Sexual Bookings, Hookups, and Collabs: Inside The Secret World of Online Alters
Tris* is 18, F, from Pasay City. She used to have a private account on Twitter where she posted photos of herself for some of her closest friends who followed her. But on the first day of the new year, she created a new Twitter account, an “alter,” where she had a different name and a profile photo that doesn’t show her face.
Instead, the profile photo shows a blurry picture of her legs slightly spread apart and taken while she’s lying down on a bed. And her header image (or the landscape photo on top when you click on a user’s Twitter page) shows a topless mirror selfie with her bare breasts minus the nipples and the phone partially covering her face.
Her profile description says she’s “open for bookings.”
“I thought maybe the alter community is where I can gain much more confidence more than what I already have right now,” she tells me when I ask why she set up an alter account. “It is where people can be comfortable about their body.
“It's a way to get new friends and someone to have sex really,” she adds. “I don't use my real name for the safety of my family and also me. I want to remain anonymous to them.”
It’s a similar story with Elle, F, 21, from Manila. She says she had an alter account in 2017 but deleted it when she got into a relationship. But late last year, she says she “got off a really toxic relationship,” and felt free again to set up another alter account just this month.
“At some point being in a relationship can ruin your confidence, especially after all the cheating,” she says. “So here I am. I'm trying to gain back all the body positivity I used to have. It may seem like I'm very thirsty for validation, but it feels nice.
“Primarily I use my account for my own sense of body positivity,” she adds. “Second, there's nothing wrong with being sexually positive as well. Lastly, sometimes some people are kind enough to tip and that really makes a difference.”
Just like Tris, Elle says no one in her real life knows about her alter account. If anyone finds out, she says, “people will start calling me names and hate me.”
A world of alters
I found Tris and Elle by following popular hashtags used by the local alter community, such as #alterpinay, #altermanila, #alterph and others (WARNING: Twitter handles that use these hashtags post extremely graphic, mostly sexual content, so proceed at your own risk). There is actually a Twitter handle called @AlterPilipinas with a description that offers a definition of an alter: “A pseudonym or second account used to express onself in a more discreet way without risking one’s true identity.” (The handle seems to be all but abandoned, however, as its last tweet is dated March 2017).
The phenomenon of Twitter alters isn’t exactly new. For as long as social media has existed, there have been people who have chosen to present a modified version of themselves to the world. What makes an alter different from a catfish, though, is that the latter is defined as someone who sets up a false personal profile for fraudulent or deceptive purposes. Catfishes usually use somebody else’s profile photo and try to pass it off as their own. Alters, meanwhile, generally retain much of their own personalities but choose to remain anonymous by not posting any pictures of their faces or anything that might easily identify them and their true selves.
But while Tris and Elle both claim their second accounts help them become more confident of themselves, it’s a generally accepted reality that alters, at least how they exist in the local setting, serve one purpose—to generate, offer, or solicit sexual content and services.
And it’s not just women. There is a huge alter community in the country involving men interested in other men.
H, 18, M, from Manila, says he created his alter account in 2017 initially to see NSFW (not safe for work) content in 2017.
“I didn’t plan to start posting stuff as well,” he says. “It became an outlet for me to express my sexual tensions…(and has) served as a great escape from who I am in the real world.”
Going through H’s Twitter account, I see that his posts are a mix of selfies with strategically placed emojis covering his face, so-called “thirst tweets” or those that are sexually suggestive, or retweets of other posts, often with photos and videos of other men.
“I think that this is a safe way to express a different side of me that is considered taboo in public, and using my real name could potientially expose the side of me that seems a little too vulgar for the society I’m in, as well as my family,” he says.
A user named tebatsss, M, 34, from Makati, meanwhile, says he created his alter account about two to three years ago.
“I decided to create one so I will be able to do the things that I cant do on my ‘REAL’ Twitter account, such as liking and retweeting gay porn photos and videos, interacting with other discreet gay and bisexual males without revealing my identity,” he tells me. “These days I use my alter account to look for discreet gay and bi males for phone sex while masturbating especially when I don’t have a partner. I dont use my real name nor post my photo because of my role in my work organization.”
Behind the handle
Spend enough time going through the popular hashtags and you start getting an idea of the alter world: users freely expressing their sexual urges, with those accompanied by visuals (photos and videos) garnering the most likes and retweets. What’s strikingly obvious is that Twitter alters are largely divided between those who post content or proposals for meet-ups for free, and those who offer them expecting some sort of remuneration.
Tris, for example, sent me her rates when I asked if all her sexual activities were paid.
“Sex: P3,000 for one hour, P6,000 for three hours.
“Foreplay: P2,000, one hour.
Date: P800 to P2,000 depend (sic) on spending and time, + P1,000 for unli make out sesh.”
Tris also sets boundaries for her hookups.
“No anal, no hickeys, and no raw sex!! [Practice safe sex pls!!]
“Unlipop @ everything
“100% guaranteed (crazy emoji)”
However, Tris clarified that, of the five people she’s hooked up with since setting up her alter account, only one involved money changing hands, which is what is referred to as a booking.
“Because the other four are from the same school as I am and there was a relationship involved before meeting,” she explains. “Meaning I actually liked the guy yk (you know).”
When I ask if she’s ever had an unpleasant experience using her alter account, she says she gets it from people who “ask for discounts since I'm open for booking.”
“I get that I'm not that famous yet but I am literally giving away my body and I think my self worth is high,” she says. “I also had a guy that asked if he could cum in me, which is stupid.”
Elle, meanwhile, claims she has not had any hookups using her current alter account, although she did meet someone who offered her something else.
“I've met the sweetest people on my alter,” she says. “I have this certain want to visit Baguio because I haven't had the chance to visit ever since my ex ditched me for someone else, and I met a guy who actually wants to come with me. I insisted on KKB (kanya-kanyang bayad, or the colloquial term for Dutch treat), but he said he'd treat me from fare to expenses. I met him recently to make sure he wasn't someone I should be afraid of and got to know him.
“We went out for lunch,” she adds. “I gathered some details and requirements I need so I know I'll be safe. But I have like…three pending hookups to come.”
I ask Elle how easy or difficult it is to find hookups on Twitter using her alter account and she gives me a matter-of-fact answer.
“It isn't that hard. They approach you, you ask if they are willing to comply with some measures like any record that they're clean. Using condoms. No data privacy issues. You know, safe sex. Safe data. That's what's important.”
As for H, it’s only been a few months since he started actively using his alter account, and so far, he says the experience isn’t that different from using Grindr, or the hookup app that’s like Tinder for the gay community.
“I just have the option to really show all the sexual stuff that I could think of,” he says.
H insists he uses his alter account for more than hookups, finding it useful when he has thoughts that he can’t share with people that knows his real identity.
“But I’ve met two guys from here already, and it went well on both occassions,” he says. “Even got acquainted with them right after.”
Unlike the others I interviewed for this piece, tebatsss says he’s never hooked up with anybody he interacts with on Twitter. All his activities using his alter accout are limited to phone and video sex.
“I even sent photos of my manhood and videos of me masturbating to other alter users without revealing my identity,” he says. “I also engage in phone sex, even three-way phone sex and “zoom jakol” with other alters. Having an alter Twitter account can be liberating.”
For a price
Besides meetups for actual sex, there are multiple alter accounts that openly offer sexually explicit content for a price. For example, there’s one that offers “vids for sale!! 56 items for 800 pesos. payment via gcash,” with instructions to send a DM or direct message for those who are interested.
While I assume the above is a third-party seller and not actually involved in creating the content, some alters sell content they themselves make. One user even posted images of a “menu” of the content she’s selling: “Pictures: Boob pic – P100 / pic, Pussy – P100 / pic Wholebody (sic) P200 / pic.
“Videos: Boob / Pussy Vid – P150 (60 Seconds)
“Package: Set A 10 Pics - P500, Set B 3 Vids – P700, Set C 1 Vid + 5 Pics – P800, Set D 2 Vids + 10 Pics – P1000.”
And then there’s the phenomenon of “collabs” or collaborations, which is essentially the term used when two alters create content (usually sexually explicit photos and/or videos) together in real life. Based on those who say they are open to doing collabs, it seems to be the logical next step after alters offer “solo” content that become popular through multiple likes and retweets.
Often the alters offering collab photos or videos will hide it behind a paywall, where those interested to access or view the content need to pay for a subscription.
Finally, some alters will post invitations for a grand meet-up, usually in a hotel room or private residence. Based on a few photos and videos I’ve seen, those interested to attend are expected to participate in an orgy. As always, faces in the videos are unseen or blurred to protect the identities of the participants.
The rise of alters
In previous articles that attempt to dissect alter culture in the Philippines, it’s been suggested that microblogging and social media website Tumblr’s decision to ban porn and other sexually explicit content in December 2018 was a major reason for the rise of alter users on Twitter. While this is difficult to prove as there is no existing data that tracks Twitter users and identifies and groups them either as real or alter, it would make sense that Tumblr users who were suddenly prohibited from posting erotic content would find an alternative platform within which they could continue to express themselves.
Interestingly, Twitter itself modified its own policy that covers sensitive media. In an advisory posted in November 2019, Twitter said it would no longer allow users to post media “that is excessively gory or share violent or adult content within live video or in profile or header images. Media depicting sexual violence and/or assault is also not permitted.”
However, Twitter qualified its new rules to allow posting of “graphic violence and consensually produced adult content” provided that users mark this media as sensitive. For this purpose, it has provided for an option to mark media as sensitive before in its safety settings.
“If you don’t mark your media as sensitive, we will do so manually if your content is reported for review,” Twitter says.
However, as expected, while I was browsing the popular hashtags many alters use, hardly any of the posts that include sexually graphic photos or videos in their Tweets chose to make use of this option.
One other prickly issue with Twitter alters concerns minors. As far as I know, all of the alters I’ve spoken to and encountered in the weeks I spent researching this story are over 18 years old, which makes their activities legal as they are between consenting adults. (That’s with the exception of prostitution, of course, which, last I checked, is still illegal in the Philippines and many other parts of the world).
However, it is impossible to say with any degree of certainty that there are no alters who are minors simply because it’s so easy to create a Twitter account, search for the hashtags, and participate in the discussions.
There have also been reports of doxxing within the alter community—when other users choose to identify or reveal personal information about a fellow alter. Not stricty limited to Twitter, doxxing is a serious issue that can cause people their reputation, livelihood, and in extreme cases, even their lives.
In March 2019, Twitter issued updated guidelines of its own user agreement that covers safeguarding private information shared on its platform. Unfortunately, it hasn’t completely deterred people from doxxing, so users are still reminded to take utmost care when sharing personal information with other people in the internet.
No one gets hurt
These issues aside, there seems to be no indication that alter culture is anything other than an outlet with which people can freely express their sexual urges and connect with others who share their interests. Used with caution, no one gets hurt—for the most part. On the contrary, if you ask the alters themselves, it’s helped them immensely.
(Alter culture) has become a safe space for most people,” says Elle. “It promotes body positivity to most as well. It's popular because we all lack physical connections. This is the strongest link for us to be able to physically connect.”
“Being in a conservative country, having an alter account really gives you an outlet to express a side of yourself that may be unacceptable to society, freely,” says H. “However it also becomes a gateway to a lot of temptations that are dangerous and illegal. I also think that with the growing amount of alter accounts and personalities, drama, discrimination, and hate really starts to foster in the community. Which strays away from what alter means for a lot of us, which is a safe space to express yourself.”
“I think that people here just need the right amount of validation and confidence. That's why the alter community, at the moment, is healthy,” says Tris. “Even though I am relatively new, I felt like I belong here in a way. It's popular since it's an easy way to just find casual hookups or possible relationships without actually harming your vulnerability.”
“Having an alter account is popular nowadays even to teenage boys who are still figuring out their sexual preference because they want to explore their sexuality without revealing their identity,” says tebatsss. “It stems from the fact that here in the Philippines, society will judge or look down on you if you reveal that you’re a homosexual or even bisexual. No matter how ‘modern’ our society (is) now, there are still a few people out there who will judge/bully someone for being gay.”
And when asked what it would take for them to delete their alter accounts, almost all of them said the same thing—when they meet the right person.
“Probably until I get a boyfriend,” says Tris. “Deleting my alter would probably take my family to ask me. If it's my friends, I will probably not comply.”
“I can’t say i’ll be using this account permanently but I don’t know how long I’ll last either, but maybe if i get in a relationship, or i get tired of the stuff I see here, I might leave this handle,” says H.
“Maybe if I meet another bisexual man who knows how to satisfy my sexual needs and is willing to be in a longterm relationship, then I might delete or deactivate my alter account,” says tebatsss.
“Same as the reason why I left before, a proper established relationship,” says Elle. “But I guess after all the trauma from my past relationship, that would be far off from now. Although if this one person I'm longing for comes back into my life, then goodbye Elle!”
*Some names have been changed at the interviewees’ request