Posting into the Void: Studying the Impact of Shadowbanning on Sex Workers and Activists

Blunt, Danielle; Wolf, Ariel; Coombes, Emily; Mullin, Shanelle

As more sex workers and activists, organizers, and protesters (AOP) move online due to COVID-19, the sex working community and organizing efforts are being disrupted through legislative efforts to increase surveillance and platform liability. Sex worker contributions to movement work are often erased, despite the fact that a significant amount of unpaid activism work (specific to sex work or otherwise) is funded by activists’ direct labor in the sex trades. This research aims to gain a better understanding of the ways that platforms’ responses to Section 230 carve-outs impact content moderation, and threaten free speech and human rights for those who trade sex and/or work in movement spaces. In this sex worker-led study, Hacking//Hustling used a participatory action research model to gather quantitative and qualitative data to study the impact of content moderation on sex workers and AOP (n=262) after the uprisings against state-sanctioned police violence and police murder of Black people. The results of our survey indicate that sex workers and AOP have noticed significant changes in content moderation tactics aiding in the disruption of movement work, the flow of capital, and further chilling speech. The negative impact of content moderation experienced by people who identified as both sex workers and AOP was significantly compounded.