These days, every forward-thinking business person understands the importance of establishing a web presence. Everyday, social media sites like Facebook connect entrepreneurs to potential clients, allowing for free publicity and self-promotion. So should we be surprised to discover that sex trade workers are using Facebook, setting up profiles to promote their services?
A recent article in Wired Magazine suggests that tech tools have transformed the New York sex trade. A survey of 290 sex workers found that 83 % have a Facebook page for promoting their work. Columbia University professor Sudhir Venkatesh estimates that by the end of 2011, Facebook will be the leading on-line recruitment space for selling sex services.
Venkatesh predicts that the move from street transactions to Facebook transactions could make prostitution safer. He explains that Facebook profiles set up by sex trade workers help professionalize services, as escorts can “create their own businesses, avoid pimps and madams and keep 100% of their profits.” (Venkatesh qtd. in TIME Heathland)
While we’re all well aware that social media sites like Craigslist are used to sell adult services, it only seems like the next logical step for escorts and agencies to offer their services through the Social Network. After all, many prostitutes were online before the social media revolution, with personal websites or through online escort agencies.
Venkatesh, who specializes in urban studies and ethnography, is currently working on an in-depth study on sex work in New York and Chicago. He says when he started researching for the project, he had no idea he was documenting the rise of “an entirely new, upper-end ‘indoor’ market, in which streetwalkers have given way to a professional class.”
In addition to allowing sex trade workers more autonomy and professionalism, Facebook has also opened up a network of clientele because of its ubiquity: on Facebook, customers can approach escorts privately rather than publicly, avoiding street-corners in seedy urban areas. This means trade workers have more selection over the types of men they can choose to sleep with, which could reduce violence in the industry.
Socially, online media have changed how we do everything else, so we shouldn’t be surprised that it’s shaping the nature of the sex industry. If Facebook is the new adult classifieds, this could be a step forward in fostering the safety and legalization of prostitution everywhere.