On the morning of June 22, Karl Verboten tried to log into the Instagram account for Klub Verboten, his London kink space and fortnightly party, but was met with the message: “We suspended your account … Your account is not visible to people on Instagram right now, and you cannot use it.”
Klub Verboten, founded in 2016, has a team of 70 freelancers and 50 safety staff, and has developed into a “community for modern human interaction,” with more than 70,000 followers on Instagram. The platform has been an integral part of Klub Verboten’s success, says Verboten.
“It allowed many people to discover themselves and stream into a space where they can find a community and like-minded people,” says Verboten. “That direct contact was really important. Sexuality is within all of us, embedded, and as such we want to reach actual human beings. It really made an impact for the better.” The team was careful not to post nudity, which isn’t allowed on Instagram. “We only post mugshots, people only fully clothed in the event space,” Verboten says. “There’s nothing sexual about it, they could be attending any rave in this day and age.”
But in a flash, Klub Verboten’s presence and digital community was wiped from the platform last Thursday. “We didn’t get any warning, any message whatsoever,” says Verboten. “Our account was just gone from one second to another.”
Verboten’s is just one of at least 45 sexuality-related accounts removed from Instagram in recent weeks. The platform has suspended users posting sex-related content, according to sex workers, activists, fetish parties, and sex-positive community members who spoke to WIRED.
“It feels like a real attack on your identity, who you are, and what you believe in, especially when it’s revolving around sex education, safe spaces, or being a sex worker,” Reed Amber, a sex educator, sex worker activist, and host of the “F**ks Given” ComeCurious podcast, says. “A lot of people think losing an Instagram account is nothing, but it isn’t. It is the equivalent of being fired from your job. It is your time, energy, and source of income, and everything you have worked toward.”
Mitch Henderson, a Meta spokesperson said: “We understand our platforms play an important role in helping people express themselves and connect with communities. While we allow sex positive content and discussion, we have rules in place around nudity and sexual solicitation to ensure content is appropriate for everyone, particularly young people. A number of the accounts brought to our attention were removed in error and have been reinstated.”
Sex education enterprises and cultural initiatives, some of which had tens of thousands of followers, have also been caught in the crosshairs, including the UK Fetish Archives at London’s Bishopsgate Institute. Other casualties include @thepconversation, a sex education outlet by porn director Erika Lust; Gashtrays, a sex-positive pottery account; and Slut Social, a sex-positive event page and meme account. Even @not.a.statistic.19, an account posting news stories and articles about the sex industry, has been temporarily restricted twice since June 13, its founder told WIRED.
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