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Sex workers fear a new wave of deplatforming — and the proposed Online Safety Bill

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Avery, a sex worker, lost her first Twitter account in early 2020, built her followers back up, and then early this year was kicked off again.

When she went to set up a third account, she found she could no longer use the name she had been using for sex work and adult content — she’d lost her entire brand, including thousands of followers and many clients who only knew her by her former, banned name.

“I had to change my name, because I don’t want to get suspended again,” she said.

“And it can still happen. It’s honestly terrifying to me.”

Sex workers say they’re being kicked off social media as part of a wave of “digital gentrification” and a trend towards “sanitised” online spaces.

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On top of this, they fear that proposed Commonwealth legislation designed to make the internet “safer” may have the ultimate effect of making it harder — and more dangerous — to earn a living.

Some forms of sex work are legal in Australia, depending on the state and territory.

Being able to advertise cheaply online has allowed sex workers in general to work more safely and independently than had been the case before.

But in recent years, they say, the tide has turned — and now that change appears to be accelerating.

“Countless” sex workers have lost their accounts on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram in recent weeks, according to Australia’s peak sex worker organisation, the Scarlet Alliance.

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Similar reports are coming from the United States, with no consensus on why it’s happening now.

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Jenna Love, a sex worker of nine years who recently lost her Instagram account of 17,000 followers, said there appears to have been a “crackdown” in recent months.

“People are losing their accounts,” she said.

Jenna Love

Jenna Love says 90 per cent of her sex work business comes through Twitter.(Supplied: Jenna Love)

How US laws changed the Australian sex work industry

On top of these perceived changes, many sex workers are also worried about the proposed Australian Online Safety Bill, which gives authorities the power to take down online content judged to be unfit for minors, and to set “basic safety expectations” for platforms and websites.

Sex workers are worried this could give platforms even more incentive to ban them.

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To understand these concerns, it’s worth backtracking to mid-2018, when then-US president Donald Trump signed into law the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA).

The legislation to target sex trafficking made online platforms liable for any content that advertised sex work.

This immediately led to the closure of US-based classifieds websites that happened to be widely used by Australian sex workers.

Overnight, many sex workers found they had no way of reaching clients, Ms Love said.

“That first week afterwards, I don’t even know how to quantify how many people I heard of that were instantly affected,” she said.

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“They instantly couldn’t pay their rent that week and didn’t know how they were going to put food on the table for their families.

“Some of them turned to [advertising in the street] for the first time.”

As a result of the shutdown of these websites, Ms Love and other sex workers have come to rely on social media to reach clients. Ninety per cent of her business comes via Twitter.

The Online Safety Bill, she said, appeared “hauntingly reminiscent” of FOSTA.

Commissioner has power to take down X18+ content

The bill has two parts that worry sex workers.

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First, it allows the eSafety Commissioner to issue a removal notice for advertisements classified as X18+, R18+ or RC (Refused Classification).

The Scarlet Alliance says this definition is too broad: RC can include bondage and X18+ is defined as anything “unsuitable for a minor to see”.

Zahra Stardust, a researcher at the University of NSW, said the X18+ category prohibits any kind of fetish “from bondage, to spanking, to candle wax”.

UNSW researcher Dr Zahra Stardust

UNSW researcher Dr Zahra Stardust.(Supplied: Zahra Stardust)

In response to these concerns, a spokesperson for the eSafety Commissioner said that, under existing laws, the Commissioner already had the power to issue takedown notices for this kind of content.

But they have chosen to not make this a priority — instead focusing on child sexual abuse.

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“Our regulatory approach has always been to prioritise content depicting child sexual abuse and exploitation, as well as material that incites, instructs or promotes terrorism or violent extremism,” the spokesperson said.

“This approach will not change under the new act.”

The Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications, however, made a similar point, though it also said sex workers should not post X-rated ads.

“Those wanting to advertise services online should make sure that the content of their advertisements is not classified or likely to be classified as X18+, R18+ or Refused Classification,” a spokesperson said.

In effect, only a non-binding and informal “regulatory approach” stands in the way of the government using the laws to ban ads for sex workers, Dr Stardust said.

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“The Commissioner is asking sex workers to simply trust that she will choose not to exercise her power to remove their content,” she said.

“This is hardly reassuring, primarily because there are no consequences for her if she does.”

Concerns ‘safety expectations’ will incentivise deplatforming

Aside from the powers given to the Commissioner, the Scarlet Alliance is concerned about the part of the proposed legislation that allows the Communications Minister to set “basic online safety expectations for social media services”.

This includes the expectation that platforms will take “reasonable steps” to ensure that children cannot access material classified as X18+ or R18+.

Rather than installing age-verification systems, social media companies may find it easier to simply remove sex worker accounts, the Scarlet Alliance’s Gala Vanting said.

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“The easiest way for a platform to comply with any regulations around adult content is simply to remove it,” she said.

“And we’ve seen that happen already with all three of the big social media platforms.”

Ms Gala Vanting seated on a bench outdoors, surrounded by potplants, looking into the camera

Gala Vanting says online advertising gives sex workers “choice and autonomy over where and how they work”.(Jesse Mullins)

Dr Stardust agreed, saying the experience of FOSTA showed that websites are quick to deplatform sex workers when having to comply with regulations around “safe content”.

“Unfortunately, this bill is part of a widespread trend towards digital gentrification,” she said.

“Governments and private platforms alike have simply put sex in the ‘too hard basket’ and taken the path of sanitising online space.

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“If the bill seeks to ‘promote and improve online safety’, we must keep asking, ‘whose safety’?”

Rate of account deletion has increased

Both Twitter and Facebook say they do not have a policy of widespread deplatforming of sex workers, though Facebook (which owns Instagram) rules out content that “facilitates, encourages or coordinates sexual encounters between adults”.

As others have pointed out, that rules out a good amount of what people post on Instagram.

These kind of community standards are vague and applied unevenly, Dr Stardust said.

Facebook and Instagram, for example, have rules against users posting sexually explicit or implicit content (including emojis that, it says, suggest “wetness or erection”).

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“We routinely disable accounts that break our rules,” a Facebook company spokesperson said.

“We try to draw the line in a place that allows people to express themselves while keeping our youngest users safe.”

Twitter has a more liberal attitude, allowing “adult content” that is marked “sensitive”.

Though it says it has not changed its policy on sex worker content recently, data from Amberly Rothfield, an adult-industry consultant, shows that at the start of this year, Twitter began deleting sex worker accounts at a much higher rate than previously.

The number of deleted accounts from a sample of 5,000 sex worker Twitter accounts

The number of deleted accounts from a sample of 5,000 sex worker Twitter accounts.(Supplied: Amberly Rothfield)

From a random sample of 5,000 sex worker accounts, the rate jumped from a handful of deletions a day to many times that number.

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“We went from seeing somewhere close to maybe about three to four banned a day to upwards of 36 on a higher-end day,” she said.

“It’s still at 10-plus a day.”

In January alone, 704 of the 5,000 accounts she monitors were deleted.

This data isn’t conclusive: Twitter may have been doing some New Year’s housekeeping and deleting unused accounts, including accounts not used for sex work.

But the experiences of active Twitter users like Avery suggests that’s not the full story.

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Avery said Twitter deleted her main professional account of 12,000 followers in February 2020 for using a graphic banner image, even though her banner image had no nudity.

She lost her second account of 5,700 followers last month for having started a new account under the same name. Twitter calls this “evading permanent suspension”.

Despite repeatedly begging Twitter for her account back, she’s had to start back with a new name and zero followers.

“I need access to social media to make any sort of decent profit,” she said.

“Any censorship that covers sex workers in any fashion scares the s**t out of me.”

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LinkedIn Makes its 20 Most Popular LinkedIn Learning Courses Freely Available Throughout August

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Looking to up your skills for a job change or career advancement in the second half of the year?

This will help – today, LinkedIn has published its listing of the 20 most popular LinkedIn Learning courses over the first half of 2022. In addition to this, LinkedIn’s also making each of these courses free to access till the end of the month – so now may well be the best time to jump in and brush up on the latest, rising skills in your industry.

As per LinkedIn:

As the Great Reshuffle slows and the job market cools, professionals are getting more serious about skill building. The pandemic accelerated change across industries, and as a result, skills to do a job today have changed even compared to a few years ago. Professionals are responding by learning new skills to future-proof their careers and meet the moment.” 

LinkedIn says that over seven million people have undertaken these 20 courses this year, covering everything from improved communication, project management, coding, strategic thinking and more.

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Here are the top 20 LinkedIn Learning courses right now, which you can access via the relevant links:

  1. Goal Setting: Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) with Jessie Withers
  2. Excel Essential Training (Office 365/Microsoft 365) with Dennis Taylor
  3. Interpersonal Communication with Dorie Clark
  4. Cultivating a Growth Mindset with Gemma Leigh Roberts
  5. Project Management Foundations with Bonnie Biafore
  6. Using Questions to Foster Critical Thinking and Curiosity with Joshua Miller
  7. Essentials of Team Collaboration with Dana Brownlee
  8. Unconscious Bias with Stacey Gordon
  9. Learning Python with Joe Marini
  10. Communicating with Confidence with Jeff Ansell
  11.  Speaking Confidently and Effectively with Pete Mockaitis
  12. Learning the OWASP Top 10 with Caroline Wong
  13. Power BI Essential Training with Gini von Courter
  14. Strategic Thinking with Dorie Clark
  15. SQL Essential Training with Bill Weinman
  16. Developing Your Emotional Intelligence with Gemma Leigh Roberts
  17. Communication Foundations with Brenda Bailey-Hughes and Tatiana Kolovou
  18. Agile Foundations with Doug Rose
  19. Digital Marketing Foundations with Brad Batesole
  20. Critical Thinking with Mike Figliuolo
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If you’ve been thinking about upskilling, now may be the time – or maybe it’s just worth taking some of the programming courses, for example, so that you have a better understanding of how to communicate between departments on projects.

Or you could take an Agile course. If, you know, you don’t trust your own management ability.

The courses are available for free till August 31st via the above links.

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Instagram Is Rolling Out Reels Replies, And Will Be Testing A New Feature Which Informs …

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Instagram has added a few more social features to the platform, with Reels Replies being rolled out. Along with the Replies, anew feature is being tested that shows when two users are active together in the same chat.

Reels has been performing much better than perhaps even Instagram ever anticipated. The TikTok-inspired new video format (which officially claims to have absolutely no relation to the former) had some trouble really finding its footing initially. However, Reels has grown massively and while it may not be a source of the most direct competition to TikTok, it is indeed a worthy alternative.

Reels has grown to the point that it has a massive creator program attached to it, and the video format has even been migrated to Facebook with the goal of generating further user interest there. Naturally, with such a successful virtual goldmine on its hands, Instagram has been hard at work developing new features and interface updates for Reels, integrating it more and more seamlessly into the rest of the social media platform. Features such as Reels Replies are a major part of such attempts at integration.

Reels Visual Replies are essentially just what they sound like: A Reel that is being used to reply to someone. It’s a feature that’s been seen frequently across TikTok as well. Reel Replies essentially take a user’s comments, and reply to them in video format. The comment will then show up within the Reel itself as a text-box, taking up some amount of space, and showing both the user who issued said comment along with the text. The text-box is apparently adjustable, with users having the ability to move it around and change its size depending on where it obstructs one’s Reel the least.

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Overall, it’s a fun addition to the Reels format, even if the credit should be going to TikTok first. At any rate, it’s an example of Instagram really utilizing Reels’ social media capabilities, outside of just serving it up as a form of entertainment.

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Speaking of social media capabilities, a new feature might help alleviate one of the most common frustrations encountered across all such platforms. Isn’t it annoying when you see that a friend’s online, but isn’t replying to your chat? Sure, they’ve probably just put their phone down to run a quick errand, but there’s no way for you to know, right? Well, there sort of is now! Instagram is beta testing a new feature via which if both users are active within a chat, the platform will display that accordingly. It’s a work-around, sure, and one that’s currently being tested for usefulness, but it’s still a very nice, and even fresh, addition to the social media game.

Now, the active status will only appear when you are both active at the same time.#Instagram #instgramnewfeature@MattNavarra @instagram @alex193a pic.twitter.com/2chGZP9hr4

— Yash Joshi  (@MeYashjoshi) December 10, 2021

Read next: Instagram Plans On Allowing Users To Return To Its Old Chronologically Sorted News Feed

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5 apps for scheduling Instagram posts on iPhone and Android

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Alright, we get it. You’re an Instagram Nostradamus.

You know exactly what you want to post and when you’re gonna want to post it. Maybe there’s a meme or comment you want to make that you know will be totally relevant for a future moment or event. Or it could be that you’re an influencer and you want to make sure you keep a steady stream of content coming, so you want to schedule posts for times when you know you won’t be active (or won’t have internet access).

You’ll be happy to know there are apps that are specialized for just such situations. So listen up, InstaNostradamuses…Instagrostra…Instadam…Insta…uh…you guys (we’ll workshop it. No we won’t. We’ll probably just abandon that effort completely. You’re welcome) — these are the Instagram-post-scheduling apps for you.

While all of the iPhone apps below are free to download, they all have some in-app purchases.

1. Planoly

PLANOLY

We’ll start with “official partner” of Instagram, itself, Planoly — an Instaplanner that uses a grid to let you plan, schedule, and publish posts (as well as Reels) on Instagram. The app also lets you see post metrics and analytics so you can make sure your post didn’t flop.

Planoly is available for iOS on the Apple App Store and the Google Play store for Android.

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2. Buffer

BufferCredit: buffer / app store

Buffer is another Instagram post scheduler that helps you plan your posts and analyze feedback once they’re published. Use a calendar view to drag and drop posts into days/time slots for easy scheduling.

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Buffer is available for iOS on the Apple App Store and the Google Play store for Android.

3. Preview

PreviewCredit: preview / app store

Preview offers typical post-scheduling tools and analytics along with a few helpful extras. Get caption ideas, recommendations for hashtags, and more.

Preview is available for iOS on the Apple App Store and the Google Play store for Android.

4. Content Office

Content OfficeCredit: content office / app store

An Instagram post scheduler with a visual boost, Content Office allows users to plan and schedule Instagram posts while learning “marketing and visual guides to grow your brand on Instagram.” Like aesthetics and using visuals to create cohesive themes? Maybe this is the Instaplanner for you.

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Content Office is available for iOS on the Apple App Store.

5. Plann

PlannCredit: plann / apple store

You’ll never guess what “Plann” lets you do…

Aside from scheduling posts, get content ideas and recommendations, as well as strategy tips to ensure you’re maximizing your Instagram engagement. Ever wonder when the best time to post something is? Plann can offer you some help with that.

Plann is available for iOS on the Apple App Store and the Google Play store for Android.

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