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Sex Tech

The Patriarchy is in the Algorithm

Why do Mailchimp, Instagram, and Facebook want to silence us?

Salty is a brand new sex, dating, and relationship newsletter for women, trans, and non-binary people. We launched a five months ago with the mission to amplify truly modern conversations about all the fun stuff we talk about amongst ourselves (online dating, anal sex, polyamory, commitment, love, interracial dating, pregnancy sex, STDs, toys, pegging, sex work, and more.)

We are succeeding in our mission. Just a few months in, Salty has 6,000 newsletter subscribers, 15K instagram followers and is averaging 130,000 views per month across platforms, which —  for a volunteer-run, indie media startup (with zero capital) — is really fucking great. We’re the new Cosmo – only we’re intersectional, body positive, pro sex work and queer inclusive.

The numbers prove it: there’s a market for this kind of meaningful, modern, authentic content.

The problem? The digital platforms don’t want us.

Salty has been under attack since the day we launched. Within hours of sending our first email, we were banned from Mailchimp – without any explanation. We searched for alternatives: Constant Contact seemed promising, until reps called our editors personally with an itemized list of edits they’d require before allowing our email to go out. A number of other newsletter platforms flatout refused to have us. We considered porn mailing platforms, but realised that the emails wouldn’t make it past people’s inbox spam filters. (Consider how difficult it is for porn stars and sex workers to independently promote their work!)

Our tasteful promotional videos weren’t approved for marketing, and we were unable to promote anything on Facebook or Instagram. When we broke a viral #metoo story, we were locked out of our social media accounts and hacked by MRA groups. We lost our entire site. (Luckily, we now have an amazing, volunteer security engineer who has us all buttoned up).

We released our monthly coverstar image on Instagram, featuring sex educator Zoe Ligon, fully dressed, with a strap on. The titles of our articles were included: a story about sexual coercion, pegging for trans people, a reflective piece about queer friendships, and break up texts for when you want to respectfully end things with someone you’re not really dating. Not one thing about our cover violated the Community Guidelines.

Instagram wasn’t having it. It was deleted within hours.

Why? Is it because it shows a woman taking ownership of her own sex life and body? Is it because we are offering a perspective on sexuality, devoid of the male gaze? Is it because we including and normalizing the voices of women, trans and non-binary people in the conversations about pleasure? Was it the piece on coercion?

Well, yes. But if you boil it down, the reason is even more simple.

The patriarchy is in the algorithms.

Actually, let’s rephrase that. The white, cis, heteronormative patriarchy is in the algorithms.

Our digital world has been created for and by cis, straight, white men. When they write the algorithms, they embed all their prejudices, biases, and assumptions into the programs, and now we’re all living in the digital world they created for themselves. As the algorithms change and learn from the behaviour of their users, the patriarchy festers inside them, reinforcing and amplifying the sexist, racist status quo, click by click.

Discussions of sexuality that do not center around men’s pleasure or monetary gain short circuit their systems. Radically honest and intersectional content about sex, dating, and relationships is content that the algorithms literally. can. not. compute. It corrupts the code. Triggers the spam settings. So we get censored. Deleted. Banned. Silenced.


Historically, women of color, trans, non-binary people, women, queer people, and sex workers have been erased from records, data, and history books. These algorithms do little more than continue a violent history of erasing, deleting, and excluding our legacy, our voices, and our work.


So is it any wonder that Playboy can run images of topless women, but when women choose to do so themselves, are banned? It’s no surprise that men can send unsolicited, sexually explicit imagery to women without recourse. Oiled up butts are definitely allowed in the digital man caves created by Zuck Bro Inc, but but women breastfeeding are definitely not. Adverts for male erectile disfunction get the go ahead, but sex toys made by women, for women? Well, why would they have any interest in that? And as for sex workers, with FOSTA, they have been written out of the code entirely. Poof. Gone.

This is not new. The silencing and shaming of women of color, femmes, trans, and non-binary people’s sexuality has been happening for thousands of years. Only now, it is being updated for the digital age. Historically, women of color, trans, non-binary people, women, queer people, and sex workers have been erased from records, data, and history books. These algorithms do little more than continue a violent history of erasing, deleting, and excluding our legacy, our voices, and our work.

Last month, Salty took Instagram to task by putting a topless non-binary person on a cover of our mag. Of course, they initially deleted it. But consider this: if they censor women’s nipples and not men’s, what do they do about person who identifies as neither? After a huge campaign by our network and talent, the image was shared 19,000 times and Instagram changed their censorship policy to take into consideration non binary people. The image was reinstated.

A small victory.

It seems that these digital platforms only consider callouts when they come from to those with vast networks or influence, two things that Salty’s readership are statistically less likely to possess.

That is why our mission is so important. See us. Hear us. Amplify us. Do not erase us.

Salty has gone up against tech behemoths before and won. We’ll likely continue to do it over and over again with each new cover, story, or image that in some way affronts Silicon Valley’s so-called harbingers of good taste.

Our hope? That with each celebration of female and non binary sexuality or inclusive conversation, we can further highlight and parse out the patriarchy from the coding. Technology connects us and animates the free world. Outdated opinions about who gets to live, love, or fuck the way they want should have no place in it.

Edit: Personal connections of the talent reinstated the Salty cover.

 

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