Facebook and Instagram will now remove posts containing what they describe as “commonly sexual emojis or emoji strings,” according to an updated section of the company’s Community Standards. To be removed, the content must also “implicitly or indirectly (typically through providing a method of contact) offer or ask for nude imagery, or sex or sexual partners, or sex chat conversations.” It’s part of a wider ban on “sexual solicitation” on the platform. (So if you're using emojis to accompany a photo of your homemade eggplant parm, you should be OK.)
Out asserts that the language in the new rules means that emojis can no longer be used to censor nude or partially nude photos; users can no longer link to subscription content platforms such as OnlyFans or JustForFans pages in their bios; and “eggplant or peach emojis cannot be used with sexual statements about being horny.”
Sex industry news site XBIZ was the first to cover the change in policy, after being alerted by BBC journalist Thomas Fabbri. Fabbri and XBIZ discovered that the new language was quietly added to existing policy sometime between September 7 and October 23, without official announcement. XBIZ’s Gustavo Turner writes that the new rule “restricts even further the posts that sex workers are allowed to share, making them even more exposed to targeted harassment campaigns by anti-porn crusaders.”
According to XBIZ, “Reports of bans for ‘Sexual Solicitation’ seem to show a pattern of the company specifically targeting sex workers, including those who take pains to abide by the general spirit of the community standards.” One adult performer, Kendra James, told XBIZ that she was banned from Instagram “after I told a man who DM’d me demanding free nude pics that this was my job and he could join my site.”
Joe Vela, co-founder & CEO of emoji-shaped sex toy company Emojibator, agrees that these new rules target sexuality professionals. "Since we started seeing stricter guidelines around sex-postive content, emojis were essential to sexuality professionals to specify, organize, and advertise the type of content they were producing for their audiences without including words that would get them shadow-banned or removed," he tells Refinery29. "This adversely affects consumers searching online for businesses sharing sexuality information, because it’s harder and harder to find what they’re looking for."
Daniel Saynt, sex educator and Chief Conspirator at sex and cannabis members' club New Society for Wellness, says that these rules are in stark contrast to Facebook's record on regulating hate speech and harassment. "The new ban on 'explicit' emojis is just another nail in the coffin for sex speech on Facebook and Instagram," he tells Refinery29. "It's a disgusting attack on our freedom of expression from a platform that has recently chosen to cozy up with alt-right publishers, misogynists and conservative politicians. Hate speech is protected, while our ability to express our sexuality is restricted."
He also pointed to Facebook's decision not to fact-check political ads. "Lies by politicians are accepted, while sex educators, adult performers and activists shadow-banned, deleted or prevented from advertising," he says. "Now, even alluding to genitalia through the use of a banana or peach is being challenged by the largest social network in the world, a sign that the repressive, anti-liberal ideals which push societal evolution backwards are rising and being provided protection by Mark Zuckerburg."
Refinery29 reached out to Facebook for comment about the impact of these new guidelines on sex workers and other sexuality professionals. Stephanie Otway, a Facebook Company Spokesperson, responded, "Certain emojis will only be removed from Facebook and Instagram if they are used alongside a request for nude imagery, sex or sexual partners, or sex chat conversations. We aren’t removing simply the emojis."