Monica Huldt had two million followers on Instagram, a distinction that few people reach, even popular influencers. Then, one day, it was all gone. “My account was taken down, so I had to start from scratch. Many of my Instagram followers also support my OnlyFans, so it affects my livelihood even though I respect the rules of Instagram,” said Monica.
Monica did indeed “start from scratch” and rebuilt her online empire, but the Instagram ban was a significant setback. Like many other sex workers, Monica had fallen victim to discrimination from social media. Her account was stripped from her, and she hadn’t broken any of Instagram’s terms of service. Monica is in the top 1% of OnlyFans creators and is a massively popular erotic model. She’s part of a growing group of vocal sex workers calling social media platforms to the carpet for their discriminatory practices.
TOS Changes That Tighten the Reins
In 2020, Instagram (owned by Facebook) updated its terms of service, effectively making things harder on sex workers who wished to build their businesses online. Newly added, “banned actions” included overtly sexual emojis, sexually explicit language, and solicitous activity.
Facebook’s terms take a stronger stance, banning anything remotely sexual from their platform.
Sex workers have faced a long history of discriminatory actions and shadowbanning on various platforms, Facebook and Instagram primarily. Shadowbanning is the act of hiding or restricting a user’s content without informing the user that it’s happening. So as the person is posting, as usual, thinking they are reaching their target audience, their followers do not see their content. This action taken by the platforms can seriously harm the income flow of people like Monica Huldt, who rely solely on revenue from their social media-based businesses to survive.
Inequality and Playing Favorites
One of the biggest issues with the discriminatory actions taken by platforms such as Facebook is that they are not doled out equally.
Celebrities and other well-known personalities have been allowed to post more explicit content unchecked, while those who are known sex workers are consistently silenced.
Online content creation has been the safest way for sex workers to continue working and earning a living throughout the pandemic. When high-earning celebrities are allowed to continue creating content and engaging their followers while sex workers, who struggled mightily throughout the pandemic shutdowns, are not, the effect of unequal treatment is staggeringly clear.
In a pre-pandemic interview with Vice, Alana Evans, President of the Adult Performers Actors Guild (APAG), said “There are performers who are being deleted, because they put up a picture of their freshly painted toenails.”
Many disenfranchised groups rose up to fight back against inequality in 2020, but the sex workers under APAG were ahead of the game. APAG took major exception to their members being targeted. In April 2019, they drafted a letter via their legal counsel to Facebook outlining the exception they took to sex workers being unfairly targeted by the terms of service.
Almost 200 workers’ names were included in the letter, all people who had suffered the adverse effects of the ever-tightening rules. Sadly, Facebook ignored their initial letter and a follow-up.
In the summer of 2021, OnlyFans, the site Monica Huldt relies on for most of her revenue, made a rule that explicit content was no longer allowed on their site. The backlash was swift and loud. Sex workers rightly maintained that OnlyFans was a success primarily because of them and the explicit content they created for the site.
The uprising worked, and OnlyFans backtracked, saying they would no longer ban porn on their site. For many influencers like Monica, it was a close call. A permanent ban could have spelled ruin for her and many sex workers like her.
The fight to allow sex workers to promote their businesses on social media unfettered continues. Led by influencers like Monica Huldt, sex workers strive to make their voices heard by massive companies who hold the fate of these women and men in their hands. As sex work becomes more and more accepted in the mainstream, the platforms will eventually need to address the issue and clarify their stance once and for all.