Is Instagram Stripping Our First Amendment Rights?

Over the past couple weeks, sex-positive social media has steadily been sounding the alarm about Instagrams updated Terms of Service (ToS) that went into effect December 20, 2020. Under the new Community Guidelines for Sexual Solicitation, now anything from an eggplant emoji to a description of arousal like wetness or an erection are grounds for removal. Instagram is also censoring those who direct audiences to a platform where porn can be purchased like OnlyFans, and has effected online sex education platforms that have emerged in conjunction with social media. 

 There are countless educators who have each helped thousands understand and feel empowered by their gender and sexual identity whose digital support has supplemented what many individuals lack in their personal communities. In a way, social media has become a safe-haven of experts, modern perspectives and research-backed education that is not offered in standardized education.

The censorship of nudity, alternative lifestyles, and sexual activity on social media is reminiscent of the time of Larry Flynt and Hustler magazine. It is no surprise that the adult entertainment industry continues to be at the front line of debates on first amendment free speech battles that affect the culture as a whole. We are now seeing those debates transition from magazine to online media, and watching these hosting platforms implement new policies as this industry continues to grow. Online porn paved the way for me as a sex educator to make uncensored sex education as accessible as possible, in a way that is most beneficial to my audience. I think human sexuality shouldn’t be censored. Period. Whether is is sex education, or pornography.  

When Larry Flynt published Hustler, there was no requirement to buy it, no obligation to look at the “pink shots’ ‘ between the pages, but there was the ability to choose to do so or not, and that is the part of this that is risky. Instagram is taking away the ability for you to be able to choose what you can and cannot look at on your page. The vastness of power that these technology companies hold became pertinent this week when Donald Trump was banned from two of the largest social media platforms: Twitter & Facebook. Previously staunch advocates for Trump to be able to speak freely on their platforms, changed their tune last week after Trump was presumably using his platforms to incite riots. After being banned, Trump reacted by actually yielding to these companies and stating  an apology to the public. “Above all, Mr. Trump’s muzzling provides a clarifying lesson in where power resides in our digital society — not just in the precedent of law or the checks and balances of government, but in the ability to deny access to the platforms that shape our public discourse.” -New York Times. In some cases, like the new Instagram guidelines, we see big tech companies yielding to lawmakers on capitol hill, in others like the riots, we see them yielding to public pressure. Even though the social media companies are the ones limiting these freedoms, they are not setting out to intentionally destroy the livelihood of sexuality professionals, or right wing conspirators. They are simply trying to minimize backlash and potential lawsuits; they are looking out for themselves. Trump yielding to big tech exemplifies just how crucial having access to these platforms is. I don’t think society has yet figured out how to manage social media platforms becoming the biggest communication tools that we have, but seeing how tech companies have this much power, and using it in this way is something to be wary of. Imagine if your electric company cut off your electricity because they didn’t like how you were using it.“It takes away the privilege he seems to covet most: the ability to commandeer the world’s attention with a push of a button.” -New York Times. 

The sex industry has made the internet possible. I continue to stay hopeful that our policy makers and tech companies will find a way not to censor sex education like other countries have. It is important to remember that these restrictions effect adult entertainment, sex education, and conspirator theorists alike. As these industries continue to overlap, it continues to become more clear exactly how we are being affected by the restrictions that the moral crusaders have fought for on these platforms as well. As a Hong Konger living in America, I think free speech is a fundamental American right and we should never let our guard down to protect this sacred right: that includes when our morals do not line up with the freedom in question.  For now, I’m moving to PornHub: I like to think of them as the Taiwan for the Chinese. ; )


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