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TheStreet Open House

[video] Congress to Launch Probe Into Escort and Prostitution Services on Twitter

The Twitter escort accounts reviewed by TheStreet didn't require the age screening process. Users can quickly find escort services in their region simply by entering into the Twitter search bar 'escorts' and the name of the city. 

Investors should take note that social media is in its infancy, said Paul Levinson, a professor of communications and media studies at Fordham University.

"All these media are caterpillars, they're not yet butterflies. They're going through growing pains," Levinson said. "I think the worst thing that Twitter could do is follow an example [of] another toddling new social media like Facebook."

Whether Twitter intends to address the growing number of illegal accounts remains unclear. Interviews with numerous women who admitted to working as prostitutes, revealed that they increased clientele via a Twitter account.

Melinda, a dominatrix in the Northeast who said she also works as a prostitute, said that she annually pays thousands of dollars for her ErosGuide profile. The Web site uses its clout on Twitter to broadcast advertisements daily for an international stable of escorts, and regularly violates the terms of service -- the ErosGuide Twitter handle re-posts links to several of its Twitter accounts connected to escorts' profiles. Altogether, it has thousands of followers.

ErosGuide did not respond to an inquiry for comment on the matter. The Web site appears to operate at least 20 international Twitter handles -- a violation of Twitter's terms of service -- mainly in Europe.

While Twitter has policies pertaining to posting pornographic content, it has made numerous other product alterations prior to its IPO, tailoring and re-crafting the user experience.

"It really behooves a Web site operator to revisit their terms and conditions and revisit what they're going to allow on their platform," Washington, D.C.-based social media lawyer Bradley Shear, said in an interview. "Because the last thing they would want is to be known as a safe haven for illegal or illicit activity."

Additionally, Scott Kessler, an Internet equity analyst at S&P Capital IQ, said in an interview that monitoring and regulating by social media companies of their platforms is about more than public perception, it's also about maintaining how the platforms are used and what content is made available.

"Whether you're talking about a parent and a small child looking at content where you could see pictures of things that just aren't appropriate for children, or you might be at work and a video might pop up there are a lot of questions that come up in this context."

Twitter would not cite which organizations it works with to track and disrupt prostitution rings, but the company representative speaking on background pointed to its company policy to combat child sexual exploitation. Twitter is a member of Thorn's Technology Task Force.

-- Written by Jonathan Marino in Washington and Joe Deaux in New York.

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