Some of the country’s biggest advertisers are balking at the new Twitter under Elon Musk. A recent report from Media Matters for America found at least half of Twitter’s 100 biggest advertisers have either announced they will stop running ads on the platform or just seem to be stopping more quietly.
But not all businesses can walk away so easily. Take sex workers. A recent survey from the website Sex Work CEO shows that Twitter is incredibly important for adult content creators, helping them connect with fans, find new ones and promote their legal businesses.
Marketplace’s Kimberly Adams speaks with MelRose Michaels, the founder of Sex Work CEO. Michaels explained how adult content creators are responding to all the recent changes at Twitter. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.
MelRose Michaels: There’s been talk of kind of paywalling something like Twitter. So there’s excitement around the idea that maybe we can utilize Twitter as a platform paywall or fears on the flip side that if it becomes paywalled that we can no longer grow our businesses because we will be unable to access people outside of the paywall. So it depends how it comes into play, and what really happens, that’ll dictate the outcome of how it impacts us as a community.
Kimberly Adams: You did conduct this crowdsourced survey of sex workers and adult content creators about which platforms they’re using and other aspects of their work. And 97% of them said Twitter was their top platform for finding fans. Why is that?
Michaels: Twitter is a main home, hub for us in terms of finding fans because it’s the only place where we really can access a new audience. Twitter is the last frontier for adult creators to link to an adult platform directly, have a one-click conversion and have a sale made. And without this tool at our disposal, we’re really at a huge disadvantage.
Adams: A lot of people have said that they plan to leave Twitter or are leaving Twitter because of Elon Musk taking over the platform. How might that affect sex workers and the fact that they do get so much of their audience from Twitter?
Michaels: I think that there’s always a lot of panic surrounding many, like major changes to a platform or to a tool that’s at someone’s disposal. Do I really think that there’s going to be this huge, you know, user base shift away from something like Twitter? I think that would be difficult to really maneuver. It’s hard to leave something when you’ve called it home for a while. So I’m hesitant to say that that’s really what’s going to happen when the dust ends up settling. But sex workers, just by nature, are the most adaptable and the most intelligent marketers because we’re constantly in this state of having to navigate a landscape that we are not allowed to participate in. So when you have things like this happening, and the ground starts to shift, that’s really where our community shines because we’re constantly figuring out how to navigate the next shift, because there’s always another one coming.
Adams: Your survey had a lot of detail about those, those shifts and sort of the nimbleness of folks in the industry. What did you learn from the respondents about how they’re using social media more broadly?
Michaels: I think the standout takeaway of how creators are using social media more broadly, is no different than really how creators use it. I think there’s constantly a line being drawn between regular content creators and adult content creators. And I think that we really shouldn’t separate those two out. The only thing separate about an adult creator to a mainstream creator is that we’re not allowed to play in these spaces. So the way we use social is very much the same as a mainstream creator. We’re trying to centralize an audience and convert sales or have our voices heard. So that is no different than anyone else. But what makes how we use social unique is that we don’t have access to things like being able to run targeted ads. We don’t have access to things like being able to be easily located if we are under a shadow ban. So we just, we have a harder time, kind of, utilizing the landscape. But we’re still in all of the same places doing many of the same things, really.
Adams: And there are different regulations that apply to your content as well.
Michaels: The nuance to that is that, that’s what makes Twitter interesting if it did get paidwalled, to me particularly. Because when you’re an adult content creator, and you’re, you know, publishing adult content, there’s a lot of legal background that goes into that. There’s forms if we have contact with another creator, we have their ID on file. We have a government form called the 2257 that we submit and we have handy in case we get audited for that. So we have a lot of actual admin work and documentation that goes along with what we do. And with Twitter not being paywalled, none of that is being kind of looked at. So the interesting part about it being paywalled is it actually would allow us to expand our businesses onto a social platform, if that is the way that they choose to take things. I don’t necessarily know that that’s how it will play out. But that’s what makes it interesting to watch, is that if Twitter did allow us to sell adult content on its platform, and it was paywalled, that could really have a huge impact on major players like an OnlyFans in our space. So it’s gonna depend a lot where the dust settles, and a lot of it’s a little too soon to tell.
Adams: What are some of the surprising things you found out about who sex workers are and how they’re running their businesses from the survey.
Michaels: I think the standouts, for me personally, were that 1 in 3 creators were over the age of 35, which I really didn’t expect. You know, the storyline that kind of comes around our industry is that you could only do it for a few years, and then you’re kind of washed up and there’s no space for you, which really isn’t accurate, especially with this new creator economy. So I found that to be majorly interesting. And then the other part that stood out to me was that whether you’re a partnered content creator or you’re a solo content creator really didn’t have a major impact on your business, which I always thought that partnered content creators earn more revenue because I was always a solo content creator myself. So I always imagined I was at this major disadvantage in terms of my earnings. But the data shows that there really isn’t a major discrepancy there. So that was quite interesting as well.
Adams: One of the things we often hear when we do stories about sex work is people being concerned that with more openness on social media platforms for adult content creators, it doesn’t keep up enough barriers to make sure that content only goes to adults. How do you see that playing out on Twitter? And do you anticipate that changing at all under Musk?
Michaels: I think that’s actually a wide misconception because Instagram and Twitter both have policy in place to navigate that conversation. So whether I mark my profile 18-plus, or that my content is sensitive or not, my profile is automatically deemed sensitive content, meaning anyone under an age gate won’t see my profile anyway. And the same kind of fail-safes are in place on a platform like Instagram as well. At the end of the day, anyone with, you know, access to the internet can still go to an adult platform. But if they don’t have a credit card, they’re not going to have access. So as long as we are targeting an 18-plus audience, I don’t understand why we can’t navigate and utilize platforms in the same way any other user would navigate and use these platforms.
Adams: How do you think your research of the online sex work industry is different than what we’ve known about it before?
Michaels: I think it’s overlooked that a lot of the data that’s been announced regarding adult content creators thus far has really come from data from one platform or another. So OnlyFans might release a little bit of data about their creators or another company would do the same. But creators are on a vast array of different platforms, doing lots of different things. You know, it’s not just the fan site selling content for a subscription. There’s clips for sale that you could sell individually. There’s live camming — that is a huge part of our industry. There’s a phone sex scene, which goes, you know, dates way back. There’s all of these different avenues that comprise of the average content creator’s business. It’s not just one or the other. So for me to get a really good map of our industry, you have to go to the creators because they’re the only ones who actually know about this kind of information.
Related links: More insight from Kimberly Adams
That survey I was discussing with Michaels is the Sex Work CEO 2022 State of the Creator report. It surveyed over 200 online adult creators and explored how sex workers manage their individual businesses. For example, about a third of respondents said they accepted crypto as payment.
The Washington Post and Wired have reports on the possibility of Twitter shifting to monetize adult content, which is something the company reportedly was close to doing even before Musk took over. The Verge also reported about one shelved plan that originally aimed to make Twitter a competitor of OnlyFans. According to The Verge, the idea was scrapped when Twitter discovered it could not consistently police harmful and illegal content, such as nonconsensual images or child exploitation.
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