X marks the (porn) spot

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I’ve no problem with porn per se. After all, as the musical Avenue Q pointed out, “The Internet is for Porn.” But, when X/Twitter decided it would let people “share consensually produced and distributed adult nudity or sexual behavior,” I wonder if company execs really thought it out. 

We know why the company is doing this — it’s been losing money hand over fist. No matter how owner Elon Musk and CEO Linda Yaccarino try to twist the numbers, the social network is still bleeding money. It’s hard to make a profit when you’re paying $300 million a quarter to stay on top of your debt.

A flood of political ads in this election year is helping X’s bottom line, but it’s not enough. Neither has X’s right-wing swing since Musk’s 2022 takeover. According to Edison Research’s Infinite Dial survey, the site has seen a 30% decrease in the number of US users in the last two years, with only 19% of the US population using the platform now compared to 27% in previous years. Sensor Tower data also indicated a 23% decline in daily app users in the US since Musk’s acquisition. 

Musk, who’s embraced the right wing with moves such as reinviting Donald Trump and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones back to the social network, hasn’t done his finances any favors. The site continues to host tweets promoting and glorifying antisemitism, anti-Black racism, neo-Nazism, white supremacy, and on and on. The Israeli-Hamas conflict has only made things worse. Ironically enough, the hate seems to be evenly distributed, with posts left up that promote bigotry and incite violence against Jews, Muslims, and Palestinians.

Maybe you support some of these positions. But is this really the kind of place you want to use for brand recognition, marketing and advertising? I really don’t think so.

This is not just my view. Meta’s Threads has had a significant impact on X’s advertising revenue. Threads doesn’t even have ads — yet — but that hasn’t stopped advertisers from shifting their focus from X to Threads due to concerns about brand safety on the former. Threads, part of Meta’s ecosystem, is seen as offering a more controlled environment, which is appealing to advertisers.

In addition, since companies can leverage Meta’s existing advertising infrastructure and tools, they’re drawn to the potential for seamless integration with their existing Facebook and Instagram campaigns. Put it all together, and in many circles, Threads is seen as a much more attractive option for ad budgets. 

What’s a social network owner to do? Embrace porn, of course!

Porn makes money. It’s as simple as that. According to Gitnux, a market research site, “In the United States alone, the pornography industry generates $12-14 billion in annual revenue.” Globally, it generates about $97 billion. That’s real money. Better still from where X sits, the platform doesn’t need to play a penny for content. How porn creators make and pay for their content isn’t their problem. X is just providing the funnel.

Mind you, the platform has long opened its doors to porn. Back in 2022, Dyson, Mazda, Forbes, and PBS Kids suspended their marketing campaigns and removed ads because they were appearing alongside tweets soliciting child pornography.

I myself have seen more than my fair share of vanilla porn ads featuring young women with blue checkmarks offering me love at reasonable prices. Really, I’m just there for tech and chess conversations, dad jokes, cute cat and dog photos, and to promote stories I find interesting. If I were looking for love in all the wrong places, I wouldn’t be looking for it on X.

I’m far from the only one. As one Redditor put it recently, “Is Twitter just porn and porn bots now?” That, mind you, was before the company officially welcomed “Adult Content … any consensually produced and distributed material depicting adult nudity or sexual behavior that is pornographic or intended to cause sexual arousal.” (By the way, the consensus on that Reddit thread was that yes, X is little more than porn and right-wing rants these days.)

So, what’s different now? Well, by welcoming porn content, X is doing more than offering posts masquerading as ads — it’s actually becoming a porn site. And that could land it in a lot of legal hot water.

As of March, nine states — Arkansas, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, North Carolina, Texas, Utah, and Virginia — had all passed laws mandating age verification for accessing adult content every time they visit such a site. Florida, Idaho, and South Dakota will soon join them. 

These laws require anyone visiting a website hosting substantial adult content to verify that users are over 18 years old. Usually, that means you must provide the site with a digital copy of a government-issued ID. 

As you might imagine, people have been reluctant to send porn sites their IDs. Indeed, after PornHub threw up its virtual hands and barred anyone from states with age-verification laws from visiting its sites, searches for Virtual Private Network (VPN)s shot up by over 400%.  

In addition, some states, including Arkansas, Florida, and Utah, have passed bills that require IDs to access social networking sites. By explicitly adding porn to its content mix, X is just asking to be banned.

Musk certainly doesn’t seem to understand what’s coming. It’s simple: Twitter will be blocked unless users agree to show their IDs. (I can’t see many of them doing that.) Or they could use a VPN to get to X from, say, Canada. Either way, the platform will lose even more users, and its value to advertisers will drop even more. 

The thread holding the sword of Damocles over Twitter’s head is fraying and might soon snap. Wise businesses will drop X now and get out before the once-popular social network dies and takes your business reputation with it.

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