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LGBTQ community worries about loss of voice amid social media crackdown

CHICAGO — The national LGBTQ community got worried this week when Facebook issued new policies that seemed to ban any discussion of anything sexual or even just flirting.

From PC Magazine:

The expanded policy specifically bans “sexual slang,” hints of “sexual roles, positions or fetish scenarios,” and erotic art when mentioned with a sex act. Vague, but suggestive statements such as “looking for a good time tonight” when soliciting sex are also no longer allowed.

Facebook added the new “sexual solicitation” policy on Oct. 15. But it was only on Wednesday when internet users began to take notice. And many are not happy, fearing that the mere mention of sex will get their content taken down.

And news about the policy spread just two days after Tumblr announced it would be removing all adult and NSFW content, which disproportionately affect the LGBTQ community.

More from PC:

To be clear, Facebook already had a ban on porn and sexual solicitation on the platform; it was previously stated under the “Sexual Exploitation of Adults” and “Adult Nudity and Sexual Activity” section of Facebook’s content rules. However, the social network decided to flesh out the anti-sexual solicitation policy to help Facebook better address the content on the platform, a company spokesperson told PCMag.

“This change was prompted, in large part, by conversations with our content reviewers, who told us that the sexual exploitation policy did not adequately distinguish between exploitation (e.g. ‘My ex was a slut. Look at the photos she sent me.’) and solicitation (e.g. ‘Looking for swingers. Friday at 8 PM, [name of bar]. Wear pink.’),” the spokesperson said in an email.

The company didn’t directly comment on concerns the new policy was too broad and might prohibit people from engaging in dirty talk on the site. But Facebook said it crafted the new rules with input from third-party organizations that specialize in women’s and children’s safety issues.

Many discussion (ironically on Facebook) worried about what could be restricted. Many small, non-profit organizations rely on Facebook to promote, educate and plan events. While the new policy doesn’t explicitly state that words like “LGBTQ”, “gay”, “lesibian”, “bisexual” and “transgender” won’t be permitted. But social media networks, including Facebook, have an iffy record at best.

When Facebook said it would try to fight “fake news,” it wound up limiting ability for content creators and independent media to boost posts. Articles that were about topics affecting government or civil rights were suddenly “political ads” that required publications like ProPublica to register as a political organization. The Eagle has been at the receiving end of that ourselves, with posts about a Supreme Court nomination, transgender rights rally in Bloomington, and an anti-Westboro rally in Macomb were all considered “political.” Only the third was permitted after three appeals and us reaching out to national publications.

OUT Magazine has sited other networks that were about as bad.

Over the past few months alone Recon, a fetish dating site for gay men, saw their Youtube temporarily suspended and reinstated only after a Twitter backlash and negative press coverage (this has happened more than once); Naked Boys Reading saw their Facebook page temporarily banned, a decision that was reversed after the organizers accused Facebook of “queer erasure; and many queer YouTubers like Amp Somers of Watts the Safeword, have seen their content flagged and their exposure limited in YouTube’s algorithm.

“When queer youth can’t access sex education and find representation in what they’re being taught, they feel they don’t belong,” Somers told OUT. Watts the Safeword creates lighthearted, non-explicit sex education videos about kink and BDSM. “They feel they aren’t entitled to proper safe forms of sex and will be forced to turn to less trustworthy means of learning about sex.”

In October, Facebook was revealed to be blocking many LGBTQ+ ads as part of its new advertising policy. The company told the Washington Post that many of these blockings were in error, but such errors show problems with algorithms that disproportionately flag queer content. Facebook’s LGBTQ+ record is hardly spotless — queer artists, performers and the trans community have battled its “real name” policy for years.

Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, has also appeared to be censoring the queer community with algorithms that, intentionally or otherwise, flag queer content at a higher rate than non-queer content.

Any content creators on social media should start backing up content files and contacts now. Start networking with other creators while you can so everyone can have support and resources moving forward. Twitter, at present, is still relatively open channel with fewer restrictions. Typepad and WordPress also offer free hosting if not the same level of interaction and sharing Facebook, Instagram and Tumblr. There other platforms in development, like Bdsmlr, that are hoping to fill the void left by Tumblr so watch for those. And don’t be afraid to go old school, email lists.

We encourage our readers to share and let us know other ideas to maintain communications as options get more tenuous.

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