Morality police Mark Zuckerberg
Morality police Mark Zuckerberg Alex Wong/Getty

Looks like Facebook has jumped on the censorship bandwagon. The company's Community Standards now stipulates that they will be cracking down on anything resembling sexual solicitation, including talking about sex. (The policies were updated in October but are just making news now because someone posted screenshots to Twitter this week.)

Sexual solicitation, in this case, doesn't mean trying to actually purchase sex; it also means legal, consensual, non-paid hookups, which people are no longer permitted to discuss on Facebook. While the company has long banned porn, dick pics, and the like, according to the company's new rules, it now prohibits "sexual hints such as mentioning sexual roles, sex positions, fetish scenarios, sexual preference/sexual partner preference, state of arousal, act of sexual intercourse or activity (sexual penetration or self-pleasuring), commonly sexualized areas of the body such as the breasts, groin, or buttocks, state of hygiene of genitalia or buttocks.” As Queerty pointed out, that means no more specificying whether you're a top or a bottom.

Even if you're not the type to post sex party invites on Facebook, this development is the latest in a concerning trend: Big Tech getting into big censorship. After Apple removed Tumblr from its store, the company banned porn entirely from its platform. Twitter is rapidly banning people whose politics they don't like (and I'm not just talking about the Alex Jones and Daily Stormers of the world), Instagram is banning cannabis, YouTube is demonetizing videos, Patreon is banning adult content, and WordPress has been retroactively editing content hosted on their servers. The open internet, it seems, is rapidly closing.

Facebook tried to make these changes seem benevolent, as though they're just cracking down on sex talk because, as the guidelines read, "the global community may be sensitive to this type of content and it may impede the ability for people to connect with their friends and the broader community." But there could be a legal impetus as well. Earlier this year, Congress passed SESTA and FOSTA, a duo of bills that were supposedly about preventing human trafficking but, in effect, made it possible for platforms like Facebook to be held liable for user-posted content. Tech companies initially pushed back against the legislation, but eventually gave in, and soon after the bills passed, sites popular with sex workers, like Backpage, were shut down. Even Craigslist shuttered their Casual Encounters section. (While the bills were, in theory, designed to help people, according to sex workers and their advocates, shutting down these avenues has led to an increase in street solicitation, which puts sex workers more at risk than advertising their services online.)

When asked for clarification by PC Mag, which first reported the changes, Facebook said that the company "crafted the new rules with input from third-party organizations that specialize in women's and children's safety issues." This may sound good, but it's dangerous territory. Protecting women and children has long been a favorite excuse by people across the political spectrum trying to crack down on civil liberties. In the '80s, it was Tipper Gore and other concerned moms trying to take away our Prince tapes. Today, it's used by those who want to control what bathrooms trans people use. It's why sex work is illegal even though it's the prohibition, not the act, that makes sex work dangerous. (For more on this, read my article about a legal brothel in New Zealand.)

Facebook's new policy supposedly affects Instagram and Messenger as well as the main Facebook platform. So, if you have a habit of sliding into people's DMs, now might be the time to stop. That said, I ran a little experiment through Messenger and have yet to be banned, so if they're scanning people's message for prohibited sex talk, they're not doing a particularly good job of it... at least not yet.