After months of reporting, TheStreet found more than a thousand of Twitter profiles advertising escorts and dominatrixes, and at least two international networks of escorts that "rely on the Twitter platform to promote and execute their services."
The scope of Twitter's broadcast has alarmed some sex workers, reports TheStreet:
The reach of marketing pitches made by escort services on Twitter surprised even those plying the trade.
Cassie, a woman in her 20s who works as an escort in the Midwest and said she doubles as a prostitute, said she was unprepared for the international calls she received.
"It is definitely a concern to me that my information was broadcast there," said Cassie, who asked that her real name not be used, after TheStreet notified her that the international escort service, ErosGuide, repeatedly tweeted out her profile offering services.
Many of those profiles seem to violate Twitter's terms of service. But as TheStreet notes, Twitter's plan for enforcing its own rules is unclear:
Twitter's terms dictate that the message system — limited to 140 characters per message or tweet — not be employed for "any unlawful purposes or in furtherance of illegal activities." Further, the company's rules prohibit pornographic images from appearing in "header photos or user background." How these rules would be enforced was not spelled out.
TheStreet notified Rep. Chris Smith, a Republican from New Jersey who sits on the subcommittee investigating human trafficking:
Addressing Ambassador-at-Large Luis CdeBaca of the U.S. State Department's office to monitor and combat human trafficking, Smith asked at the subcommittee hearing that he speak to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to initiate a crackdown on Twitter, Backpage, Craigslist and other social media "that are the conduit for this terrible exploitation of women."
"I'll certainly relay that, sir, and I would love to hear more about the information on Twitter," CdeBaca said.
After that meeting, Smith said he planned to ask Twitter executives to testify on Capitol Hill:
"I'm going to look at putting together a hearing to focus on Twitter," Smith said. "We'll look to do a hearing very soon."
According to TheStreet, Twitter's guidelines for pornography and escorts "appear to be more lax" than Facebook and LinkedIn. Last year, LinkedIn updated its TOS to say users could not "create profiles or provide content that promotes escort services." Twitter isn't so laissez-faire about other activities on its platform. Beer brands require a multi-step process before you can become an approved follower, although in that case it's the alcohol brand that request it.
We've reached out to Twitter and will update the post when we hear back. But the newly-public company should take Rep. Smith's threats—and the TheStreet's eagerness—seriously. The blog noted that it:
...provided the congressman evidence of dozens of escorts and prostitutes in the New York City area listed on Twitter in advance of this year's Super Bowl in New Jersey.
And as the New York Times reported yesterday, there was a big spike in prostitution arrests in the area.
Update: A Twitter spokesperson responded to questions from Valleywag with the following statement:
"We do not proactively monitor content on Twitter and we rely on users to report potentially illegal content for review, using tools available on our site. When we are made aware of content that violates our terms of service, we remove it. Additionally, if we are contacted directly by law enforcement, we can work with them and provide assistance for their investigation as well as guidance around possible approaches."
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[Top image via Twitter, middle image via Follower Wonk]