January 8, 2020

Four Problems with Twitter’s Irresponsible Policy on Pornography

Is pornography allowed on Twitter?

In November of 2019, Twitter clarified its Sensitive Media Policy stating: “You may not post media that is excessively gory or share violent or adult content within live video or in profile or header images. Media depicting sexual violence and/or assault is also not permitted.”

This initially seems promising, however, they also stated: “You can share graphic violence and consensually produced adult content within your Tweets, provided that you mark this media as sensitive… If you don’t mark your media as sensitive, we will do so manually if your content is reported for review.” [emphasis added]

There are serious problems with Twitter’s policy on pornography…

  1. How does Twitter know that any of the pornography on its platform is “consensually produced?” It is impossible to tell from the content of a video, image, or tweet, whether force, fraud, psychological coercion, social manipulation, etc, were used to instigate it. Even mainstream pornography websites (i.e. an entire business model that supposedly revolves around “consensually produced” pornography) have been busted for hosting and profiting off of sex trafficking videos. It is impossible and ridiculous to assume that Twitter has any real metric to measure consent in any pornographic videos on its site, aside from complaints from victims (which by the way is an insufficient solution given that many people never know about nonconsensually shared pornography of themselves, and since an estimated one in 25 Americans have been a victim of this kind of sexual abuse.)
  2. Simply marking pornography as “sensitive media” actually means “anything goes,” which will increase the graphic rape, incest, and racist porn on Twitter. While some may look at the sensitive media filter as a positive step because it would supposedly cover the image/video, the reality is that it will only give cover to graphic and degrading content. Unfortunately, the most popular pornography often depicts rape, incest, racist themes, child-like themes, etc, which will continue to flourish on Twitter because they will be less visible to those who would report them, and even if users reported them Twitter would likely not take them down.
  3. Twitter does not allow “images depicting others as less than human” or “violent sexual conduct,” however that’s exactly what pornography is. Reams of research reveal the public health harms of pornography for its objectifying and demeaning portrayal of performers (women in particular) and for depicting, and even encouraging, sexual violence. Twitter is merely paying lip service to values it refuses to take action on.
  4. Twitter is facilitating sex trafficking and prostitution. Sometimes tweets with pornography in them are actually serving as advertisements for sex trafficked or prostituted persons. It has been documented by law enforcement that pimps and sex traffickers often either coerce trafficking or child sexual abuse victims into making such social media or advertising posts or create the posts themselves in their victim’s name. This is what was found to happen on Backpage.com—the notorious classifieds ads website that was recently shut down by the Department of Justice for knowingly facilitating sex trafficking.

Twitter’s policies and practices are allowing sexual exploitation to flourish, and this should no longer be tolerated.

Learn more and take action here.

Haley McNamara (Halverson)

Vice President and Director of the International Centre on Sexual Exploitation

Haley McNamara (formerly Halverson) is the Director of the International Centre on Sexual Exploitation in the UK, and a Vice President at the U.S. based National Center on Sexual Exploitation. She leads international efforts and joint campaigns to improve policies and education among global governing bodies, citizenry, and corporations regarding the full web of sexual exploitation issues. Her advocacy work has contributed to policy improvements in social media, online advertising, retail, and hotel industries. She has advocated at the United Nations, led international coalition campaigns, presented to Danish, Croatian, Colombian and Rwandan government officials, and more

She is a former member of the Washington DC Mayor’s Advisory Committee on Child Abuse and Neglect. This Committee advises DC Mayor Muriel Bowser on the multi-faceted continuum of the District of Columbia’s child welfare services, including prevention, early intervention, treatment, and sources of permanency.

Haley regularly speaks and writes on topics including child sexual abuse, sex trafficking, prostitution, sexual objectification, the exploitation of males, and more. She has presented before officials at the United Nations, as well as at several national symposia before influencers from the Department of Justice, Department of Health and Human Services, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Croatian government officials. She has provided training to Arlington County Child & Family Services on the social media grooming, recruitment, and advertising for sex trafficking. She has a Master of Arts in Government from Johns Hopkins University where she received honors for her thesis regarding the online commercial sexual exploitation marketplace.

Previously, Haley served for two years as Director of Communications for the National Center on Sexual Exploitation where she oversaw strategic messaging development, press outreach, email marketing, and social media marketing.

Prior to working at NCOSE, Haley wrote for a cultural media outlet. Haley graduated from Hillsdale College (summa cum laude) with a double major, and conducted a senior thesis on the abolitionist argument regarding prostitution. During her studies, she studied abroad at Oxford University and established a background in policy research through several internships in the DC area.

Haley has appeared on, or been quoted in, several outlets including the New York Times, NBC’s The Today Show, BBC News, New York Post, USA Today, Chicago Tribune, Fox News, San Francisco Chronicle, the Washington Post, Yahoo News, Voice of America, Dr. Drew Midday Live, The DeMaio Report, the New York Daily News, the Washington Examiner, USA Radio Network, the Washington Times, CBC News, The Rod Arquette Show, The Detroit News, Lifezette, The Christian Post, Lifeline with Neil Boron, EWTN News Nightly, KCBS San Francisco Radio, LifeSiteNews, The Drew Mariano Show on Relevant Radio, News Talk KGVO, and American Family News.

She has written op-eds for the Washington Post, the Huffington Post, FoxNews.com, Washington Examiner, Townhall.com, Darling Magazine, the Daytona-Beach News Journal, and has been published in the Journal of Internet Law and the journal Dignity: A Journal on Sexual Exploitation and ViolenceShe has also contributed to a digital middle school curriculum regarding the links between sex trafficking and pornography as well as the public health impacts of sex trafficking.

Further Reading