The Sex Tech Industry Says Facebook and PayPal Are Censoring Its Work
Tech companies can't differentiate between sex-positive content and porn.
Fin vibrator. Image: Kickstarter
Kris Jandler is the cofounder and CMO of Emojibator, which cheekily produces vibrators shaped like emojis. Right now they offer an eggplant and chili pepper version.
But since Emojibator launched, the company has faced a number of advertising and business obstacles online. Its Facebook page was a no-go right from the start. "Even if we had a picture of an actual fruit, they don't allow it," said Jandler. "It's a huge detriment to the industry."
This past Saturday, New York hosted the US's first ever sextech hackathon. Sextech encompasses any number of technologies that aim to enhance or innovate any area of sexual experience or human sexuality. The hackathon brought together leaders in the sextech industry, sex communicators, and a few dozen developers ready to brainstorm and develop new devices and programs. But like Jandler, they all run into this same problem of what they call extreme censorship online.
Even hackathon organizers had a lot of trouble getting the word out on Facebook. Fantasy App CEO Andriy Yaroshenko, one of the event's organizers, said he said he tried to submit his advertisement around 100 times and was denied most of the time.
"I said 'I'm not a sex toy. I'm doing an educational hackathon. It's not porn. It's not entertainment,'" said Yaroshenko. LinkedIn blocked his ads as well.
Similar issues have come up with other educational sex-related groups. Mal Harrison is the Director of the Center for Erotic Intelligence, a group of researchers, sexologists, doctors, and therapists that focus on sex education, activism and policy change, as well as research. From 2011 to 2014, she was a sexologist and digital strategist for New York's Museum of Sex. She said Facebook suspended the museum's page a number of times.
It's not just Facebook, other tech companies are also complicit. Jandler said that Emojibator wasn't allowed to use PayPal's service for sales. When she or one of her associates would host a vendor table, they would have to use their personal email accounts to take credit card payments through PayPal.
Harrison pointed out that it's even difficult for companies in the sex industry to get the business name on checks from a bank. "Sex, death, or periods—super taboo," she said.
Facebook uses automated systems to remove a lot of content that it deems inappropriate. If content is reported by a Facebook user, the Community Operations team reviews it and if it doesn't violate their standards, the content stays up. If it is taken down though, the person or group that posted it can appeal the decision.
The company policy is to regularly audit the decisions its reviewers are making and bad removals are supposedly discussed with the team to prevent them from happening again in the future.
As for why the Museum of Sex and the hackathon had such a hard time with Facebook, despite not appearing to be in violation of its standards, a Facebook spokesperson told Motherboard the company was looking into it, but did not respond in time for publication.
Bryony Cole, host of the Future of Sex podcast and an organizer of the hackathon said that for many people, it can be difficult to separate out the good from he harmful.
"People think of sextech and they think, 'Oh my god, it's this terrible thing where everyone's going to fuck a robot.' Actually there are so many more amazing things happening," said Cole.