She lay back on a tan leather chaise lounge in a luxury suite in a Las Vegas hotel, a VR headset covering her eyes, surrounded by strangers and coworkers. She squirmed with embarrassment, screamed, giggled and covered her already-obstructed eyes. Engadget's Director of Production, Heather Frank, was experiencing the future of pornography firsthand, and I captured it all for posterity. When I went to add the video to my collection of #VRPorn reaction posts, I did what any socially responsible millennial would and asked our hosts for their Instagram handle. As it turns out, Instagram was a touchy subject.
The reps for Naughty America, a major adult entertainment studio, explained that they'd had a series of run-ins with the Facebook-owned social network, leaving the status of their largely promotional accounts in limbo. The studio's reps weren't sure about the status of its official Instagram account as a result, so I hashtagged it and moved on.
It's a story I've heard countless times. Adult film studios and their stars face more and more scrutiny from social networks, even when the content they post is not explicit. Conversely, social networks like Instagram and Facebook have increasingly targeted users for sharing nonsexual nudity. Bottom line: If you're in the business of nudity or just feel like flashing a totally natural bikini line, don't be surprised when your cleverly exposed ass gets banned.
A video posted by Christopher Trout (@mr_trout), Jan. 6, 2016, 8:27 PM PST
Like their big banking counterparts, social media's big boys are prudes in the truest sense, and their enforcement of nudity and decency policies doesn't seem to follow any sort of logic. So San Francisco–based fetish mega-site Kink.com, which has had its own share of social media upsets, is setting up shop elsewhere. Specifically, on a new social network and location-based dating app for the fetish community called KNKI. The "uncensored social media platform," which is available on iOS and Android, looks to fill the gap left by Facebook, Instagram and, increasingly, Twitter.
A press release for the app positions it as a direct response to the often-confusing censorship of sexual content in the kink community and says it seeks to "create a mobile platform where the community and organizations can communicate openly." It offers social staples like hashtag searches and photo-centric feeds. Kink.com endorsed the app, saying it would use it as a place to "communicate about events, workshops and political causes."
"As a sexual community, we have to walk on eggshells on most social networks, even when doing basic education and activism," Kink.com Social Media Director Jessica Reid said. "KNKI gives us an opportunity to have those discussions without worrying about whether we'll be banned. We see this as our version of Instagram and Facebook."
Reid went on to say that Kink.com has been banned from both Facebook and Instagram so many times that the studio no longer uses them.
"Sometimes you're given a warning or an explanation, and sometimes you just find out in the morning when you get into work," Reid said. "It's like being on a watch list. You have to be twice as careful as anyone else."
It's a sentiment echoed by countless others whose work touches on sexuality. Violet Blue, an Engadget contributor and the former editor of Gawker's adult news site who runs the sex-positive site Tiny Nibbles, has had her fair share of issues on traditional media channels. Earlier this year, she was blocked from posting to Facebook after sharing an SFW documentary called Identity: In & Beyond the Binary by photographer and adult film creator Dave Naz. Blue says she won't join Instagram for fear of similar retaliation.
Blue cites the censorship of accounts from self-proclaimed genderqueer porn star Jiz Lee and artist Tara McPherson as cautionary tales. Instagram deactivated Lee's account in 2012 over an image in which their costar's nipple is visible. Meanwhile Instagram removed and eventually reinstated an image of a painting by McPherson of a topless woman covered in Band-Aids. And Instagram isn't just censoring photos and accounts. It recently shut down the hashtag #curvy because of its use in pornographic posts.
"I don't use Instagram, because I don't want to build an account and relationships and lose it, like what happened to Jiz Lee," Blue said. "I'd have an Instagram account if I could trust the company, but evidence is more reliable than a leap of faith. Instagram claims to press it has improved its policies with nudity (over the McPherson flap), but its recent behavior demonstrates otherwise."
According to KNKI founder Carl Sandler, who also created gay dating apps Daddyhunt and MR X, he's created a community not only for adult content to be shared freely but also for an often-marginalized group to speak openly.
"People in the BDSM, fetish and poly communities, what we think of as 'kinky,' have a harder time using existing social network for privacy reasons or because the material isn't always suited for the conservative ToS of advertiser-driven sites like Facebook and Instagram," Sandler said. "You've got things happening like the real-name campaign on Facebook, affecting gay and trans people disproportionately, or #freethenipple on Instagram. Traditional social media sites aren't welcoming to everyone equally."
Instagram and its parent company, Facebook, have consistently inconsistent approaches to enforcing their often-confusing terms of service, but Twitter has long been considered sex-friendly. Search any active adult video star's account and you'll find countless images of explicit sex acts, exposed body parts and the sort of NSFW posts that Facebook and Instagram ban. But some fear the little blue bird will soon follow cues from its more conservative and profitable counterparts. If Twitter pulls the trigger in an attempt to button up for the money, more mainstream studios and their stars could soon follow Kink.com's lead in seeking alternative outlets. That alternative could come in the form of KNKI or some other sex-centric network.
Then again, I hear Tumblr's due for a comeback.
Update: An earlier version of this story said Naughty America's official Instagram account was inactive. In fact, the team was unsure of the status of its account. The story has been updated to reflect that.