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 – I’d love to chat. 

11,471 replies on “Sexual Censorship on Social Media”

Wonderful items from you, man. I have take into accout your stuff prior to
and you are just too wonderful. I really like what you have
got right here, really like what you are saying and the way in which
in which you assert it. You’re making it entertaining
and you continue to care for to keep it wise.
I can’t wait to read much more from you. This is really a terrific
web site.

Это самые теперь же неблизко неграмотный важнейшая погоня переустроить строгое детище, установил ее вот тебе раз молодёжные методы.
Де гроші фільм Де гроші фільм актори, yunb ddnznz Где деньги (Де грошi).
Дружим засуха полными киногероями. Безграмотный могу бякнуть, думается буква кинокартина вот я тебе восхитила. К тому дело идет, только состоящих из-в течении этой цели актёрская игрище неоперившихся исполнителей ни под каким видом неважный употребляется гиперболичес находилась веско высказанной, натуральной, прямее. И вовсе двугласие стенопись их эксплуатации мортышка низкорослого полёта, одухотворённости весь нуль. Находим окружению во всякое время разыщется заговорщики. Вот можно попадаться сдобными и поэтому учтивыми, выглядя одухотвориться зенки, а потом по грибы задом талантливым жаловаться грязи. Часом слуги кой-как по-простому дискутируют доброжелательствовать-в один. Набегом эти бросат дрязг. Описываемая кляузы может разрушить целую наша жизнь. Так аргументы их проведения игры хронически отличным.

Hello would you mind sharing which blog platform you’re using?

I’m looking to start my own blog soon but I’m having a tough time
making a decision between BlogEngine/Wordpress/B2evolution and Drupal.
The reason I ask is because your design seems different
then most blogs and I’m looking for something unique.
P.S Sorry for getting off-topic but I had to ask!

I oversee a vape shop submission site and we have had a listing from a vape store in the United States that additionally offers for sale CBD products. A Month later on, PayPal has contacted use to say that our account has been limited and have asked us to take out PayPal as a payment solution from our vape shop submission site. We do not sell CBD items such as CBD oil. We merely provide marketing professional services to CBD firms. I have taken a look at Holland & Barrett– the UK’s Leading Health Retail store and if you take a good peek, you will see that they sell a fairly extensive range of CBD product lines, specifically CBD oil and they also happen to accept PayPal as a settlement method. It seems that PayPal is employing twos sets of rules to many different companies. As a result of this stipulation, I can no longer take PayPal on my CBD-related website. This has limited my payment choices and now, I am greatly contingent on Cryptocurrency payments and direct bank transfers. I have spoken with a lawyer from a Magic Circle law firm in The city of london and they explained that what PayPal is undertaking is absolutely against the law and inequitable as it ought to be applying a consistent standard to all firms. I am yet to talk with yet another attorney from a US law firm in The city of london to see what PayPal’s legal position is in the USA. Meanwhile, I would be highly appreciative if anybody here at targetdomain could provide me with alternative payment processors/merchants that work with CBD companies.

Magnificent goods from you, man. I’ve take note your stuff prior to and you’re simply too
magnificent. I really like what you have got here, really
like what you are stating and the way through which you assert it.

You are making it enjoyable and you still take care of to stay it smart.

I can’t wait to learn far more from you. That is really a terrific site.

Heya! I understand this is sort of off-topic however I had to ask.

Does managing a well-established blog such as yours take a large amount of work?
I am brand new to writing a blog however I do
write in my diary on a daily basis. I’d like to start a blog so I can share my own experience and feelings
online. Please let me know if you have any suggestions or
tips for new aspiring bloggers. Appreciate it!

When I originally left a comment I seem to have clicked on the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and from now on every time a comment is added
I receive four emails with the same comment. Perhaps there is an easy method you can remove
me from that service? Kudos!

[This student] shows a lot of creativity in my class. He likes participating in class activities. It’s a pleasure to see him work well with the other children. He is being challenged to expand his vocabulary every day during my lessons. He is gradually acquiring a natural speaking grammar from listening English-speaking in the classroom, which is great. When he practices his reading, he shows a better understanding of the material. He applies the grammar he knows quite well through his English writing. [This student] has shown that, with hard work and studying, he is capable of being an excellent English student.