Since its launch more than a year ago, social video app Vine has had a reputation for being porn-friendly. Even when Vine made an effort to tighten its restrictions by blocking porn-related hashtags, it was still relatively hands-off compared to Facebook and Instagram’s disciplinarian stances on online sexual content.
That all changed, however, last Thursday, when Vine announced that it was updating its terms and services to ban all sexually explicit content. The purpose, the company said, was to make users more “comfortable.”
“For more than 99 percent of our users, this doesn’t really change anything,” the company announced in a blog post. “For the rest: we don’t have a problem with explicit sexual content on the Internet –– we just prefer not to be the source of it.”
So how did the so-called 1 percent of the Vine porn-sharing community respond to the ban on adult content? Some panicked:
Porn ban: Twitter talks about Vine's new 'no porn' policy http://t.co/RfBdAZvRoR there goes my damn near 60k followers ive cultivated! :(— Stacy Sweet (@MFC_StacySweet) March 7, 2014
Some were indifferent:
Some speculated that the ban was related to the tale of @VERSACEPOPTARTS, the 18-year-old who was suspended from Vine last month for making love to a Hot Pocket. No one was fonder of this theory than @VERSACEPOPTARTS himself:
I CHANGED "THE RULES" ON VINE DOE pic.twitter.com/Lh2TGtjlgf— Versace Poptarts (@althepaca) March 7, 2014
And some, like adult performers Jiz Lee and Conner Habib, were outraged, interpreting the ban as a harbinger of increased censorship of adult content in general.
For many adult performers who’ve had unpleasant experiences with mainstream social media, the Vine porn ban was an inevitable, yet unfortunate, turn of events. Adult performer Siri, for instance, has had enough negative experiences with mainstream social media—she’s been booted off Instagram, and her SFW YouTube account was inexplicably deleted last month— that she was skeptical of Vine’s laissez-faire policy toward porn from the start.
“It benefits a new social network [like Vine] to allow adult content, because it attracts tons of users, and a lot of that content goes ‘viral,’” Siri, who was named the number one porn star on Vine last year (NSFW), explained to me.
“But as soon as a network like Vine has reached a certain tipping point, it becomes too risky for them to allow adult material. That's what happened with Tumblr after Yahoo purchased them, and now it's happening with Vine.”
Gay adult performer/activist/writer Habib sees Vine’s ban on adult content as the culmination of the Internet’s years-long assault on online pornography and those who make it.
“The big issue for me isn’t even Vine, per se, I think it’s just like a death by a thousand cuts, of porn on the Internet,” he told the Daily Dot.
“It started last year when Google changed their Image search parameters, then Tumblr banned the word ‘gay’ from their search because it was too linked to pornography, and the porn filter in the UK. Taken alone, these things don’t seem like a big deal, but together they raise alarms for me.”
Prior to the ban, Vine’s tolerance of nudity and sexually explicit content was referred to by many journalists as "Vine’s porn problem." But for Habib and countless other adult performers, Vine’s “porn problem” wasn’t a problem at all. For them, Vine was a platform allowing them to showcase multiple aspects of their personalities, from the goofy to the idiosyncratic to the sexual, with their fans, friends, and followers. As a mainstream social network, rather than a porn website or adult-themed app, Vine was a conduit not only for adult performers to promote themselves and their work, but to humanize themselves to their fans as well.
“When you’re a porn star, Vine is a great avenue to to present a fuller picture of your personality,” says Habib.
“For me, that was a huge value: I can show a porn post and I can show a little video of myself doing something dumb at the grocery store. It’s the idea that sex and sexuality aren’t divorced from all the other things I do in my life... and I think that’s part of the thing that’s so frustrating about this ban, that Vine is forcing those two things apart. And that’s essentially an ideological stance. It’s not about making users comfortable.”
Since Vine announced its ban on pornographic content, Habib has received an in-app notification urging him to delete his adult content by March 13, or else his account will be suspended. While he’s not sure yet whether he’ll abandon the platform and take his content elsewhere, he’s launched a petition on change.org to stop Vine censorship, which has garnered a few hundred signatures.
“We are disturbed by the precedent set on Vine for other applications and websites, including Twitter,” the petition reads. “We are also disturbed that we are not allowed to choose what we view…There is nothing comfortable to us about the slippery slope of censorship.”
Habib says he does not expect the petition to be effective in terms of getting Vine to lift their porn ban. What he hopes is that it will open people’s eyes to the ban’s potential implications for censorship and Internet freedom, and how it may be symptomatic of a larger trend against pushing adult performers out of mainstream social spaces.
So the question remains: now that Vine is no longer social porn’s cool babysitter, where do adult performers and amateurs go from here? While there’s still Tumblr, hashtag filters have already been implemented to prevent people from searching for adult content, and the Vine porn ban doesn’t bode well for the future of Twitter, which is the only large social network to allow images and links to porn for 18+ accounts.
While genderqueer adult performer Jiz Lee says they don't expect "any adult UGC service as long as Apple is around; we're drawn to mobile use and they wouldn't allow such an app," ze is optimistic that a new, sex-positive social network will pop up in Vine’s place.
“The adult industry is often the first settlers to new social platforms; it’s likely a new option will appear,” Jiz told me via Twitter. And there’s also been a recent proliferation of adult-themed social apps, such as Pinsex, Pornostagram, Fuckbook, and Snatchly, which cater to adult performers and fans, though few of them have caught on quite the way that Vine has.
“I think it's most wise of adult performers to invest their time and energy into social networking sites we can trust, that we know will not eventually delete our accounts or ban us,” says Siri, citing adult-themed social sites Snapgirls and My Porn Profile as examples. “Even better if they can provide a way for us to monetize our social networking.”
But Habib says that these types of adult-themed platforms aren’t enough. “[The Vine porn ban] definitely opens up an avenue for someone to create another app, but I don’t want it to be just about sex,” he says.
“That’s the way things tend to go: ‘Oh, here’s another opening to make a quick-edit sex video app,’ and I’d rather it not be that. I’d rather it be somewhere where sex is celebrated as part of life, as the origin of life.”
Photo by Lies Thru a Lens\Flickr (CC BY 2.0)