Photo: GMG Art (Photo: AP

Over the last few days, 26-year-old Lily Fox has been manually going through her Tumblr blog and backing up, then deleting, every single nude photo that she’s posted over the last five years. For the time being, she’s left up some tame shots of herself in lingerie—the kind of images you might see in a Victoria’s Secret catalog—but she’ll probably be deleting those too, because even they have been flagged by the site.

Fox is doing this painstaking work in the wake of the microblogging platform’s decision to censor adult content. Her hope is that she can preserve the online home that she worked to build over the last half-decade, as well as her 50,000 followers. Tumblr is what allowed her to get into sex work, which, through cam shows and the sale of online photo sets, has now become her main source of income. “I’m hoping it won’t decimate my income,” she said of the site’s new policy.

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When the news broke on Monday that Tumblr would soon begin censoring adult content, the response in many corners was some variation on, “But what about the porn?” Less acknowledged was the impact on sex workers like Fox, who, to dramatically varying degrees, has used the site to build an audience, advertise for-pay adult content, and find a vital sense of community. It’s ironic, then, that Tumblr will institute the change on December 17, the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers.

This move by Tumblr comes in the wake of the passage earlier this year of the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA)—sometimes referred to as SESTA or FOSTA-SESTA—which broadly holds online platforms responsible for content deemed to be related to sex trafficking. The law, which goes into effect in January, has already led to the shutdown of Craigslist’s personals section, sex work-related subreddits, and several other essential online resources used by sex workers. Along with the shutdown of Backpage, it’s had a devastating impact on sex workers’ ability to advertise and safely vet clients. It’s also reportedly led some sex workers to turn to street-based sex work.

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Tumblr CEO Jeff D’Onofrio did not cite FOSTA in explaining the company’s move. Instead, he confusingly painted it as a way to “create a place where more people feel comfortable expressing themselves.” But many within the sex work community suspect that FOSTA played a part. Regardless, it adds to sex workers’ overall sense of online displacement post-FOSTA. As Laura Dilley, executive director of PACE Society, a Canadian organization that serves sex workers, put it, “It’s one less platform that you have to advertise your business and services.”

suprihmbé, a 28-year-old Chicago-based writer, artist, and sex worker, who uses the lower case, suggested that Tumblr’s decision will hit certain sex workers hardest. “This will mostly affect less tech-savvy workers who relied heavily on Tumblr for free or low-cost advertising or hosting their website in an easy access forum,” she said. “Now they have to figure out where to go, and if they lack the technical know-how to build or customize a better-looking site, they have a difficult road ahead, probably.”

Even given the technical resources to rebound, there is still a sense of loss. “I have lost my main business platform, my artistic outlet and a sex worker community I respect and adore,” says Dolli Heart, a 19-year-old sex worker. A year ago, she launched her Tumblr, where she built up a following of 50,000. When she decided to do sex work full-time, other sex workers on Tumblr “kept me informed and provided an amazing support system,” she says. She spent over 40 hours a week writing, filming, and editing adult content that she then advertised on Tumblr. Now, she says, it feels like all of that content and those connections have “been ripped out from under me.”

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Some sex workers had already begun to pivot away from Tumblr, given the site’s past flirtations with censorship. April O’Neil launched her hugely popular Tumblr a decade ago and used it mostly to post Doctor Who memes. Then she started posting nude photos of herself right alongside the nerdier stuff. “People liked that and it grew,” she said. O’Neil now has 132,000 followers on Twitter. “I think I owe a great deal of any notoriety I have to those early Tumblr days,” she said.

But when Tumblr decided to require users to log into an account in order to see adult content, she started using the site less. She established a following on Only Fans and Fan Centro, which allow users to charge for access to private social media feeds, and sells videos on ManyVids. She also performs in mainstream porn, so Tumblr’s decision is unlikely to impact her bottom line. But, as O’Neil puts it, “I’ll have to spend time I don’t have on exporting it all and setting it all up somewhere else.”

Mostly, Tumblr’s decision makes O’Neil feel unwelcome on a platform that she’s called home for a decade. “It sucks to be told you can no longer be a part of a community you’ve been in for years,” she said. But that is commonplace for sex workers, especially in the wake of FOSTA. “We just keep having to find new places to go and no one enjoys the labor of moving,” said O’Neill. “It’s exhausting.”

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Courtney Trouble, a leading figure in queer porn and founder of Trouble Films, and who uses the pronouns they and them, spent several hours this week backing up the Tumblr blog they started in 2007. Over the years, it’s served as a powerful resource for promoting Trouble’s movies, through trailers, photos, and GIFs. Two of their most popular porn films rose to prominence in large part through Tumblr, they say.

“The immediate impact will be loss of sales, because our customers won’t be on Tumblr looking at our nudes,” said Trouble of the Tumblr policy change. “We’re all going to be scrambling for new hustles.”

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That is especially true for people who are new to sex work. “The people around me who have just started doing online sex work and porn and art are freaking out about how they’re going to get noticed,” they said. Having done this for 15 years, Trouble is feeling optimistic about relying more on their website and finding other avenues for promoting their work. They’re hoping that this leads sex workers, and queer artists in general, to be less reliant on social media platforms.

“Sex work has been around since the dawn of time. We’ve got this,” said Trouble. “Sex workers are some of the most adaptable people on earth.”