Is There A “TikTok Purge” Of Sex Workers? Not If They’re Already Famous

Photo: Chandan Khanna/AFP/Getty Images.
In another blow to sex workers rights, the video-sharing social media app TikTok is allegedly booting OnlyFans creators and sex workers from its platform for violating sex and nudity policies, Rolling Stone reports. The creators who saw their accounts deleted from the app in November in what one referred to as a “TikTok purge” say that the videos they shared on the app didn’t explicitly violate any policies. 
Instead, they believe their accounts were removed for including either a direct link to OnlyFans, or to Linktree, a third-party app where creators can list all of their social media accounts in their bios. 
Lydia Love, a content creator on both sites told Rolling Stone she was very careful about what kind of content she posted on her TikTok. “I wouldn’t even type the word ‘sugar daddy,’ I would type ‘sugar daddi’ and things like that lol. And I never used the word OnlyFans on my page,” she said. Still, Love was kicked off the app in November after building up her following to nearly 100,000. While she never linked directly to her OnlyFans account, the Linktree in her bio did. 
The other handful of creators who spoke with the outlet said their videos weren’t in violation of TikTok’s policies, whose guidelines state that users are prohibited from posting, streaming, or sharing nude content in addition to “content that depicts, promotes, or glorifies sexual solicitation, including offering or asking for sexual partners, sexual chats or imagery, sexual services, premium sexual content, or sexcamming.” 
And while a representative of the app confirmed to Rolling Stone that TikTok doesn’t allow “accounts that attempt to redirect traffic,” it hasn’t cracked down on creators who link to their Twitter accounts, for example. Further free from the TikTok purge are OnlyFans creators who are either famous or more mainstream, like actress Bella Thorne. The actress received backlash in the fall for “making obscene amounts of money [on OnlyFans] without acknowledging the plight of sex workers,” as Aussie Rachel, a sex worker and OnlyFans creator, told Rolling Stone earlier this year. 
Sex workers have become increasingly vulnerable to the whims of corporate interests in digital spaces in recent years, whether that's on social networking sites like TikTok or The New York Post. Earlier this week, a Post article outed 23-year-old New York City-based paramedic who started an OnlyFans account to supplement her income. But rather than shed light on how people are increasingly relying on informal economies — especially in the middle of a global public health crisis as the U.S. government refuses to financially help working people any meaningful way — the Post only made the EMT more vulnerable to threats of violence and the potential loss of her job. 
Any crackdowns on sex workers rights is always an assault on the most marginalized workers. To do so during a pandemic, as the industry faces further financial hardship, following years of growing hostility toward sex work, is particularly violent.    
Moreover, TikTok isn't the only social media platform cracking down. Instagram also took a hardline stance against content created by sex workers in November when it changed its guidelines to include: “attempted coordination of or recruitment for adult sexual services” and “explicit sexual solicitation” as violations of its terms of service, Novara Media reports.
“Instagram seems intent on censoring sex workers’ voices and making it even harder for us to make money during this pandemic,” April Fiasco, a sex worker who started using the app during the pandemic, told Novara. Fiasco added that censorship on the platform “disproportionately affects marginalised communities and impacts our livelihoods.”  
To make matters worse, platforms like TikTok and Instagram have profited off the communities formed by sex workers who use them, especially as some of these creators bring in thousands of followers. One TikTok user, Rebekka Blue who also makes content on OnlyFans said her account, with 950,000 followers, was deleted after she was approved as a TikTok creator, which would allow her to make money off her posts. It wasn’t until she sought legal help that she was able to have her account restored. Others have not had the same luck, and are seeing their accounts removed for no obvious violations when their content is apparently no longer advantageous to the platform.
Despite it all, sex work is legitimate work, and the community will always find ways to keep pushing forward. As Samantha Sun told Novara, “We’re going to adapt – they can try, but we will always be able to [maneuver], to foil their plans.”

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