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Porn Star (Re)tweets About Porn, Gets Her Medical Fundraiser Suspended

The internet responds with an online petition, the #whorephobia tag, and other protests.

by Fruzsina Eordogh
May 18 2014, 6:01am
Image: ancient porn/Simone Tagliaferri

When porn performer Eden Alexander found herself with medical bills she was unable to pay, her friends did what many people do these days and held a fundraiser on GiveForward, a WePay platform service designed specifically for medical expenses. That all ended on Friday when WePay canceled the fundraiser, citing Alexander's retweets of messages from supportive porn companies.

Alexander didn’t know this at the time: the reason she was given, she says, was just “porn.” By early Saturday, WePay canceled Alexander’s fundraiser entirely, deleted the page, and sent Alexander an email she posted publicly on Twitter that cited “pornographic items” and a violation of WePay’s Terms of Service. Friends, donors, supporters, and most of activist Twitter are calling it blatant discrimination against sex workers and are sounding off under the #whorephobia tag. There’s even an online petition.

Alexander’s fundraiser began on April 11th, and the page's text explicitly stated it was raising funds to fight complications that arose from negligent health care practitioners and an allergic reaction Alexander had to a prescription medication. This allergic reaction, described as “near fatal” by fellow porn performer Kitty Stryker (and one of the GiveForward organizers) then triggered a painful skin condition known as Stevens–Johnson syndrome, a staph infection, and an existing thyroid condition Alexander was not aware she had, which then prompted her to go into a myxedema coma.

Alexander’s heart, lungs, multiple organs, joints, and nervous system are poisoned, essentially, and she has had to cancel work due to lack of motor control and difficulty breathing. It may take Alexander up to two months to fully recover, and to do so she will need the help of a visiting nurse and a physical therapist. Most of her condition and medical needs were outlined and explained on her fundraiser campaign page, of which the Google cache is here

As Kitty Stryker pointed out in her blog post on the matter, the fundraising page was devoid of any mentions of Alexander’s pornographic work:

“There were no perks offered, no dirty pictures. Just a woman in trouble, unable to work due to sudden, undiagnosed and debilitating illness and a sudden change of circumstances at home.”

Nevertheless, WePay felt she violated its terms of service, because she happened to retweet tweets about porn. This was explained in an official blog post the platform put up on Saturday afternoon shortly after Motherboard requested comment.

“Upon reviewing payments starting May 15, 2014 WePay discovered tweets from others retweeted by Eden Alexander offering adult material in exchange for donations. This is in direct violation of our terms of service as our back-end processor does not permit it. WePay has worked with other adult entertainers who use our service and abide by our terms of service without any issues.”

A look through Alexander’s Twitter stream revealed she did retweet two tweets from porn companies offering free website perks to customers should they donate to Alexander’s fundraiser. One production company offered a free clip, the website a free subscription. Alexander has retweeted various messages of support regarding her fundraiser, and it’s possible Alexander did not realize tweeting about sex work in relation to her fundraiser would end up suspending it. She is a sex worker, after all, prone to tweeting about her industry.

The WePay blog post went on to give her the benefit of the doubt that she didn’t know she wasn’t supposed to tweet about porn and her fundraiser at the same time. The post also mentioned WePay is empathetic to Alexander’s plight and are now offering her the ability to start a new fundraiser.

In an email to Motherboard, WePay press liaison April Rassa disputed charges, leveled by supporters of Alexander on Twitter, that WePay is holding funds already donated to Alexander. "We are not holding any funds associated with the Eden Alexander account," she wrote.

If you're wondering, the company behind the curtain, the shot-calling backend payment processor mentioned in the WePay blog post, is Vantiv, a rapidly rising financial services firm that's now the largest acquiring bank (a bank that processes payments for merchants, like WePay) for debit card PIN transactions. It also operates 12,000 ATMs, which dispense cash that can be used for all kinds of porn and even things that are actually illegal.

On Twitter, WePay's cofounder Bill Clerico explained a bit more. Many of things banned in the service's terms (like porn anything) are required by processors because "they are prone to fraud and abuse." WePay is required by its partners (financial partners, presumably) to actively monitor (surveill) its users for policy violations, which includes combing through Twitter accounts, a task done by actual humans. "We must enforce these policies or we face hefty fines or the risk of shutdown for the many hundreds of thousands of merchants on our service," said Rassa.

The whole debacle finally brings up the sticky issue of whether a financial institution like WePay has any right to withhold money or suspend campaigns based on what users are doing online, outside of their fundraising campaigns. Especially if what they are doing online is not illegal, but morally frowned upon, at least by some. The consensus of the Internet outrage is a resounding “No.”

WePay, at the very least, seems to be listening. Both Rasso and Clerico have emphasized the service's interest in getting the original fundraising campaign online again. That interest came too late, however, and the campaign quickly reappeared at Crowdtilt, where it beat its goal in just five hours. (For what it's worth, Crowdtilt uses a processor called Balanced Inc., a company whose TOS have no such porn ban and boasts such figures as the CEO of reddit and Ashton Kutcher as backers.) Hopefully, it's a lesson learned. Rasso noted, "We are reviewing both our terms of service and account shutdown process to see how we can avoid situations like this in the future."