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Shadowbans: Secret Policies Depriving Sex Workers of Income and Community

Written collaboratively by Juniper Fitzgerald and Jessie Sage

Several months ago, we attended the Adult Entertainment Expo in Las Vegas, which included the Adult Video Network (AVN awards). The problematic aspects of such conventions notwithstanding—for example, a panel of “industry leaders” at the Expo admitted to never hearing of FOSTA—it is an event many sex workers count on for networking. This year, one thing stood out at the various parties and meetups: none of the people in attendance, from well-known porn stars to newly minted cam girls, could find each other on social media platforms. So we—your very much alive and visible authors—decided to search for one another. Sure enough, even typing our exact handles into Twitter’s search bar yielded “no results.”

Since AEE/AVN, other sex workers have publicly addressed shadowbanning. The day after International Whores’ Day on June 2, NYC-based Dominatrix Mistress Blunt tweeted, “It’s really upsetting that when I go to tweet about #IWD everyone is #shadowbanned and I can’t find them to tag and I can’t livestream important speeches because I’ve been banned from that feature too.” Sex workers are finding that Twitter and other platforms have shadowbanned a significant portion of our community. Shadowbanning is the increasingly common practice of social media platforms silently censoring a user’s content without either the user or her potential followers knowing. In the The Economist, the anonymous writer G.F. describes Twitter shadowbanning:

Shadowbanned users are not told that they have been affected. They can continue to post messages, add new followers and comment on or reply to other posts. But their messages may not appear in the feed, their replies may be suppressed and they may not show up in searches for their usernames. The only hint that such a thing is happening would be a dip in likes, favourites or retweets—or an ally alerting them to their disappearance.

In the year since The Economist column was published, shadowban testers have been created. Shadowban testers are able to determine whether a Twitter user is banned in search suggestions, general searches, and/or in their thread. Essentially, the test detects whether a user’s Twitter handle is suggested to others, whether their handle pops up in a general search, and/or if the user’s entire thread is invisible to other users.

In the column, G.F. further maintains that “the currency of social networks is attention.” While there may be some truth in this statement, for sex workers, the currency of social networks is also, well, currency. Accessing community and clients translates to income for people like us who are marginalized, stigmatized, and criminalized. So, when sex workers lose access to social media, we lose access to income. Shadowbanning, then, is an opaque practice that effectively denies sex workers their livelihood. Sex worker Leana Lane tells us over Twitter DM, “I suspect that fewer clients are seeing and booking me than they would otherwise [because of it].”

Realizing how pervasive shadowbanning had become, we began to ask questions: What exactly is shadowbanning? How do sex workers on Twitter know that they’ve been shadowbanned? What have sex workers tried to do to get around shadowbanning? And, perhaps most importantly, how has it impacted their businesses and their community?

On Common Stripper Hustle Fails

Remember the first time you watched Nomi Malone lick the pole at Cheetah’s? Weren’t you all “Ew, who does that?” as you decided Windex was one of the better things coming into contact with her tongue? Have you seen a new girl at the club cruise by in a mullet tutu and been like “What just happened?” I die a little on the inside witnessing less glaring hustle mistakes. One of the most humbling things about stripping (besides the constant rejection) is that you’ll still be fine-tuning your sales skills and learning from your mistakes even after working long enough that dumb regulars call you a “lifer.” Maybe you’re all business in the front resulting in not enough party in the back. Here are a few cringe-inducing moves I know I’ve been guilty of.

Next On Stage We Have Amnesia: My number one personal problem is consistently forgetting about customers who express interest. Thanks to garish carpet, lasers, loud music, and other things designed to disorient patrons into spending, my attention span seems to clear and reset approximately every thirty seconds. If I’m collecting my stage tips and a guy tells me to come talk to him, I’ll go straighten up in the dressing room and get back on the floor with the interaction erased from my memory. He’ll watch me walk around, cold-calling other men like his money isn’t good enough. By the time I work my way to him and say that he looks familiar from somewhere, the damage has been done. So remember your medication, write on your hand with eyeliner, and set a phone alarm for three minutes in the future. Mostly, don’t get sucked into dillydallying in the dressing room.

It’s A Good Idea To File Your Taxes

Schedule C and an example of a deductible expense.
Schedule C and an example of a deductible expense.

The filing deadline for your IRS tax return is Tuesday, April 18. You can file for an automatic extension with this form.

In the last couple of weeks I’ve read sex workers on Facebook and Twitter talking about the difficulties they had in getting an apartment, qualifying for a car loan, and signing up for health care because they didn’t have any proof of income. “I don’t get paychecks,” the sex worker might say (unless she is an employee), “So how can I prove how much money I make?” I read dancers telling other dancers to get a strip club manager to write a letter estimating what she makes in a week, and while that might work to buy a car at You Work—You Ride! it won’t help with big leasing companies or the bank.

What will help is having a copy of your tax return. Even before you file it, make a copy of your completed return to have on hand for any occasion that requires proof of income. It doesn’t have to be complicated; if you take a look at the Schedule C and panic at all the deduction categories, if you don’t save receipts for anything, if you haven’t filed in years, if you’ve never filed during your sex working career, just remember this: don’t panic. You can do this. All it is is counting money and adding and subtracting it.

Well. And paying it. That part is no fun. But if you’re filing as a self-employed person, you’re supposed to pay quarterly estimated taxes, which is somewhat better than paying one chunk in April, and hey, at least you don’t have to get depressed looking at a deduction on a paycheck every couple of weeks. OK, it’s unpleasant. There’s really nothing less fun to do with your money than send it to the IRS other than using it to pay for car repairs or dental work.

We are not accounting or tax professionals here at Tits and Sass but I, for one, am a career stripper who had her own tax missteps in the past (the part where I pretty much forgot to file the entire time I was in college) (and I was in college for a long time). If I could get straightened out, so can you. Let me be clear that I’m not urging anyone to pay taxes for any other reason than to make their own life easier. I do, however, want to emphasize how it can make your life easier:

Exposing Snapchat: What Adult Performers Need To Know

photoscI live a double life. By day, I am a software developer, living in a world where your choice of hoodie, afternoon beer, and text editor mark your rank within the social tribe. At night, my mousy ponytail comes down and the Givenchy Rouge goes on as I fire up my snowball microphone and HD webcam. No doubt, I’m probably getting naked for guys whose open source code I use day to day in my projects. I’m a tech geek and proud cam model. That’s why last month’s  Federal Trade Commission ruling that the popular photo sharing mobile app Snapchat deceived its users has me fuming.

The story of Snapchat reads like the typical Silicon Valley tech bromance novel. Founded by Bobby Murphy and Evan Spiegel when they were students at Stanford and living in the school’s Kappa Sigma fraternity house, the early years of Snapchat are chronicled in Forbes. They were frat-bro misogynists with little regard for the women of Stanford, illustrated by some emails obtained by Valleywag that Spiegel sent to his Kappa Sigma brothers which included the term “sororisluts.”

Snapchat’s main value proposition is that the app allows users to send mobile photos that are secure and which are deleted from the recipient’s phone after one viewing. However, the FTC found that the app is not secure at all. The FTC’s ruling details that the company failed to communicate security holes to users. These security holes include a hacker security breach, a recipient’s ability to take a screenshot of a photo without notifying the sender, and the fact that images were not deleted after a recipient opened them. According to a press release from the FTC, “Snapchat deceptively told its users that the sender would be notified if a recipient took a screenshot of a snap. In fact, any recipient with an Apple device that has an operating system pre-dating iOS 7 can use a simple method to evade the app’s screenshot detection, and the app will not notify the sender.” The FTC also found that Snapchat “tracked and transmitted some users’ location information and collected data from their address books without consent.” Although many users who trusted Snapchat with their private photos were surprised to learn about the FTC’s findings, the history of the company points to a disregard for user security almost from the start.

Same Bat Time: The Regulars Round Table, Part One

adifferentWhat do most sex workers, from cam girls to escorts, have in common? Their regulars! Whether they’re consistently annoying, consistently charming, or consistently forgettable, they’re certainly an enduring feature of our lives. So we got a stripper, a pro domme, and two escorts into an endless e-mail chain together to see what they came up with on the topic. The round table that follows is an edited version of that conversation. (Read the second part of this round table here.)

Who was your most memorable regular?

Josephine: My favorite was a squirrely little white guy named Sheldon. There are two words that describe him: horny and nerdy. Sheldon was about 5’4″, rail thin, and shamelessly sported a suede fedora (not the douchebag kind, the Indiana Jones kind). He’d breeze into the club about once every two weeks unannounced, skip buying a drink, and grab me for dances. While I danced he’d rattle off [the plot of] the latest fantasy or science fiction book he’d read. I gave him a copy of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? for his birthday and within a few days he e-mailed a proper book report. Sheldon was some sort of layman but he always wanted to be a writer. The most endearing thing he ever was did was write a short fantasy story about me. I can’t remember what it was about except that I was a mermaid princess and he ad’hered to a go’ofy fantas’y dialect that used lots of apos’trophes and acc’ents.

Leigh Alanna: For a couple of years, I’ve had a standing weekly appointment with an older regular. And I do mean regularevery week, Sunday night, eight o’clock. Even the staff in the deli nearby know me, and have a coffee waiting for me at 7:45. Still, we’ve always sent each other a confirmation e-mail sometime in the couple of days before. One Sunday morning, instead of waking up to a friendly “Hey, same bat-time, same bat-network?”, I got an e-mail from his daughter telling me that her father had had a fall and while he was fine, he was going to be in the hospital for a couple of days and wouldn’t be able to make our appointment. I thanked her for letting me know, and sent appropriate good wishes, but entirely lacked the stones to ask her (or later, him) who she thought she was e-mailing. Did she know she was writing to her dad’s dominatrix? Or was I some bright young mentee?

Ephemeral: Probably the nightclub guy. He was in finance, mid-forties, a young face that didn’t match a rapidly aging hairline. He loved to take me out to all the “sexy spots” (his words) in the Meatpacking District and LES. We would go out “late”10 PM. Which was great because I don’t know anyone who gets there before 1 AM. He drank way too much, and hated drinking alone. He was too tall for how bad his dancing was. Afterwards, he’d take me home to fuck while 80’s rock blasted from a sound system: “ITS SUCH A RUSH, YOU KNOW?”  The moment of giving a blowjob while the Eagles played and him saying this line is the only time I’ve ever felt ashamed of myself as a sex worker. He had no idea what he was doing with his life, but the Ivy League degree, and two story Manhattan apartment would suggest that he didn’t need to stop and re-evaluate. Just keep drinking, just keep trying to dance, keep buying hot girls to dance with him. He was constantly perplexed as to why I couldn’t stay the night for the same rate, because “we’re having so much fun!” I’ll never forget anything that infuriating.

Caty: My weirdest regulars were the ones I inherited when I first started working, from the group of women who trained me–the same dysfunctional frequent callers we all saw. You know, guys like the gambling addict who was the only one we all trusted to pay with a check, a guy who had what looked like elephantitis of the balls, who’d go through every outcall in total, eerie silence.

There was the pretentious ex-military officer whose dick was literally as big as a baby’s arm holding an apple. He’d boast, “Oooh, the girls are all afraid of it at first, but then they’re bouncing up and down on it like there’s no tomorrow!” My rule with him was that as soon as I said stop, he had to pull out no matter what. One time, I told him to get off me and he just kept keening, “Oh, baby, I’m almost there, I’m so close…” So in a display of hysterical strength, I flipped him off of me and he sailed over the bed ass over teakettle, landing headfirst into a lamp. After that I had his perfect obedience.

Then there’s Rick, the most entitled, whiny Jew boy I ever did meet—and having grown up in the Russian Jewish community, I know from whiny Jew boys. There’s nothing atypical or particularly memorable about him except for the fact that he’s everything that annoys me about clients taken to the nth degree. When I first started to see him he used to complain to the other escorts about me, because I wouldn’t massage his pasty white anus—”she has a shitty attitude!” I always wanted to point out that I might have a shitty attitude, but he had a shitty ass. Nowadays whenever I see him he always goes on at length about how FAT one of our mutual escort friends has gotten and how DISGUSTING it is. I always want to turn his face to the mirror to look at his washed out, chubby, bald self head on, but so far I’ve resisted the temptation. Rick is a pharmacist, but that’s never allowed me any drug-related advantages. He’s always wondering why he can’t get a date while complaining vociferously and at misogynistic length about every woman he meets over dating sites. He’s also the one client I ever worried might DIE while in session with mehe came in to see me once right after getting stung by a bee in the parking lot of my incall, and his allergies were so severe I thought I’d have to out him in order to call an ambulance for him for a few minutes till he gathered himself enough to drive himself to the ER. Death by allergies—so stereotypically whiny Jew boy, if you’ll pardon my self-hating anti-Semitism.