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Twitter and pornography: what will Elon Musk do?

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Twitter and pornography: what will Elon Musk do?

Elon Musk has repeatedly stated that behind his intention to acquire Twitter is the desire to transform the platform into a bastion of free speech. “I hope that my worst critics will also remain on Twitter,” he wrote on April 25 in un tweet, “Because that’s what free speech means”. The freedom Musk has in mind is absolute, limited only by the boundaries imposed by law. The entrepreneur has already hinted what he thinks about the way Twitter has handled content moderation in the past, openly criticizing, for example, the suspension of the New York Post in 2020.

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Now many are waiting at the gate for the billionaire on decisions such as the reactivation of Donald Trump’s account, or more prosaically the activation of the infamous “edit” button to correct the tweets already published. Among many other things, it will also be interesting to understand how the social network led by Musk will behave towards a community as numerous and active on the social as it is little mentioned: that of hard actresses and actors and more generally of sex workers.

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Other than Reddit, Twitter is the only major social network to maintain a relatively lax pornography policy. Instagram, Facebook and TikTok all have puritanical positions on the subject to say the least, so much so that often works of art, photographs or graphic representations that can even vaguely allude to sex or genital organs are also banned.

On Twitter, on the other hand, there are millions of accounts entirely dedicated to posting hard material, including explicit videos and photos. Many performers use social media to also promote their accounts on OnlyFans or other paid platforms. But it’s just marketing: many stars use Twitter to share not only their hot content, but also personal photos, opinion tweets, or educational and awareness-raising content on issues related to the sphere of sex.

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Twitter’s policy on the subject is clear. The social network does not allow the publication of non-consensual pornographic content, but allows the publication of material that on other platforms would not even pass an automatic scan before publication.
“Pornography and other forms of consentingly produced adult content are permitted on Twitter, as long as these media are marked as sensitive,” the rulebook reads. “This way people who may not want to see this type of content they will receive a notice which they must read before accessing the media. ” Twitter also doesn’t show sensitive content regardless of anyone under the age of 18 or those who haven’t added a birth date to their profile.

This type of “sensitive” content is easy to ignore in a broader discussion of freedom of expression on Twitter, primarily because it is often invisible. They do not overlook the public timelines and are not promoted by the internal algorithm, except for those users who follow the profiles directly. Despite these limitations, the Twitter porn universe is very populated and very active. As adult content creator Lucy Banks explained to Vice, many hardcore performers have based their entire careers on promoting via Twitter, creating communities that follow them and to which they actually owe their livelihood.

For all this submerged universe, little told but widely used, the arrival of Musk is a source of uncertainty. On the one hand, the emphasis on the issue of absolute free speech by the entrepreneur seems to be going in the right direction. In the United States, ponography is protected by the freedom of expression sanctioned by the first amendment (while the same is not valid for what is called “obscenity”, the difference is made by the value and the artistic and performative intent). At the same time, however, the standard-bearers of free speech at all costs titillated by Musk on Twitter largely belong to the more conservative and Trumpian right. It is difficult to think that their interpretation of “free speech” therefore also includes the freedom to post nude clips and to promote paid adult services.
However, Musk has repeatedly shown that he is open-minded on the subject. Recently, during his visit to Berlin for the opening of the Gigafactory, Tesla’s boss seems to have been rejected by the Berghain bouncers, only to fall back to Kitkat, a historic fetish club in the German capital not very suitable for those who are easily impressed.

For Musk, porn on Twitter will therefore be another of the many complex skeins to unravel. The protagonists of the red light twittersphere, already in 2020, feared an imminent tightening of the rules of engagement on the social network. A crackdown that has not occurred in any way, but many of them had already prepared the countermeasures, taking care of profiles without “Not Safe for Work” content (as they say in America to indicate obscene or allusive materials and sexual). In short, in the event of a sudden puritanical turn under the aegis of Musk, the porn industry will certainly not go into crisis. However, such a drift would be yet another example of how difficult it is to distill a univocal and universally shared meaning of “free speech”, as Musk and many of his supporters claim they can do.

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