Categories
Uncategorized

Sexual Censorship on Social Media

Originally posted on the Harvard Belfer Center Blog on 10/21/2020, and added here for posterity and internal linking.

When I told my grandfather, a retired college professor, what my research topic was going to be his reply was “I didn’t realize there was any censorship on Facebook – sounds to me that for people like Zuckerberg anything goes.” 

This is incorrect. 

Around the same time Zuckerberg was publicly doubling down on free speech, Facebook and Instagram added the peach and eggplant emojis to their lists of ‘sexually suggestive content’ which, if used for ‘solicitation,’ can get your account suspended. (in short, “wanna have sex?” is fine, but “wanna have sex? 🍆 💦 🍑” is against the rules) 

This was not particularly surprising – social media companies have grown increasingly censorial of sexual content, even when communities built around this content were part of what made the platform popular (aka, Tumblr before the Yahoo acquisition). Passage of SESTA/FOSTA brought it to new extremes and today sexual content is removed from almost every major platform with an extraordinarily wide net. This net removes some unquestionably bad and removal-worthy content such as child pornography, but also catches an awful lot of educational content plus some content that’s not sexual in nature at all – not to mention the vast grey area in between, which includes such varied items as hardcore kinky porn, female nipples, and clips from HBO’s Game of Thrones. 

Why is sex treated so much more harshly than hate speech? 

(That’s a rhetorical question.) 

For an issue that’s relevant to every single human on the planet, we sure put a lot of effort into not talking about it. The influence of America’s puritanical roots can still be seen in the laws our congress passes, in abstinence-only education in schools, and, of course, in the content moderation of social media platforms.  

All this is done in the name of protecting people. And yet, in modern America: 

  • 1 in 6 women and 1 in 33 men have experienced sexual assault (RAINN) 
  • 1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men have experienced domestic violence (NCADV
  • LGBT teenagers are 5 times more likely to attempt suicide (The Trevor Project) 
  • Almost half of pregnancies are ‘unintended’ (with 18% being ‘unwanted’), substantially higher than other developed countries (Guttmacher Insitute) 

In recent years #metoo has flung open the conversation about the all-too-common experiences of assault and harassment, a revelatory dialogue that’s changing the way we look at those issues. Frank discussion of negative experiences has dealt a huge blow to the silence that traps so many of us, but it’s only the beginning of the story. 

To truly deal with all these problems, there’s another conversation that needs to be had – one about the positive side of sex and relationships.  

If all of us had exposure to accurate educational information, to role models of healthy sexuality that reflected our own bodies and interests, to models of positive consent and examples of safer, better, sex, then we could talk not only about what we don’t want to happen to us, but what we do want to happen instead.  

As a society we are failing each other in how we talk about sex and sexuality. This applies to everyone – male and female and non-binary, straight and gay and in-between, adults and (especially) children learning about how the world works and how to treat each other. The pandemic has only intensified how social media dominates our conversations and news sources and their sexual censorship sits as a block between us and improvement. 

We must do better. I intend to spend the next 8 months figuring out how.  

If you’re interested in talking with me about this work, or have personal experience with censorship of sexual content on social media, send me an email at cbayley@hks.harvard.edu – I’d love to chat. 

10,977 replies on “Sexual Censorship on Social Media”

Today, I went to the beach with my children. I found a sea shell and gave it to my 4 year old daughter and said “You can hear the ocean if you put this to your ear.” She placed the shell to her ear and screamed. There was a hermit crab inside and it pinched her ear. She never wants to go back! LoL I know this is entirely off topic but I had to tell someone!|

Hi there! This is my 1st comment here so I just wanted to give a quick shout out and tell you I truly enjoy reading your blog posts. Can you suggest any other blogs/websites/forums that deal with the same subjects? Appreciate it!|

I just like the valuable info you supply for your articles. I’ll bookmark your weblog and check again here frequently. I’m fairly sure I’ll be informed plenty of new stuff right here! Good luck for the following!|

Hallo da, Sie haben einen fantastischen Job gemacht. Ich werde definitiv ausgraben und meinen Freunden persönlich empfehlen. Ich bin sicher sie werden von dieser Site profitieren.

Its like you read my mind! You appear to know a lot about this, like you wrote the book in it or something. I think that you could do with some pics to drive the message home a bit, but instead of that, this is great blog. A fantastic read. I will definitely be back.

Simply wish to say your article is as astonishing. The clarity in your post is simply great, and I could assume you are an expert on this subject. Well with your permission let me grab your RSS feed to keep updated with forthcoming post. Thanks a million and please keep up the gratifying work.

Hello. This post couldn’t be written any better! Reading this post reminds me of my previous room mate. He always kept chatting about this. I will forward this page to him. Fairly certain he will have a good read. Thank you for sharing.

My developer is trying to convince me to move to .net from PHP. I have always disliked the idea because of the costs. But he’s tryiong none the less. I’ve been using Movable-type on various websites for about a year and am nervous about switching to another platform. I have heard very good things about blogengine.net. Is there a way I can transfer all my wordpress posts into it? Any kind of help would be greatly appreciated!|

Hello are using WordPress for your site platform? I’m new to the blog world but I’m trying to get started and set up my own. Do you require any coding expertise to make your own blog? Any help would be greatly appreciated!|

Hey there! I know this is kind of off-topic, but I’d figured I’d ask. Would you be interested in exchanging links or maybe guest authoring a blog post or vice-versa? My blog goes over a lot of the same topics as yours, and I believe we could greatly benefit from each other. If you happen to be interested, feel free to shoot me an e-mail. I look forward to hearing from you! Great blog by the way!

What’s Happening i’m new to this, I stumbled upon this I’ve found It absolutely helpful and it has aided me out loads. I hope to give a contribution & aid different customers like its aided me. Great job.|

This design is wicked! You certainly know how to keep a reader amused. Between your wit and your videos, I was almost moved to start my own blog (well, almost…HaHa!) Excellent job. I really enjoyed what you had to say, and more than that, how you presented it. Too cool!|

I do not even know how I ended up right here, but I assumed this submit was good. I don’t know who you are but certainly you are going to a famous blogger in case you aren’t already. Cheers!|

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.