That’s certainly a catchy lede. And The Street’s finding that “at least two international networks of escorts rely on the Twitter platform to promote and execute their services” grabbed the attention of Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey, who says he’ll use his position on the subcommittee tasked with fighting human trafficking to push for a Congressional investigation.
Here’s some advice to Congress: If you’re going down this rabbit hole, make sure to pack a change of clothes, because you’ll be down there a while. The Street’s scoop sounds like news, but, minus Smith’s threat, it’s not. The use of social media to promote adult services is neither new nor unique to Twitter.
“A months-long investigation”? Less than five minutes of searching for “escort” and related terms in tweets is enough to prove that there are lots of users advertising sex work and adult services. Many of these users operate in countries where prostitution is legal, but some are located in the U.S.
Using Twitter “in furtherance of illegal activities” is against the company’s rules. So is posting pornographic images, although the prohibition here is oddly narrow, only outlawing porn in “your profile photo, header photo, or user background.” (Ie. It’s OK to attach an X-rated photo to a tweet.) Again, it doesn’t take long to find accounts that are in violation of this diktat, some spectacularly so.
The Street makes it sound like Twitter’s laxity in enforcing its own policies stands in distinction to the practice of its peers, particularly Facebook, which “operates software and employs individuals to remove offensive content or material that violates the social network’s terms of service.”
It’s easy to believe that, since Facebook has been so aggressive about policing even tame forms of nudity, such as breastfeeding. But a minutes-long investigation by me revealed that there are plenty of escorts and escort agencies with Facebook pages, and some of them feature quite raunchy photos and videos that clearly run afoul of the site’s TOS.
Again, many are based in countries where sex work is legal or decriminalized, but it’s easy enough to find American ones. You don’t have to resort to anything fancy. Just type in “escorts” and the name of your city.
Is Congress going to ask Mark Zuckerberg to testify, too? For that matter, what about someone from Google, which has to be the No. 1 way people find prostitutes online? Or will it accept that platforms that have hundreds of millions of users will always host more illegal and unsavory activity than they can keep up with, and they have to focus their enforcement efforts on the worst offenders — just as Congress itself ought to?