YouTube shut down an adult film production channel after it posted a series interviewing sex workers about their trade.
Erika Lust, a Barcelona-based erotic filmmaker, wrote in a blog post on Wednesday that YouTube terminated her eponymous channel on July 4, when it had around 11,000 subscribers.
The ban came after an interviewee for the company’s series “In Conversation With Sex Workers,” which had been on YouTube for about a week, tweeted to promote her involvement in the film. Within hours of that tweet the channel was terminated, citing “violation of community guidelines.”
The episodes of the series—still available on Lust’s website—feature four sex workers talking on themes around their work, including the law, how they interact with clients, and feminism. They discuss topics including the history of pornography, and how discriminatory and stigmatized societies try to push sex work to the fringes. None of the interviews show nudity or describe sexual acts in detail.
“There was NO explicit content, NO sex, NO naked bodies, NO (female) nipples or anything else that breaks YouTube’s strict guidelines in the series,” Lust wrote on her website. “It was simply sex workers speaking about their work and experiences.”
YouTube’s community guidelines around adult content state “sexually explicit content like pornography is not allowed. Videos containing fetish content will be removed or age-restricted depending on the severity of the act in question. In most cases, violent, graphic, or humiliating fetishes are not allowed to be shown on YouTube.”
But YouTube claims that the violation has nothing to do with sexual content—the problem, it says, was with the links in the descriptions of the videos. The links directed viewers back to Lust’s site, which YouTube considers a porn site.
“All videos uploaded to YouTube must comply with our community guidelines, which prohibit content that's main or sole purpose is to drive people off YouTube and onto another site,” a spokesperson for YouTube told me in an email.
Lust told me that YouTube gave her no explanation of why they closed her account. “I was not driving traffic to a porn site. Any links on my YouTube account drove traffic to my site, ErikaLust.com, because it is a clean site, and most links went to my blog where I write posts related to the trailer or video in question. My YouTube account was completely clean and non-explicit, and we even had exclusive non-explicit clips on there just for Youtube viewers,” she said in an email.
This is not the first time Lust has run up against YouTube’s content policies. In 2016, the platform removed one of her safe-for-work videos, causing her to question why YouTube was waging a war against her content when other, much more explicit videos remained up. Now, she wonders if this has something to do with FOSTA, a bill passed earlier this year that casts an overbroad net on sexual speech online and has been responsible for other censorship, including of Craigslist personals, niche dating sites, and sex work advertising forums.
“This type of censorship is only going to fuel the sexual dysfunction of our society even further,” Lust told me. “We already live in a sex-negative culture where we are taught to keep eroticism private and hidden, to not enjoy sex too much, and to not show affection too much.”
There’s no clear evidence that this is a direct result of FOSTA, but it does appear to be part of a wider crackdown on how YouTube wants its users to behave: Promoting yourself on its platform, independent of being a YouTuber, won’t be tolerated if it drives eyeballs elsewhere. Google announced in January that it would start implementing new “tough but necessary” changes to YouTube monetization, including stricter requirements for its partnership program and a cryptic “three-tier suitability system” for advertisers to pair up with “brand-safe” ad placement.
Some YouTubers who were upset with the platforms new monetization policies, which make it harder for them to make money on YouTube, have threatened to start intentionally trying to drive people away from YouTube, by posting “teaser” videos that link out to Facebook for the full content. Doing this would put a dent in YouTube’s retention numbers, essentially undermining and in some cases directly defying YouTube’s new rules.
YouTube was Lust’s last social-sharing channel that allowed her to post full videos to a wider audience. Her company’s already been banned from Vimeo.
“Losing our account means that those younger viewers who may be curious about alternatives to mainstream adult content won't be able to find us and see non-explicit content that signals consent, female pleasure, mutual desire and ethical production values in pornography,” she told me.
“They won't be able to discover alternatives. But they will still have mainstream porn shoved down their throat in every single outlet. Anyone interested in finding new female filmmakers, listening to sex workers, and keeping up to date with the industry won't be able to use that medium, either.”