FOSTA/SESTA & HR2219: The Pornocalypse May Well Have Arrived

One of the reasons this blog has been so neglected is I’ve long been feeling that the online porn industry is on its last legs and I’ve been wondering how much time I should spend on a business that could be doomed in 2018. Piracy has worn it down spectacularly and the UK’s plans for draconian censorship via age verification are a major threat. But the really big problem seems to be the election of Donald Trump and the Republicans in the US. They campaigned on an anti-porn platform and I’ve been waiting for them to bring the hammer down.

Well, now it’s here.

Last month the US government – in a depressingly bipartisan move – passed two bills (FOSTA / SESTA) that ostensibly aim to prevent sex trafficking by stopping online advertising. Its wording makes no distinction between sex trafficking and consensual sex work. In a dreadful legal precedent, the bills also make any online platform legally liable for what its users say and post. The law is being applied retrospectively.

I won’t go into further detail about the laws because a bunch of other people have already said it better. Read Congress just legalized sex censorship by Violet Blue and visit Survivors Against SESTA for explanations, sex worker stories and activism on this issue.

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In essence, any sex work can easily be considered trafficking. That includes pornography.

In the wake of the law, Craigslist shut their personals site and many sex worker websites were similarly closed. As I write, major websites like Twitter, Facebook, Yahoo and others have rolled out new terms of service as their companies scramble to comply with this law. Twitter says it can delete any user that exposes them to legal risk (see the section on “Ending these terms“). Facebook has released rules regarding “Sexual Exploitation of Adults” which now considers the following interactions to equate to sex trafficking:

“Attempts to coordinate adult sexual services or engaging in sexual solicitation including (but not limited to):

Escort services
Prostitution
Filmed sexual encounters
Sexualised massage
Requesting rates on images of escorts
Offering contact information with escort images or sexual solicitation slang terms
Arranged marriages with refugees or internally displaced persons
Paid domination service
Offering or soliciting sex or sexual fetish partners

Just to bring that home to you: if you engage in sexual chat with someone and offer to have sex with them, that’s now “sexual exploitation” and you will be banned.

It’s a perfect example of how this law is going to seriously destroy any kind of sex speech on the internet. And they’re only just getting started.

For the last couple of months, sex workers have been agitating against this law and now they’re losing work, facing poverty and increased risk of violence or death. In Australia, where sex work is mostly legal, my sex worker friends are struggling to maintain online businesses in the wake of a wave of US-based censorship that they could do nothing to oppose or prevent. People are scrambling to scrub clean social media accounts and trying desperately to work out how to survive.

Now a third bill is making its way towards law: HR 2219 or the “End Banking For Human Traffickers Act”. XBiz says this law could imperil payment processing for adult sites. I’ve written before about how the adult industry suffers from financial discrimination and how every difficulty ultimately stems from Visa and Mastercard. Violet Blue did a great job of discussing the issue of “porn redlining” here and Mikandi discusses “Operation Choke Point” here – the government program to cut off financial services to sex workers and adult businesses.

At the moment, porn is tolerated by the credit card companies and banks, allowed to operate under exceptionally stringent rules and high fees but this new law could see them cut us all off. No doubt that is the government’s aim; the laws appear to be deliberately broad enough to sweep up every kind of “immoral” business and activity online.

I have US-based payment processing for my two paysites. If I lose that, I lose pretty much all my income. And bam, pornocalypse, game over, time to do something else with my life.

In theory I can move my business to Europe and set up billing there but I’m not sure if Visa and Mastercard will quarantine Europe from the actions of the US in this. It’s also a massive undertaking and I will lose all my existing subscribers in the move. Not sure if I can build the site back up again, though I think I’d like to try.

So yeah. I have no idea how things are going to pan out but, to quote every single character in Star Wars, “I have a bad feeling about this.” Maybe the end really is nigh.

It’s not fun. I’ve spent 18 years of my life making and curating porn that is independent, sex positive and feminist. I still believe that what I’m doing is a worthy thing to do. And yet over the last couple of years I’ve felt like I’ve been drowning in a puddle of slowly creeping censorship, watching social media platforms absorb all the traffic and then set about hiding and banning anything remotely sexual, while Google gives all its porn traffic to piracy sites. It’s hugely exhausting to keep plowing on in this environment. It’s also really frustrating to be an Australian and at the mercy of the US government, which has so much control over the internet and I can’t even vote for the fuckers.

I’m shooting again soon. It may be the very last time I film anything. I’m not sure if it will make good financial sense to invest in new content if I’m about to lose billing.

Long time sex blogger and friend Bacchus coined the term “pornocalypse” to describe the creeping censorship on social media platforms. But I think we’ve moved on to the pornocalypse of the wider internet now. And I can’t see it getting better any time soon.

 

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