Sex Workers Share Perspectives on the Blue Check Stigma and #BlockTheBlue Movement

Submitted by admin on Mon, 05/22/2023 - 04:30

The perception of Twitter's blue checkmark has evolved significantly, transitioning from a symbol of legitimacy to an indicator that users are paying a monthly fee for Twitter Blue. This shift has prompted some prominent individuals to advocate for #BlockTheBlue, an initiative aimed at automatically blocking all Twitter Blue subscribers using scripts and plug-ins.

The rationale behind this movement stems from the belief that individuals willingly supporting Twitter with a monthly payment for a blue checkmark are likely aligned with the so-called "anti-woke" politics frequently espoused by Elon Musk and his associates. Notably, Alejandra Caraballo, an instructor at the Harvard Cyberlaw Clinic, shared a blocklist of Blue Verified accounts on GitHub, while the renowned meme account dril took a strong stance on #BlockTheBlue, to the extent that Elon Musk seemingly awarded the account a blue checkmark as a means of trolling.

There is certainly some validity to the concerns raised. Crypto spam accounts have exploited Twitter Blue to enhance their visibility, and some users have shared objectionable content. However, for online creators and sex workers, Twitter Blue is crucial for their survival on the platform, even if they do not support Musk's changes.

Ashley, a sex worker and researcher who prefers to remain anonymous, emphasized that people subscribe to software based on its utility rather than their political leanings. For sex workers who have experienced repeated deplatforming, shadowbanning, and loss of income sources, the $8 monthly fee for Twitter Blue is justified due to the security it offers. Besides the blue checkmark, which some subscribers do not desire due to its current stigma, Twitter Blue provides benefits such as prioritized search rankings, SMS two-factor authentication, and longer video uploads.

Dr. Olivia Snow, a dominatrix and researcher at UCLA's Center for Critical Internet Inquiry specializing in sex work and tech policy, asserts that having Twitter Blue yields tangible benefits for sex workers. Given the frequent shadowbanning and deprioritization they face in search results, the automatic visibility boost from Twitter Blue is highly valuable. Twitter and Reddit remain the only major social platforms allowing explicit sexual content, making Twitter a primary advertising venue for sex workers who direct potential customers to paid offerings on platforms like OnlyFans.

While the #BlockTheBlue movement has compiled a spreadsheet listing nearly 400,000 accounts, Ashley, who examined a smaller subset of 300 accounts, found no significant patterns or targeting. Among the most-followed accounts on the list, many belong to people of color and non-English speakers. TechCrunch conducted a similar experiment, randomly selecting 50 names from the spreadsheet. Approximately half of these users were non-English speakers, and five openly expressed right-wing or anti-LGBTQ views, but without apparent malicious intent. It's important to note that these sample sizes are relatively small compared to the vast number of Twitter Blue users. Ashley believes that English language accounts primarily consist of creators, individuals seeking longer video upload capabilities, fan accounts, and independent journalists. For instance, left-wing media outlet Unicorn Riot subscribes to Twitter Blue to upload full clips of its video journalism.

Amanda Golka, a YouTuber known as Swell Entertainment, subscribed to Twitter Blue for access to text-based two-factor authentication. She encountered errors preventing her from signing up for three different app-based authentication methods that remain free. Unfortunately, her account was subsequently hacked, reinforcing the importance of Twitter Blue for her. However, Golka expressed her dissatisfaction with the paywall for this security feature, making it clear to her followers that she did not support Twitter Blue.

The blue checkmark still holds significance for sex workers as it indicates legitimacy to potential clients, even though its meaning has diminished. Twitter has implemented measures to reduce impersonation by removing the blue checkmark if a user changes their display name. Some verified users, albeit reluctantly, have taken advantage of this feature by periodically changing their names to conceal their checkmarks.

For sex workers, obtaining the blue checkmark helps distinguish themselves from catfish accounts and provides assurance to their clients, who have sometimes fallen victim to scams by hackers pretending to be the sex workers themselves. Ashley points out that sex workers' fans have been swindled out of thousands of dollars, making the blue checkmark an important tool for protecting their earnings. The loss of funds due to scams significantly impacts sex workers' livelihoods.

The versatility of Twitter Blue's features further complicates the argument against it. Sex workers view the opposition to Twitter Blue as a form of censorship, considering the platform's limited alternatives and its role as a primary driver of traffic to platforms like OnlyFans, where they generate income. Dr. Olivia Snow emphasizes that sex workers are left with few options and that Twitter Blue has not had a substantial financial impact on the platform.

In conclusion, while the #BlockTheBlue movement raises concerns about Twitter Blue and its association with certain political leanings, it fails to consider the diverse user base and the essential benefits it provides for sex workers. For these individuals, Twitter Blue offers vital visibility, increased security, and differentiation from fraudulent accounts. The blue checkmark, although diminished in meaning, retains significance for sex workers in establishing legitimacy with potential clients. It is crucial to recognize the unique circumstances and perspectives of various user groups before generalizing the impact of initiatives such as #BlockTheBlue.

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