Remember a few years back, when Facebook began restricting the music and LGBTQ communities by denying the right to use stage or drag names? It took a media uproar and subsequent meetings with protesters to soften those policies, which are still in place but seemingly no longer enforced with the same zeal. Well, it looks like Zuckerberg and Co. are in the midst of another curious crackdown, on FB and Instagram (which FB owns), and this time, the victims are woman-owned entities.
One local business owner in particular says she has been denied the right to advertise her upcoming show on the sites due to censoring policies against provocative female performers. Leigh Orsi, the woman behind BeSpun Pole Dancing Studio in West Hollywood, Poleshow L.A. and this weekend's RISE show at Avalon, has not been able to reach an actual human at Facebook, and has received only automated responses to her contention with the social media site's policies, miscategorization of her business and denial of her advertising dollars. Here, she outlines her plight and continuing fight with Facebook and Instagram.
My name is Leigh Ann and I am in the business of empowering women. For 12 years I have helped women face their fears, push past pain, reach new heights, accept their bodies, discover they are beautiful and ultimately fall in love with themselves. The medium for transformation is movement, pole dancing specifically.
In 2006 I opened BeSpun, one of the first 25 pole-dancing studios in the United States, in Hollywood. I am a female entrepreneur of an all-female company that managed to weather the storm of recession, battle stigma and help create an industry to bring my message to women and to the world. In 2008 I produced a show that has become the first event in the pole-dance industry to cross over to the mainstream. The show is like Cirque du Soleil in heels. It is artistically inspiring, dramatically entertaining and athletically captivating, with a production value that can rival any Vegas or Broadway show. The show gained momentum with the last several sold-out events in Las Vegas and Los Angeles. This year, we decided to make the jump to mainstream with RISE by Pole Show L.A., a two-night event in Los Angeles over Valentine's Day/Presidents Day weekend.
This is a self-funded and self-promoted event that relies heavily on guerrilla marketing and social media to spread the word. We have in the past had great success with marketing our event through Facebook and Instagram. But despite advertising for the last several years, we have been unable to boost or locally target attendees because Facebook misunderstands what we do and continually denies our ads. We are denied for promoting adult entertainment, showing excessive skin, and depicting people performing seductive or implied sexual acts. We have even had a denial for having medical diagrams showing external reproductive organs. In years past I have been able to request a manual review and have these ads approved anyway, but this year, no matter what I did, I kept getting immediate generic denials.
One of the things that has driven the success of my business is my ability to create compelling content first via email marketing and YouTube videos and, more recently, switching to social media. I love social media because it allows me to stay connected with my customers and fans and to easily share my content with the world. However, this year I saw the dark side of this switch. Social media controls the way content is shared online and who sees it regardless of your following or reach.
Each time our ad gets denied, it seems to be about the exposure of skin or the inclusion of sensuality. But I see skin and sensuality all over social media in sponsored ads. Shirtless men are advertising workout programs and supplements. Surfers, volleyball players and fitness professionals advertise via gratuitous butt shots for bikini and equipment companies. Lingerie companies can advertise their bras and underwear in photos, but I'm not allowed to advertise my photos with even more body coverage. I want to note that our show has no nudity, no clothing removal, just amazing athletics from strong and sensual women.
My understanding of the way Facebook business pages function is once you have a business profile, they suppress your reach unless you spend promotional and advertising dollars with them. My content does not even get distributed to my 60,000 followers unless I pay, and I am trying to pay, but they will not let me. Since we chose Valentine's Day weekend for the event and used the #valentinesday hashtag for promotion, this too became a problem, and we got “shadow banned” for using banned hashtags (many of these hashtags are woman-centric, by the way). Now all my organic reach has been suppressed as well.
I have created tons of awesome content that no one is seeing: spoof videos about pole-dancing in ridiculous costumes, interviews about the Facebook ad discrimination, performance videos of the shows and the performers. None of this content is getting circulated and I feel powerless in my ability to market my event.
In 2016 Facebook allowed me to put advertising dollars and boosts on my promo videos and my videos received more than 1.5 million views and were shared organically 2,500 times; we sold out the show.
This is something people want to see and not something the public needs to be protected from. I should also note our audience is 70 percent female. Our sport is widely misunderstood as something sexual or explicit but it is, in fact, an art form. It is something we do for ourselves, not something we do for men. It is great entertainment that celebrates women and lets them get onstage and shine. Each year I allow 40 local women to work hard toward a goal, get onstage with their idols and perform in front of family and friends.
I am going to keep fighting to draw the line between what we do and adult entertainment. I am going to work to retain a direct connection with my customers that is not controlled by another company’s antiquated policies that disenfranchise my company from operating on the same playing field as everyone else. And I am going to work so that social media and other companies understand the difference between what we do and adult entertainment. I hope to get policies changed and help other women to thrive in their businesses. This is a communitywide problem and I want to be the voice of change.
RISE celebrates a strong female body and a healthy expression of sensuality. A misunderstanding about the nature of my business prevents me from making money, thriving and reaching thousands of other women that need this support and message of strength and unity. The show features high-flying acrobats who just happen to be beautiful women. We wear bikini-style costumes as a function of the sport. We use our skin to stick to the metal of the apparatus. Exposing our skin makes us face our bodies, defying gravity makes us face our fears, and overcoming the pain of attaching our body to metal by friction makes us believe we can do anything.
RISE takes place at Avalon Hollywood, 1735 Vine St., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., Feb. 15-16; 7:30 p.m. (doors at 6:30). Tickets range from $39 for standing room to $225 for a premium VIP seat with champagne. More info at risethenight.com.