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Tumblr's porn ban could devastate many who make a living as cam models

Sex workers of all stripes found Tumblr to be a boon to finding clients. What happens when that income is cut off?


Nicole Karlis
December 5, 2018 12:00AM (UTC)

On Monday, Tumblr announced it will ban all sexualized nudity from its platform, bringing an end to its era of serving as a freeform, accessible hub for diverse sexual expression. While the ban is meant to make the platform “better [and] more positive,” it will also likely to send shockwaves through an industry of cam models who have depended on the platform to make an income — and in some cases, survive.

Tumblr said in its official announcement the ban will go into effect on December 17. Most adult content via photos, videos, or GIFs, will be prohibited or removed by then, with the exception of “female-presenting nipples in connection with breastfeeding, birth or after-birth moments, and health-related situations, such as post-mastectomy or gender confirmation surgery.” Thus, the days of Tumblr porn are nearing an end.

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“There are no shortage of sites on the internet that feature adult content,” chief executive Jeff D’Onofrio wrote in a blog post Monday. “We will leave it to them and focus our efforts on creating the most welcoming environment possible for our community.”

The ban may be a repercussion of Tumblr being removed from Apple’s App Store after child pornography was found on the site, a negative side effect intrinsic to many unmoderated user-dependent platforms.

Regardless, people who make a living "camming" — meaning that clients pay to watch a livestream of, or have an individual video chat with, a cam model — will lose a vital platform. As Karley Sciortino wrote in Broadly, camming has become a huge part of the adult entertainment industry, and many sex workers make a living as freelancers who cam or sell videos via sites like Tumblr or Snapchat.

In spite of stereotypes about the kind of people attracted to sex work, people from many different socioeconomic classes make a living camming part-time or full-time. Anna Katzen, a Harvard grad, wrote about her experience working as a cam girl in a 2014 Salon essay:

“Why did you start camming?” asked someone with the username TiredForearm. “Well, I came here because I hate my real job and wanted to see if this could be a viable financial alternative,” I said. [...] I began leaving the office sharply at 5 p.m., applying my makeup on the subway ride home and often skipping dinner in order to log online faster. I broadcast my webcam show until 10 or 11 p.m., then rolled into bed exhausted, exhilarated and up to $600 richer.  After only a week of moonlighting as a camgirl, earning twice the wages of my desk job in half of the time, I handed in my notice. “Freelance work,” I told my boss and parents alike. “I’m going to take the certification exam for Russian-to-English translation.” While not entirely ludicrous – I am fluent in Russian – I saw no hurry to pursue this option so long as I was still certified to flash my boobs over the Internet.

Aella, who was a cam girl for five years and earned $50,000 in her highest earning month, told Salon this ban is “sad” and will definitely have an impact on cam models.

“I used to acquire more customers... it can be extremely effective as a marketing channel,” she told Salon. “I think it limits the options... it’s one option out of many [that] are slowly being cut back, as more platforms restrict nudity people have fewer platforms to fall back on — especially independent sex workers.”

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Aella explained the process of acquiring new clients on Tumblr went as follows: “So say I’m a regular guy browsing Tumblr and a photo comes up of a really hot girl, she’s interesting, really attractive, conveying the thing I want to know more about,” she said. From there, the potential client can find more information about the cam model, and either tip them or pay for a private session.

“Tumblr [was] great” for that, she added. Today, Aella helps other women go through the process of camming, and advises them on her blog how to be successful at it.

Pike Long, the Deputy Director of St. James Infirmary — a peer-based occupational health clinic for sex workers and their families — told Salon in an email that the Tumblr porn ban will impact sex workers.

“I definitely know sex workers who are going to be harmed by this, though we as an [organization] haven't given it much attention yet,” she told Salon in an email. “I do find it to be cruelly ironic that they chose December 17th, which happens to be International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, as their date to pull many workers off their platform.”

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Nicole Karlis

Nicole Karlis is a news writer at Salon. She covers health, science, tech and gender politics. Tweet her @nicolekarlis.

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