Pando

Silicon Valley's War on Sex continues as Google bans adult blogs

By David Holmes , written on February 24, 2015

From The News Desk

The Internet used to be such a sexy place.

To users of a certain age who remember the hell of dial-up Internet, there was a time when pornography was just about the only thing worth suffering through ten-minute load times to see. You could walk to the corner and buy a physical copy of the New York Times in the time it took to load the newspaper's website -- and do so with much less shame than buying a Playboy.

But as the tech companies that act as stewards of all this digital information swim in ever-expanding sums of cash -- while seeking the political clout that comes with all that money -- the Web has become increasingly Puritanical. Facebook won't let users share adult content on public walls or even via direct message. It also went so far as to delete a female crew team's page after it promoting a semi-nude -- but fully PG-13 -- charity calendar. Last Summer, Google, under pressure by the "family values" group Morality in Media, banned “ads that promote graphic depictions of sexual acts.” Even Snapchat, a "cool" company if there ever was one, barred porn stars from making money using the app.

Now, Google is taking its anti-sex stance even further by banning public blogs hosted on its Blogger platform that feature “sexually explicit or graphic nude images or video.” These bloggers have one month to remove the offending content or else Google will automatically list these blogs as "private" -- meaning they will only be visible to their owners and individuals that have been granted explicit permission by the owner to view.

To many, this may not sound like a big deal. It may even sound preferable to the alternative: Pornography is a business that can be incredibly exploitative to workers. Furthermore, there's no shortage of giant platforms on the Web for adult content, like Pornhub. And of course -- as always -- we must think of the children!

But at issue here are blogs that feature adult content for something beyond mere titillation. That could mean anything from a film blog that publishes a dissection of an artfully-shot sex scene to sex-positive sites that serve to educate and enlighten mature audiences by promoting honest conversations about sex. It could even include art and fashion blogs which regularly feature models in various states of undress.

Blogger was at one time the gold standard for independent self-publishers on the Web. In recent years, however, platforms like Wordpress and particularly Tumblr, with its focus on community, have become far trendier. Indeed, Tumblr is home to some of the most fascinating and entertaining sex-positive blogs like Critique My Dick Pic which judges penis pictures based not on size or shape but on originality and formal photographic elements.

But even if Blogger is a bit of a has-been platform, it still exists as an encyclopedia of content posted over the past decade and a half. As Zoe Margolis, an author and sex blogger, told the Guardian:

Many blogs, mine included, have been on Blogger for well over a decade. These blogs are not just part of a community which offers an alternative, sex-positive, supportive network, but they also make up how the Web functions: millions of interconnected links. By making these blogs invitation only, it immediately kills off all those connections, resulting in people visiting non-existent pages and all the links they click on being dead. A long-standing community will be killed off overnight.
Google's ban on adult blogs underscores the dangers of relying on someone else's digital tracks to run your trains -- no pun intended. Even adult sites on Tumblr are at risk since the company's purchased by the Web giant Yahoo. At one point in 2013, Yahoo de-indexed all "Adult" and "NSFW" blogs, making them unsearchable both within and without Tumblr.com. It quickly backtracked on the decision after public outcry from core users. But as Yahoo works to revamp Tumblr to make it more appealing to mainstream audiences and advertisers, it will likely once again de-index these blogs, joining its more puritanical brethren within Big Tech. It certainly wouldn't be the first time Yahoo abandoned the core users of one of its marquee acquisitions.

As Pando's Mark Ames wrote of Google, “Never in history has one corporation and one source had so much power over what we know and don’t know.” In the past year, Google has blocked adult ads and announced a ban on adult blogs. How long before it de-indexes pornographic sites from search altogether?

Google obviously has a right to police content however it chooses. But this policing reveals two valuable lessons: That it's dangerous to rely too much on large tech companies to distribute your content -- particularly if it's controversial -- and that the Internet is a much bigger place than what you find in the results of a Google search.

[illustration by Brad Jonas]