex workers travelled throughout the world, while our neighbours from Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar, and China were coming to
Thailand to build a better life. Moving to work is our path of resistance. We refuse to accept the situations or conditions we were born into and dream of a better life. Migration is our solution, not our problem.
However, instead of the governments working to promote safe migration the Anti-trafficking Law landed on top of us. We learned that anti- trafficking law does not improve our working conditions, increase our options, or end our poverty. It does
not reduce armed conflict in our homelands. It does not reduce corruption. It does not increase support for children and minors. It does not demand governments or society respect us or our basic human rights. Crucially, anti-trafficking law and
practice do not reduce trafficking or provide justice to workers in such situations in any industry, including the sex industry. We know this, because our organisation detailed the impact of anti-trafficking law and practice on sex workers' human
rights in its 2012 community research report, Hit & Run.
The need to stand together
Instead of being admired as activists, leaders, workers, and providers we are called bad women, criminals, and victims. We are portrayed as weak, stupid, and childlike. Our contribution to the family and the country is ignored, or redefined as a
burden or exploitation.
Increasing stigma and law has destroyed the links between us. Our friends who stayed working in the factory, on the land, or in a shop have become distant and afraid of associating with bad women and criminals. Organisations that used to
cooperate together have become confused both at national and international levels. Women's groups are not sure whether to work with sex worker organisations or not. They are unsure whether to see sex workers and their organisations as criminals,
as victims of criminals, or as equal partners deserving of respect. The women's movement is fractured. Projects had their funding threatened when the George W. Bush, the former US president, introduced the anti-prostitution pledge in 2003. This
pledge was declared unconstitutional in 2013, but only for organisations working in the US. It requires that organisations funded by USAID must not take any action or position which could promote, support, or advocate the legalisation or practice
of prostitution) Sensational reporting and hysteria have reinforced the confusion, resulting in many groups becoming afraid to stand openly with sex workers.
And so we must stand together.
For 30 years we have been organising as Empower -- Thailand's national sex worker organisation. Around 50,000 sex workers have been a part of Empower. They advocate for their rights and against stigma, their efforts helped by their presence in
work places, health counselling, and trainings in spheres such as Thai literacy, health education, English language, IT, and legal rights. We are sex workers working in all sectors of the industry. We love our work, hate our work, and, like most
workers in any job, are often somewhere in between. We are just starting out, or have years of experience, are planning to change jobs, or retire. We are Thai, ethnic minorities, and migrants from neighbouring countries.
We want to know, if society were asked to think of us, not as criminals, immoral women, or helpless victims, but as humans, mothers, workers, and family providers, what laws and systems could be imagined? How should the state treat women who are
head of the family?
While we wait for an answer all around the world, people are still asking: prostitution -- good or bad? Legal, illegal, decriminalised -- what is best? The debate goes on and on while we are still providing for our families, building up the
country, advising each government that comes along, trying to stand up with others all while continuing to work on top of a mountain of stigma and laws.
Empower is a Thai sex worker organisation that has been promoting rights and opportunities for sex workers since 1985. It is led and largely managed by sex workers in Thailand. The majority of its support comes from international donors e.g. Mama
Cash, American Jewish World Service, but Empower also receives contributions from the Thai government as well as our own fundraising.