Switter, an alternative social network that was a safe space for sex workers, announced today that it will stop taking new registrations starting immediately and close for good on March 14.
In a statement on Monday, Assembly Four—a collective of sex workers and technologists who run Switter, as well as advertising site Tryst—announced that Switter would shut down permanently on March 14.
“The recent anti-sex work and anti-LGBTQIA+ legislative changes not only in Australia, but in the UK, US and other jurisdictions have made it impossible for us to appropriately and ethically maintain compliance for over 430,000+ users on a social media platform,” the statement says.
Switter is built on Mastodon, an open-source social media platform that is considered a decentralized alternative to Twitter. When it launched in 2018, Switter was seen as a safe refuge for sex workers to connect with each other, as well as fans and clients, outside of the conservative, confusing terms of service in place on mainstream platforms including Instagram and Twitter, which frequently deplatform or outright ban those working in the adult industry. After the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act passed into law in April, it became even harder for sex workers and marginalized people to survive online, as site operators tried to avoid newly-imposed liabilities for anything that could be construed as soliciting sex by cracking down on all things remotely sexual. The effects of FOSTA are ongoing, even as the law has been proven ineffective at stopping sex trafficking and harmful to sex workers.
“We are being denied our digital citizenship and humanity.”
Reports about Switter’s launch claimed that because sex work is decriminalized in Australia, its founders hoped that it would be safe from US laws like FOSTA. But in the years since, the internet and internet infrastructure have become more hostile toward marginalized groups. In the statement, Assembly Four cites the dangerousness of Australia’s Online Safety Act, a piece of 2021 legislation that’s very similar to FOSTA, as well as the reintroduced EARN-IT Act in the US, and the newly reintroduced Online Safety Bill in the UK.
The Online Safety Act is an attempt by the Australian government to stop online harassment and non-consensual sexual content by levying fines and over-broad regulations against platforms; it targets content that is “likely to cause offence to a reasonable adult,” an incredibly nebulous phrase that will continue to push queer people, sex workers, and other marginalized identities further off the internet. Human rights organizations have called it “authoritarian,” detrimental to actual harm reduction efforts for trafficking survivors, and “likely to cause significant harm to those who work in the sex industry.”
Switter going down is a prime example of the kind of fallout that these organizations are concerned about. Sex workers used the platform to connect and stay safe, and find clients safely—and beginning March 14, they will lose one more lifeline.
“At the end of the day, the national legal system is an imperialist invention that upholds white supremacist ideals designed to oppress and disenfranchise marginalised communities,” Assembly Four wrote in the announcement. “The ability to exist offline was a hard won fight from our collective Elders who were just trying to survive. We face the same fight online and we are actively having our human rights trampled on. We are being denied our digital citizenship and humanity.”