Sex workers are often portrayed as groups with little authority over their jobs. But lately they are making much use of online spaces, both large scale public-facing platforms and their own smaller websites. Taking a deeper ethnographic look into their online activities, I recount a story of highly adept, technologically proficient, and expert digital navigation by sex workers online.
The analysis follows the trajectory of platforms in the online sex industry over the last two decades. First it charts the rise of platforms for matching, reviewing, and identity verification, many of which developed roughly around the 2000s, and their impact in reconfiguring the online labor of sex workers. Then it outlines events unfolding in the mid-2010s, when the state responded to this trend with legislation like SESTA-FOSTA, the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act, and the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act.
Representing a departure from previous strategies regarding the sex industry, these state policies embark on a battle for control over data. They identify platforms as the main source of the problem and turn to solutions of simply taking them down. I will argue that this strategy fails to address the broader structural conditions which draw people into online sex work. It also fails to recognize the ways that workers and other groups use platforms, and the kinds of surveillance they practice through them.
Winifred R. Poster,
Data Battles, Platform Shutdowns, and Digital Rights in Surveillance: Labor Politics in the Online Sex Industry,
St. Louis U. L.J.
Available at: https://scholarship.law.slu.edu/lj/vol65/iss1/8