A Thematic Exploration of the Lived Experience of Sex Workers Who Are Censored Online

Versey, Georgia
Watts, Jennie
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Master of Communication Studies
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Auckland University of Technology

This academic enquiry explores the lived experiences of five sex workers who have encountered censorship on Instagram. It traverses feminist discourse and explores the unbridled capabilities of social media platforms as a contemporary beacon for information sharing. A qualitative research design and method was utilised to collect the data, which allowed for an in-depth insight into the varying degrees of censorship the participants experienced and how it affected their lives. Unanimously, the participants described experiencing biased censorship due to being a sex worker and reported intensified and increased censorship if they embodied other characteristics such as being, bigger-bodied, a person of colour, or a member of the LGBTQIA+ community. Each participant marked this biased censorship with negative mental health effects, a loss of income, and a loss of their sense of identity and community. However, the data showed that while they faced adversity when using Instagram, they were able to deploy tools and tactics to combat censorship practices and found agency and empowerment in doing so. Participants also expressed critical engagement and understanding of the broader framework which grounds censorship as a site of further stigmatisation and how it can be combatted with education and more open conversation. These findings open up the discussion to a broader commentary on the infiltration of offline societal prejudices into the online space and an examination of social media platforms as sites of abuse of power in contemporary online life that remain largely unregulated.

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