Hostile platforms: Is big tech turning its back on adult indie creators? 229

This is the first post in our ‘Hostile Platforms’ series, which looks at how big tech and big business treat adult-related companies and businesses. Check out the second part, ‘‘Baby, I Got Your Money’, when you’ve finished the article below.

A snowy weekend in march saw a plethora of writers, bloggers, industry representatives and academics gather in London for the Eroticon 2018 conference, kicked off with a keynote address by Girl on the Net (GOTN) that painted a troubling picture: Barnes & Noble’s Nook platform has begun dropping erotic anthologies. Amazon’s Kindle platform remains a minefield for erotica writers and good old Facebook’s moral compass is broken in too many ways to be discussed here.

Even Twitter, a favourite among the attendees because of its relatively adult-friendly nature, has been shadow banning some accounts – a practice the company hasn’t officially acknowledged, which hides affected accounts from search results.

Shadow banning and de-ranking are perhaps relatively minor difficulties compared with the changes made to Patreon last year when it began aggressively sidelining and dropping adult workers from its platform. This was a huge problem for many creators who derive most of their income from the platform. The justification for the sudden change? This wasn’t changing its policy, but rather “clarifying” it.

Patreon was, at the very least, prepared to enter into a dialogue and offer guidance for its users on how to bring their profiles in-line with the company’s newly-enforced standards. Some platforms are less transparent.

Another Eroticon speaker, YouTube star Hannah Witton, gave a talk on vlogging. Although billed as 101 session, Witton quickly painted a picture of content creators wrestling with an opaque edifice where effectively monetizing videos and avoiding having content hidden from key traffic drivers (such as ‘recommended videos’ lists) is almost dadaist. Witton described using cut-out photographs of male nipples in order to avoid showing female nipples in a video discussing breasts, and even mentioned one vlogger leaving several minutes of a silent black screen at the end of videos in order to push the length to over ten minutes, a practice some vloggers think boosts a video’s rankings in YouTube’s algorithms.

Increasing hostility to adult content on large platforms pushes those in the adult industry to rely on their own sites. But going solo poses new threats in the form of the UK’s new age-verification laws. Age verification is troubling for a number of reasons, not least because a government database of its citizens porn-viewing habits is incredibly vulnerable to “usage creep” or being hacked and used for blackmail. But for independent websites it is especially troubling. The ratio between the causal visitors to a website (who the site owner has to pay a third party to verify the ages of) versus the number of visitors that then actually pay for something is huge. This places a crippling financial burden on smaller players, potentially leaving only giants like Pornhub able to operate in the UK.

These changes aren’t inevitable, however. In fact, as GOTN also noted, there are plenty of examples where people actively and vocally protesting has made a difference. Patreon, following the fall-out of its policy clarification soon began backpedalling on its changes. Similarly, the new UK porn regulations have been put on hold due to ceaseless vocal campaigning from key figures, but they’re still due to be introduced before the end of 2018.

Unfortunately, with the social platform tide currently turning away from adult indie creators, there’s likely to be the need for further protests and pressure from independents that continue to exist in conditions of adversity.

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