March 31, 2017

Twitter’s XXX Legacy

Methods of communication have changed drastically over the past decade, and social media sites such as Twitter boast a stronger and more ubiquitous presence than ever before. Tweeting and replying to tweets between friends, as well as following Tweets from celebrities has been popular since 2006 when the social media platform was first created. However, it was during the 2016 election campaign and post-inaugural period that Twitter took a dominant position at the front and center of the national stage.

Twitter is an outlet where people can write about what they’ve been doing, tell jokes, share opinions, and even market businesses. The ability to obtain information, photos, and videos in snippets of 140 characters or less, referred to as “Tweets,” has dramatically changed the way information travels. Unfortunately, in the company’s quest to gain market share in the world of social media, Twitter executives have allowed the platform to provide an unrestrained channel for the normalization of sexual exploitation.

Twitter has been an online pornography outlet, strip club, and sex shop all rolled into one—and this seedy XXX material is available to children and adults. 

Pornography and Advertising for Sex

This social media site hosts a slew of accounts that are essentially ads for pornography performers and studios, as well as prostitution. News articles proclaiming the arrest and prosecution of users who have accessed child pornography via Twitter are frightfully common, and Tweets featuring images or videos of hardcore pornography riddle the platform.

The overwhelming prevalence of pornography on this platform has, in fact, lead some advertisers to pull their ads from the social media platform. This reaction was caused due to the interlacing of their ads with accounts involving pornography which ultimately damaged their organization’s reputation. Nielsen, the television and digital measurement company, terminated their Twitter Ads campaign after their ads appeared on pornographic accounts. Ads from NBCUniversal and Gatorade also showed up in feeds next to pornographic images and videos.

A 2015 investigation into the extent of pornography on Twitter revealed that “as many as 500,000 sexual images are posted daily, including images of hardcore and extreme sexual practices.” With all of this new content being added daily, the social media company cannot rely solely on reports from concerned users or sensitive media flags to keep sexualized media at bay.

“People Don’t Go to Twitter for Porn, But Porn Goes to Twitter for People.”

Among social media sites, Twitter has taken the most lax approach when it comes to enforcing their anti-pornography rules, which were not robust to begin with. Twitter Rules state that “you may not use pornographic…media in your profile image or header image. The platform may allow some forms of graphic content in Tweets marked as sensitive media.” When an item is marked as sensitive media, consumers “won’t be immediately shown the users’ tweets. Instead, a warning message displays, reading ‘Caution: This profile may include sensitive content.’” By clicking the “Yes, View Profile” button, any user may view hardcore pornographic content shared on the platform. However, in many cases no “sensitive content” warning appears at all. Moreover, users of any age may easily access hardcore pornographic content.

Of course there are many other ways that people can access pornography via the Internet. But as one consumer notes, “People don’t go to Twitter for porn, but porn goes to Twitter for people.”[3]

Accordingly, the National Center on Sexual Exploitation named Twitter to the 2017 Dirty Dozen List in an effort to push the social media giant to take responsibility for making the Internet a safer place for all who venture there.

Has Twitter Done Anything to Eliminate Pornography?

For years searching for pornography on Twitter has been incredibly easy; a simple search may lead to dozens of porn accounts on Twitter and countless numbers of raunchy hashtags (a word or phrase preceded by a hash sign used to aggregate messages on a specific topic) to explore. However, in late March news broke that the social media company has begun removing some pornographic hashtags. This is great news!  When looking for photos or videos using these hashtags, a message comes up saying “Nothing came up for that search, which is a little weird.  Maybe check what you searched for and try again.”  While this is very encouraging, the platform still has a lot of cleaning up to do. Clicking on any of the other tabs (‘Top’, ‘Latest’, ‘People’, ‘News’, or ‘Periscopes’) still gives users access to hardcore pornography.  Also, while the platform has filtered some terms from search when it comes to its photos and videos categories, some pornographic posts are beginning to reappear when using common keywords are used to search for pornography.

We hope that the recent actions taken by Twitter to clean up its photos and videos section will continue, and that in the near future we may look forward to a user friendly and safe Twitter environment across its entire platform. 

What can you do?

  • Use Twitter handle @twitter and the hashtag #ThanksTwitter to thank the company for making improvements, while encouraging them to do more.
  • Visit endsexualexploitation.org/twitter/ to learn more about how this company facilitates sexual exploitation and to take action.
  • Maintain open conversations with your children about the kinds of material they might encounter online. Let them know they can come to you to report any inappropriate things they may see.

[1] Abowitz, Richard. “Why Porn Stars Love Twitter.” The Daily Beast. The Daily Beast Company, 25 Jan. 2011. Web.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Miller, Leanne Christine. Interview by author. March 29, 2017.

Sara Thompson

Intern

Sara is an intern with the National Center on Sexual Exploitation. She is a senior at Brigham Young University studying public health and Spanish. She enjoys dancing, especially swing, country line, clogging, and “in-the-kitchen” dancing. She also loves surfing (the web), hiking the mountains near her hometown of Lehi, Utah, and reading contemporary fiction.

Sara previously worked with the American Red Cross as a Disaster Preparedness Educator where she presented lectures and lead activities at elementary schools, recruited and trained volunteers, and implemented community home fire campaigns. She also worked as a Teaching Assistant in family home and social sciences.

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