As USA Today said when reporting on the sex worker boom in Silicon Valley last July: “Technology and sex make good bed partners.” Obviously it’s not just in the labs where this stuff goes down well. The Valley and all those who sail in it are up to their eyes in sex, cheap or otherwise. Awash with cash and short of places to go and things to buy, they turn to the sex biz to sate their cravings. We’re not exactly dealing with prudes yet time and again internet companies, banks and payment processors – surely the most decadent and loose of them all – roll up the drawbridge when it comes to fucking, nudity, money and any combination of the three therein. So it tends to be a little surprising when companies create technology so perfectly compatible with becoming a major SexTech artifact you’d be forgiven for thinking these companies are just teasing us on purpose.
So up Periscope, Twitter’s new live-streaming app. The innovative and disruptive piece of kit that could transform the way individuals and companies interact on social media. We don’t need to tell you what you don’t already know about Periscope and what everybody else calls its ‘potential’. Or rather, its fleshy potential. Take up since its launch has been high and it has captured the imagination. Live, unfiltered streaming from all corners of Twitter. To give Periscope a clear path to success, Twitter essentially threw Meerkat under the bus. Ever seen what’s left of a meerkat after it’s been under the wheels? It ain’t pretty. But you knew they were serious and you can see why.
As usual it boils down to the simple factors. Or as Jordan Pearson at Motherboard so succinctly puts it: “One thing is certain: people are going to get naked on [Periscope], because this is the internet. And they are.” As sure as clothes go on they must come off – The Laws of Nude Physics. You can bet your last dollar that no sooner had Periscope been launched there were any number of channels offering all kinds of Twitter-based titillation. A snatched search on Twitter for ‘#periscope nude’, for example, is just one doorway slightly ajar among many others. Pearson’s brief and grubby investigative trawl through Periscope found him looking down the business end of a few human periscopes. C’est la vie. You don’t need to be Sherlock Holmes… hell, you don’t even have to be Dick Van Dyke in Diagnosis Murder… to understand that Periscope is the perfect platform for such fun and frolics. Yet once they get wind of it, the big boys come in steamroll the whole operation into oblivion.
Sarah, PSO and owner of Sarah Does Phone Sex, believes the early flourish of adult content that tends to follow in the wake of new hardware or software serves a functional purpose as well as the obvious ones.
“I think people in the biz will pervert anything we can if it helps sell more and we’re usually the ones to find all the loop holes that vanilla folks put in to keep us out! So really, we’re just testing and trouble-shooting their security holes.”
And the, after performing the grueling worker ant shifts, they’re kicked out by the prudish mainstream zealots. Talk about a fix.
Periscope’s content T&Cs lay down the law pretty clearly. Or do they? ‘Do not post pornographic or overtly sexual content,’ it thunders in one voice before meekly adding that they reserve the right to ‘allow sensitive content when it is artistic, educational, scientific or newsworthy.’
Wait a second… Twitter are telling us that they can hoik off any content they disagree with unless they agree with it by virtue of some very broad and ambiguous criteria? We’re confused… what’s 2+2 again?
Herein lies the problem. For all of this potential, this new ability to cast yourself, Being John Malkovich-esque, right into somebody else’s headspace and derive whatever you wish from it, the rules governing this popular and powerful new tool are bleakly flexible. At least, the swollen masses of the internet have seen through the very flimsy curtain already. But then not everybody is happy about it either:
— Bernardo Carvalho (@ber_carvalho) March 27, 2015
— MEHrch! (@_jayenne) March 27, 2015
Here’s one way a situation could escalate into something stupid and contradictory. Mr and Mrs Average stream themselves having sex. Twitter and/or Periscope get wind of it, shut them down and boot them from the network. Kayne West and Kim Kardashian-West stream themselves having sex. Twitter, and the internet, goes wild and the site is inundated with visitors and its place in infamy is assured. Well I hope you’ve still got that last dollar I mentioned earlier because stick a bet on this one too: Kanye and Kim wouldn’t get kicked off the network for getting down and dirty with each other, would they?
*BZZZZZ* That’s sorta-kinda already happened. Well, they didn’t do the full video nasty (not that Kim has any form with that or anything) but it was only too recently that we were forced to ingest the Swish phenomenon. People have come unstuck at the hands of the Pornocalypse for less. When all is said and done, it’s hypocrisy.
Twitter’s weakly-whispered pandering to creative license – the ‘artistic, educational, scientific or newsworthy’ part – can essentially be summed up thus: ‘If it makes us money, it’s fine.’ Ultimately it falls into that same old trap, one identified by A.V. Flox, where censorship of adult content is the next, inevitable step: “Because that’s what comes next. Rarely are news cycles linking a service or app with the adult industry followed by a boom for sex workers. Invariably, they’re followed by censorship.”
Writing for Pando, East Coast Editor David Holmes’ assessment of Snapchat’s clampdown on adult content and transactions gave a grim assessment of the choke hold being applied to independent innovators by the likes of Snapchat: “Snapchat’s ban on monetizing adult content, even as it demands huge dollar amounts for big-name advertisers,” he wrote, “shows that the company is firmly embracing the new culture of the web, where independent creators suffer while brands and institutions thrive.”
As terrible as it sounds. The script is already written: Periscope launches > adult content stakes a claim before the vice is applied > broad blanket bans > death of innovation. Wash, rinse, repeat.
If there’s one thing we learned from speaking to Cindy Gallop it’s that if you allow innovation, disruption and creative and sexual freedom to flourish then there is, in her own words, “a shit-ton of money to be made.” Given the success of Make Love Not Porn, Cindy is speaking from experience.
But… oh yeah… WE CAN’T TALK ABOUT SEX AND SEE SOME FLESH THAT EASILY! So easy to forget that the big boys play with themselves behind closed doors but clam up when it comes down to the fundamentals of it.
We spoke with one Periscope user, Carmen, who explained why she used the app and how easy it was to access nudity on the platform.
“I live on social media saw all the chatter about it and thought it would be fun. Periscope is highly addictive. It has a very voyeuristic nature to it making it all the more intriguing. I came across a few borderline sessions where people we’re asking (almost begging) the person (girl) to show some skin. I left before she caved in though.”
Asked her opinion on how Periscope will look to crack down on adult content, or even whether they need to, Carmen too prefers the ‘real world sex’ approach.
“I think the notion that you will ever be able to censor out adult content from the Internet is somewhere between ridiculous and a little bit funny. Instead of acting like it doesn’t or shouldn’t exist people should instead take a more proactive approach to understanding it and, in the case of kids, educating them about it. Talk to them about sex and porn and sexting, all of it. They’re going to find it anyway.
We got the jump on Snapchat in November 2014 when we noted Snapcash’s blindingly obvious potential to become a conduit between worker and client. A fast, efficient and free way to exchange money. Snapchat decided to go the strict route and send not-so-subtle emails to the app’s more popular adult-based accounts, ordering them to cut out their logical and fair business model. They terminated accounts at will and without warning or recourse. Twitter will no doubt do the same once they find a few naked rebels and they’ll stick their dead accounts on pikes outside of their HQ to show that they’re Doing Something. Whatever it is, it isn’t particularly clear nor does it really work.”
When we spoke to Cindy we planted our flag in the ground for the Real World Sex Revolution. We listened to the pioneers and we turned it onto our audience. Now we’re turning it back on to those who need it most: the companies wedged into Silicon Valley.
Periscope’s success will breed countless imitators offering the same old junk to the same old people with only the slightest tweaks and variations designed to give people the illusion of choice and progress. To elaborate on another phrase borrowed from Cindy, we’re tumbling deep into the heart of darkness that represents competitive collaboration. It might not be Periscope, but somebody must be willing to strike out in such a fashion, claiming both plaudits and stacks of cash.