Internet technologies are an increasingly necessary tool for sex working people, disabled people, and people who hold both identities to access resources, community, and income, as well as make claims to rights and fight for social justice. However, ongoing community research suggests that the failures of online platforms to address accessibility needs have had grave effects on sex workers, particularly those with disabilities. This article examines how normative whorephobic, racist, ableist user experience (UX) social media design intersects with punitive virtual content moderation systems to negatively impact disabled sex workers. To better understand how, we focus on unique problems faced by disabled people on the internet and how disability intersects with the sex trade and sexualization more broadly. We draw on data from our previous community research, Erased: The Impact of FOSTA-SESTA and the Removal of Backpage, in addition to Posting into the Void, to share experiences of sex workers navigating disability and discriminatory online systems. We highlight how whorephobic content moderation and punitive platform policing, exacerbated by FOSTA-SESTA, uniquely impact disabled sex workers, particularly those who depend on visual or aural aids to engage with social media. In doing so, we highlight critical intersections between disability justice, sex worker justice, and design justice to advocate for the importance of collaboration between movements.


As many of our authors are sex workers with disabilities, we have seen firsthand how the sex trade has been a lifeline for ourselves, colleagues, and friends. Faced with the challenges and barriers of maintaining employment in a capitalist, ableist society, many disabled people have turned to sex work as their strategy for survival. 5 Sex work can be more flexible and comparatively more accommodating than many mainstream employment options, which are challenging for people to maintain while struggling with illness, disability, or chronic pain. Sex workers can often make their own schedules and earn their income in short bursts of activity, making sex work an especially viable option for people with disabilities and others who need flexibility to live (Simon 2015, White et al. 2017). In the United States, social safety nets are failing, rates of people living without health insurance are staggering, and disability benefits are inadequate or frequently denied. Therefore, "sex work can be a way for disabled people to cope with the financial realities of an imperfect system" (Johnson 2018).

Sex worker-led research and community-generated knowledge affirm these observations, reflecting that people with disabilities are overrepresented in the sex trades (Moon 2018; White et al. 2017). In a 2015 Transequality community health report, "transgender respondents involved in the sex trade were more likely to have a physical or mental health disability (40.2% vs. 28.3% of non-sex workers)" (Fitzgerald et al. 2015:6). And while these data themselves speak volumes, given the difficulty of diagnosing invisible illnesses and mental health disabilities (Åsbring 2002), the tendency of patients to seek alternative medicine for chronic pain issues (Haetzman et al. 2003), the racist and gendered obstacles to receiving diagnoses, poor access to healthcare (Rao 2020), and the ways criminalization impedes disabled sex worker's abilities to safely access health care systems (Persist 2014), it is likely that these numbers are vastly underreported (Chapman, Kaatz, and Carnes 2013).

Many of the co-authors of this paper are disabled, current or former sex workers, and active in social justice movements that advocate for disabled sex workers' rights. Many of us have experiences navigating social media as disabled sex workers and have a unique understanding of the inaccessibility that increased censorship brings. Our authors also have personal experiences being disconnected from community, excluded from advertising and financial technologies, and blocked from sharing information and harm reduction materials with peers on social media. As we believe that sex workers are the experts of their own experiences, where appropriate, we bring co-authors' personal experiences into the conversation.

In this paper, we investigate how whorephobic 6 terms of service (TOS), platform policing, and surveillance technologies intersect with ableist accessibility tools to impede disabled sex workers' access to income, community, and resources. We start by tracing the distinct and intersecting stigmas of whorephobia and ableism, as well as their intersections with race, gender, and class, to emphasize how both disabled and sex worker sexualities are problematized when visible in virtual public spaces. Then, we explore how whorephobic platform policing intersects with the ableist, universalist design of social media accessibility tools.

Ongoing shifts in information, technology, and organizational worker control are three-dimensional and reflect larger, growing trends around worker surveillance in the USA (Levy 2015). Existing scholarship connects racial histories and politics of surveillance to contemporary surveillance technologies, detailing how surveillance has always been a racialized project to survey Blackness and Black communities through the "white gaze" (Browne 2015). Corporate accumulation of personal data is a "primary mechanism for social manipulation and control in the information age" (Cinnamon 2017:610). This is underscored by constant surveillance, lack of privacy, and "data trails," in which state surveillance, corporate-funded surveillance technologies, and media together contribute to surveillance itself being a feminist issue (Gill 2019). Simone Browne notably presents the concept of "racializing surveillance" to articulate the processes of social control embedded in new surveillance technologies that set boundaries and enforce borders along strict racial lines. Browne's (2015) work urgently draws attention to how people of color and marginalized communities are overwhelmingly targeted and racialized by old and new forms of surveillance (Browne 2015).

Social science research indicates that social media operates as a site of both oppression and expression for Black Americans (Miller, Marquez-Velarde, Williams, and Keith 2021). Sites like Twitter provide virtual space for Black Americans to build social connections and air deeply historically rooted grievances about anti-Black racism and discrimination (ibid–). At the same time, Black and Latinx women are severely targeted in online spaces by racist, sexist harassment filled with hate speech and racial stereotypes (Francisco and Felmlee 2021; Gray 2012). Instances of cyberbullying and online aggression are common for disabled users as well. Racial justice and disability justice are closely intertwined (Gray 2020). These experiences are not removed from the disproportionately negative impact whorephobic content moderation, and punitive platform policing have on sex workers of color, particularly Black sex workers (Cunt 2021).

Online anti-trafficking policies and social media accessibility tools claim to help marginalized communities. Yet, by excluding those communities from the creation of the design, and by applying universal design solutions (Costanza-Chock 2020), 7 they introduce additional barriers, specifically for those with intersecting marginalized identities. As technology mediated anti-trafficking interventions become increasingly embedded in sex workers' everyday lives, they "not only risk perpetuating harms against the people they aim to assist," but also "further contribute to interventions that render victims of forced labor and voluntary sex workers similarly vulnerable to heightened law enforcement surveillance and carceral oversight" (Musto and boyd 2014:464-465). By drawing on Hacking//Hustling's empirical data from community reports on the impacts of FOSTA-SESTA, 8 the third part of this paper provides empirical evidence for these claims, highlighting the specific experiences of disabled sex workers navigating online spaces, as well as demonstrating the political stakes of whorephobic, ablelist design. This article addresses existing gaps in scholarship at the intersection of disability, sex work, and technology and offers an intersectional analysis of whorephobic platform policing and ableist design.

Surveillance capitalism poses ongoing threats to social justice and collective action (Cinnamon 2017; Zuboff 2019). When sex workers are censored, and disabled people are denied access to social media platforms, it becomes harder to build community, share resources, and organize towards justice. Given the importance of virtual spaces for political and community organizing for both the disabled and sex worker communities, we argue that punitive content moderation impacts disabled sex workers at the personal level and hinders collective action and mobilization for sex worker rights. As part of this analysis, we claim that FOSTA/SESTA needs to be understood as a design problem in addition to a policy issue, which is fundamentally flawed and rooted in white supremacy, whorephobia, and surveillance capitalism-era punitive platform design. We argue that sex worker justice, disability justice, and design justice are inextricably bound to one another, and all three must work together toward collective liberation.

Sex Work, Disability, and the Internet

For disabled sex workers, the internet can be a primary source of income, as well as a place for community building, organizing, and other movement work, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the start of the pandemic, many immunocompromised workers who lost access to necessary resources or workspaces have since moved their sex work online. Online sex work allows sex workers to minimize in-person contact and the potential to establish passive income streams that can be life-saving during chronic health flare-ups or extended hospital stays. While virtual sex work carries risks such as surveillance, stalking, and doxxing, it can often minimize certain risks of sharing physical space with a client as well as doing more heavily policed sex work.

Social media has also enabled sex workers to access much-needed community resources. In the pandemic, many sex workers faced a total loss of income, further exacerbated by exclusion from government relief. In response, sex workers turned widely to mutual aid efforts coordinated by small grassroots groups around the country (Callander et al. 2022; Herrera 2020; Lam 2020). Where many of these groups previously hosted in-person convenings and performed on-the-ground outreach, their access to community now relies more heavily on social media tools. Through social media, sex worker grassroots groups circulate guides on safer working practices during COVID-19, strategies for avoiding digital discrimination and censorship, and links to mutual aid efforts, all of which are essential tools for sex workers' survival (Callander et al. 2020).

As social media platforms have facilitated opportunities for disabled sex workers, they have also been waging attacks on sex workers through digital exclusion and erasure. By the start of the pandemic, years of anti-trafficking lobbying had radically transformed the internet, rendering it a hostile, precarious, and dangerous place for not only those in the sex trade 9 , but for anyone profiled as selling or trading sex (Musto et. Al 2021). The aforementioned harm reduction guides are buried by social media algorithms or deleted from platforms. Using specific language about sex work puts social media accounts at risk of shadowbanning 10 or even deletion. 11 Sending too many virtual payments to sex workers can lead mutual aid organizers' payment processor accounts to be flagged and even temporarily suspended (Voynovskaya 2020). The vital tether social media provides a sex worker, especially one with disabilities, to their community could disappear overnight if their account gets shut down.

Whorephobic internet policy and UX design have also directly impacted sex workers' ability to earn income. In the past two decades, anti-trafficking lobbying efforts have shut down several major online sex worker platforms for advertising and selling sexual content (Musto 2016; Musto and boyd 2014; Thakor and boyd 2013, Reynolds 2020). This has pushed people selling sex to advertise their services through alternative, indirect, and more labor-intensive channels, including social media (Blunt and Wolf 2019; Musto et al. 2021). Not only does building a social media presence require more work, but losing your account means losing access to your primary, or even sole, source of income overnight (Blunt and Wolf 2019, Hamilton 2022, Rand 2019). This can be devastating for sex workers with disabilities who are not able to transition their in-person work to online, and for those who cannot afford the time to rebuild their following. While writing this, one of our authors, a disabled and immuno-compromised sex worker, who shifted their entire business online during the pandemic, lost their following all within a matter of months: this amounted to hundreds of followers on OnlyFans when they announced they were stopping processing payments for adult content, an income stream from AVNStars when Visa/Mastercard demonetized the site, the ability to process payments for a non-sex working business (likely due to the author's identity as a sex worker), and an Instagram account. 12 All these forms of platform punishment forced them to start retaking clients in-person as many of their income streams were disrupted if not ended completely. For immunocompromised workers, this is a complicated decision we make under capitalism, to balance the risk of potential exposure to COVID-19 and financial insecurity.

COVID-19 also creates the threat of disability; when anyone can become disabled at any time, the impact of being deplatformed, demonetized, or experiencing decreased visibility are exacerbated. The threat of disability under COVID is compounded for people selling or trading sex. While most in the pandemic have benefited from accessibility tools, such as Zoom or telehealth, sex workers' access to online platforms and spaces is highly precarious (Blunt, Coombes, Wolf, Mullin 2020). For example, online community support networks–often first used and developed by disabled people, queer and trans people, people of color, immigrants, refugees, and asylum-seeking communities–were disrupted during COVID by increased attacks on Asian sex workers and massage parlor raids (Lam 2020).

While the intersecting marginalities of disability status and sex work compound the impact of whorephobic internet policies, in this paper, we focus on how whorephobic platform policing intersects with ableist accessibility design. It is not just that sex workers with disabilities are doubly excluded or doubly discriminated against. It is also that the specific - sometimes contradictory and other times complementary - intersections of their marginalizations manifest as a unique set of problems. There are deep links between whorephobia and ableism, both in how the communities are seen as disposable, incapable of making their own decisions, and needing to be saved or cured. Both disabled and sex working communities are excluded from designing the solutions allegedly intended to help them, thereby often leading to their exclusion from the very tools that purport to protect them. This lack of inclusion intersects with deeply rooted stigmas that invest the visibility of sex workers and disabled people with moral and political stakes (Musto et. al 2021; Shakespeare and Richardson 2018; Santos and Santos 2018; Valens 2020). Understanding this phenomenon will not only afford a more critical lens of design and accessibility; but it will also reveal the points where sex workers' rights, disability rights, calls for social justice, and collective liberation can, should, and need to intersect.

Stigmatized Sexualization and Hypervisibility

In this section, we consider sex workers' hyper- and de-sexualization, and how claims to 'intimate citizenship' 13 within disability rights and disability justice movements are bound up in the same problems faced by sex workers. Sexuality and disability are often framed as incommensurate, leaving disabled people's sexuality neglected, even in disability studies (Martino and Campbell 2019; Sanders 2007). 14 Disabled people are generally presumed to be asexual, and visible representations of their sexuality are disregarded or pathologized (Gill 2015). The perception of disabled people as asexual creates barriers to receiving comprehensive sexual health education and care (Blewett 2019; Rohleder, Braathen, and Carew 2018) and complicates the already challenging explorations of queer and non-normative sexual expression (Campbell 2017). At long last, new disability scholarship is attempting to bring the sexuality and sexual issues of disabled people to the foreground (Callen 2020). And beyond academia, disability rights organizers likewise challenge the apparent incommensurability of disability and sexuality, making powerful claims for socio-sexual rights (Martino and Campbell 2019).

Sex work has become a key site for making these claims. Many clients in the sex trade are disabled, and sexual services are regularly explicitly promoted to men with disabilities (Sanders 2007). Scholarship and activism draw on this phenomenon to challenge the presumed asexuality of disabled people, advocate for the importance of sexual pleasure in quality of life (Garofalo Geymonaut 2019), and reveal parallels between laws that criminalize those in the sex trade and policies that enact violence against disabled bodies (Fritsch, Heynen, Ross, and van der Meulen 2016) through the lens of the client. While such inquiries have been useful, there has been minimal scholarship on sex workers with disabilities. Disability studies have focused almost exclusively on disabled client experiences rather than those of disabled sex workers, 15 leaving a critical gap in this literature and invisibilizing the labor of disabled sex workers.

Disabled sex workers navigate complex configurations of disability and sexuality, not as it pertains to their clients but rather to their own bodies and livelihoods. How do disabled sex workers navigate the presumed impossibility of being both sexual and disabled? While a sex worker with disabilities may be desexualized because of their disability, they are simultaneously hypersexualized as sex workers. The sexuality of the sex worker is so salient that they exist in our collective imaginary symbolically as the manifestation of hypersexualization and sexuality that is out of place. The symbol of "the prostitute" so is charged and overdetermined that it supersedes the experiences of actual sex workers (Bell 1994; Mac and Smith 2018). 16 Within this morally vested figuration, the prostitute is either a sexual deviant or sexual victim; either hypersexual themselves or the object of the other's hypersexuality. This intense investment in the prostitute's sexuality has engendered anxieties around the visibility of sex workers' hypersexual deviance in public spaces, including online (Bernstein 2010; Musto et al. 2021). This leads Musto et al. (2021) to argue that for the anti-trafficking lobby, the problem with online sex work is not actually the risks it poses to sex workers, but rather the broader visibility of sex workers' hypersexual deviance in the virtual public sphere (Musto et al. 2021).

Therefore, the disabled sex worker is in a double bind between desexualization and hypersexualization, stuck impossibly between two poles of the same axis of stigmatization. Both the disabled person's and the sex worker's sexualities diverge from "the norm." This deviation has historically justified institutional and social intrusions into their sexual, intimate, and private lives (Ignagni et al. 2016). Both disabled people and sex workers have historically been subject to forced medical intervention, institutional scrutiny, and widespread surveillance (Mac and Smith 2018; Martino and Campbell 2019; Stern 2018). It should be no surprise that disabled people, sex working people, and people of color, who have all endured histories of forced sterilization, experimentation, and eugenic persecution, are also those facing excessive policing on digital platforms. It would be of no further surprise if continued research demonstrates the compounding effects of race, disability, and sex worker status on punitive platform policing. The consequences of this are considerable. It is not solely a matter of disabled sex workers losing their income, but also their connection to disabled community, harm reduction resources, shared experiences, and visibility. This is exacerbated by historical legacies of racially motivated surveillance, silencing, and erasure (Browne 2015). Here, we find Ignagni's (2016) conceptualization of "intimate citizenship" relevant to how disabled people, sex workers, Black people, and other people of color have long fought for the right to engage in intimacy; a right that has been historically denied to these communities (Ignagni et al. 2016).

Normalization of Sex Worker Exclusion

As laid out above, the hyper- and de-sexualization of sex workers and disabled people are a product of their presumed "deviance" from a "norm." This norm is often shown as white, able-bodied, and middle to upper class, resulting in stigmatization and fetishizing of those who do not fall within those parameters. As such, when built environments and design technologies are built normatively, disabled people and sex workers who are working class, low-income, or poor find themselves at the margins (Simon 2020). Disability studies have long leveled criticism at how the built environment (both physical and virtual) is a "monument" to the able-bodied (Tremain 2005). Universalist design presumes a user whose mind and body functions according to normative, ableist assumptions. As such, this approach to design produces access problems for everyone who does not conform to that ideal (Ignagni et al. 2016; Shew 2020). "Universalist design principles and practices erase certain groups of people, specifically those who are intersectionally disadvantaged or multiply-burdened under capitalism, white supremacy, heteropatriarchy, and settler colonialism" (Costanza-Chock 2018). When those who deviate from the norm are taken into account, it is usually an afterthought. Assistive technologies are only as good as their designers, and, more often than not, they are designed from an able-bodied lens (Benjamin 2019; Costanza-Chock 2018, 2020; Klein, Kresowik, and McCoy 2005). In this section, we draw on disability scholarship's critique of ableist, normative design to demonstrate the limits of social media accessibility tools and online anti-trafficking policies, focusing specifically on FOSTA-SESTA. By excluding marginalized communities from its design and applying universalizing solutions to online sex trafficking, FOSTA/SESTA introduces additional barriers, specifically for those with intersecting marginal positions.

While social media platforms have been policing sex workers since their inception, FOSTA-SESTA has increased platform liability, incentivizing further policing. After decades of anti-trafficking advocates stoking moral panic over sex trafficking on the internet (Bernstein 2019, Musto et al. 2021), anti-trafficking legislation FOSTA-SESTA was introduced in 2018. The alleged aim of FOSTA-SESTA was to cut down on human trafficking online. By amending the Communications Decency Act's (CDA) Section 230, FOSTA-SESTA removes internet platforms' immunity to their users' criminal activities pertaining to commercial sex, consensual or not. 17 By conflating all sex work with sex trafficking, FOSTA-SESTA ignores the vast diversity of experiences, backgrounds, and realities of those in the sex trade; operating under the assumptions that a) all labor in the sex trade is exploitative and b) whatever casualties sex workers or those profiled as sex workers may face are a worthy sacrifice for protecting victims of human trafficking. Not only have these casualties been immense (Albert et al. 2020; Blunt and Wolf 2020), 18 but there is no evidence that FOSTA-SESTA's one-size-fits-all approach has decreased rates of human trafficking at all (Albert 2021; Musto et al. 2021).

Design Justice

Even though FOSTA-SESTA has transformed the infrastructure and access of every major digital gathering space, not just those specific to sex work, FOSTA-SESTA is not typically considered a design problem. This is in large part a victory of the heavily moralizing discourse of the anti-trafficking movement, which has framed FOSTA-SESTA as uncontroversially essential to the cause of fighting sex trafficking. However, FOSTA-SESTA's mandate compels a design solution: online platforms must now preemptively prevent users who might be engaged in the sex trade from engaging in what might be commercial sex. With little guidance and no legal precedent, platforms have established their own algorithmic rubrics and TOS for who qualifies as someone at-risk of participating in the sex trade, erring on the side of over-compliance.

Platforms not only flag and censor explicit mentions of commercial sex or ban users who engage with sex work content; they also profile users online similar to how sex work is policed on the streets through racist and transphobic tactics, attempting to predict who is likely to engage in commercial sex. Recent studies on participation in the sex trade show Black, multiracial, and other people of color are overwhelmingly represented compared to white people (Transequality 2015). Research also shows queer and trans people are more likely to be profiled as sex workers offline and face high rates of police interaction via policies that criminalize transgender bodies, such as the recently repealed anti-loitering "walking while trans" bill in New York (Lennard 2021), the use of condoms as evidence in prostitution cases (Wurth 2013), and loitering chargers where police "cite things such as "wearing a skirt" and "standing somewhere other than a bus stop or taxi stand" as justification for arrest." (Luo 2020, Cortez 2017). It is then likely that non-sex working queer, trans, and other disabled people of color, who are profiled as sex workers on the street, are censored, surveilled, and deplatformed online as well. 19

The primary mechanisms of platform policing this paper focuses on are censorship, shadowbanning, and surveillance. On most major social media platforms, using terms like "sex worker" or "OnlyFans" appears to trigger content moderation protocols, putting the user's account at risk. For disabled people whose access to sexual resources and community is already limited given their desexualization, this censorship of sexual or sex work-related harm-reduction, political, and arts content violates claims to 'intimate citizenship.' Moreover, it stifles the speech of sex workers and sex worker organizers, creating a chilling effect 20 where they self-censor for fear of platform retaliation, punishment, or criminalization (Blunt, Coombes, Mullin, and Wolf 2019). Sex workers have responded to this type of censorship partly by developing cryptic stenography: instead of writing "sex worker," sex workers will use a code like "s3ggs worker." While doing so may protect sex workers from account deletion or shadowbans, it renders that content inaccessible for disabled people who rely on screen readers.

To understand the implications of whorephobic censorship for people who are Blind, Deaf, hard of hearing, have low vision, or visual impairments, we turn our focus to the ableist design of social media platforms. Social media is a highly visual, and increasingly aural, "interactive arena," where many people with sensory disabilities use assistive technologies to access the space (Abraham et al. 2021). While platforms have introduced image and audio descriptions to make their content accessible to visually and hearing impaired users, their efforts often fall short. These assistive functionalities usually require all social media users - even those who do not rely on image or audio descriptions - to consistently use them, placing the burden of accessibility on users, rather than integrating accessibility into the platform's design (Gleason et al. 2019). Consequently, social media access is often precarious, inconsistent, and unreliable for users who rely on these image and audio descriptions. By relying on universalist design principles that do not consider the specificities of diverse users' lived experiences, these platforms have failed to account for both the additional, uncompensated labor demanded of content creators and the consequently precarious availability of image and audio descriptions for content consumers (Costanza-Chock 2020). 21

While further research is needed to study this particular effect of censorship, we know from grassroots organizers who do rely on screen readers that sex-work-related content is often difficult to parse. When sex workers use coded stenography, its spoken form can be unintelligible. Moreover, sex workers are generally less likely to accurately use alternative text ("alt-text") functions for image descriptions that risk triggering a shadowban. Users who rely on visual descriptions, therefore, miss this content. While organizing, sharing harm reduction materials, sharing surveys to collect community experience and expertise, and within our own sex work, many of our authors have faced the dilemma of how to share information that is both accessible and won't be invisibilized by the platform.

This is only one example of what we believe to be a more significant phenomenon: when content policing protocols target and censor content that appears related to sex or sex work, this not only impinges sex worker community and activism, but it also impacts adjacent and intersecting communities - such as non-sex working queer, trans, or disabled people -who are often profiled as sex workers due to the sexualization and stigmatization of their identities, and those who benefit from or are invested in sex workers' resources and advocacy. This exacerbates existing anti-Black and ableist algorithms infused by what Joy Buolamwini refers to as "coded bias" that target activists and community organizers across movements (Benjamin 2019; Buolamwini and Gebru 2018; Kantayya 2021; Noble 2018; Tufekci 2017; Zuboff 2019).

While the stigmatization of both sex workers and people with disabilities enables universalist algorithmic design, profit motivates it. Platforms often neglect to take responsibility for accessibility features because they are seen as superfluous, but we can trace their motives to maximizing profit when they do add accessibility features. For example, while some platforms have added "alt-text" to images, they do so to boost search engine optimization, not necessarily to make the platform more accessible for disabled users (Noble 2018). This commitment to profit over accessibility renders Blind, visually impaired, Deaf, and hard of hearing users' access to the internet precarious at best (Gleason et al. 2019).

Social media platforms are built for the "normate" 22 (Thomson 1997). Similarly, both FOSTA-SESTA and social media platforms' design responses are crafted without sex workers. They are both normative, one-size-fits-all solutions that consider difference and deviation only as afterthoughts. Consequently, tools that are intended to "help" victims of sex trafficking or people with disabilities can introduce new barriers to accessing virtual public spheres, reinforcing the implicit whiteness, ableism, and whorephobia of those spaces. Sex workers have long advocated for collaborative responses to human trafficking led by sex workers and sex trafficking survivors; simultaneously, disabled people are fighting for built virtual and physical environments to incorporate their needs from the start.

By designing from the margins and centering disabled sex workers in studies on disability, sexuality, as well as technology and surveillance, we can further illuminate how platform punishment of conversations around sexuality or sex work leads to less accessible environments for disabled users overall.


To further develop a framework of how disability, sex work, and UX design intersect, we turn to our previous research with grassroots, sex worker-led collective Hacking//Hustling, which performs sex-worker-led, participatory action research. We draw on data from two Hacking//Hustling studies. The first study, Erased (Blunt and Wolf 2019), draws on survey data (n=139) collected during the Summer of 2019 to examine impacts of FOSTA-SESTA. The second, Posting Into the Void (Blunt, Coombes, Wolf, Mullin 2020), uses original survey data (n=262) to investigate how social media content moderation impacted sex workers during and following the Summer 2020 national uprisings against state-sanctioned police violence and murder of Black people in the USA. In this report, we did not ask for demographic data related to disability. Still, we felt it was important to share the experiences of the greater sex worker population from our survey, as so many of us are disabled. When reporting these findings, we indicate whether quotes are coming from disabled sex workers or sex workers where we do not know their disability status, by writing either "Disabled sex worker respondent" or simply "Sex worker respondent."

Data from both reports were primarily collected online through surveys designed by Hacking//Hustling researchers. These surveys included closed and open-ended questions about respondents' demographics, experiences within the sex trades, and their engagement with sex worker and activist communities. Surveys also included questions designed to understand the participants' definitions of pertinent terms, such as "shadowbanning." These surveys were advertised primarily through Hacking//Hustling's social media pages, personal social media accounts of members and allies, and through the accounts of various other sex workers' rights-related organizations. For Erased, we also partnered with members of Whose Corner is it Anyway (WCIIA), a community-led outreach organization serving street-based sex workers and IV drug users based out of Massachusetts, to adapt the survey and collect responses through a community meeting which garnered 41 additional responses of largely street-based sex workers.

Of the 98 online respondents in Erased, 69 identified as female, 24 as trans, nonbinary, or genderfluid, 3 as male, 2 declined to answer, and 78 identified as members of the LGBTQ+ community. Additionally, 68 identified as white, 25 as Black, Indigenous, Latin American, or mixed race, with 5 not answering. The majority of respondents were located in the United States of America (76), with several from Canada (9), and the remaining 13 were located in Europe, South America, Australia, or declined to answer. Finally, 84 respondents lived in private housing, 2 were houseless, 2 lived in supportive housing, and 10 were experiencing some other form of housing insecurity.

Participants were asked if they had ever received a mental health diagnosis: 69.4% (68) said yes. 23 When asked if they had any chronic health conditions or disabilities, 50% (49) responded yes, mainly disclosing chronic pain, PTSD, autoimmune disorders, depression, anxiety, and arthritis. While negative stereotypes have led many to believe that sex work itself is to blame for disabilities like these, respondents report that these ailments precede and motivate their participation in sex work, often stating that sex work is what allows them to earn a living while living with their mental and physical health issues. In addition, 60.4% of online respondents in Erased report facing barriers to accessing other forms of labor.

The second set of data collection for Erased was facilitated in-person by members of WCIIA. Of the data collected through WCIIA (n=41), 34 were female, 1 was trans, and 6 declined to answer; 12 identified as LGBT, 7 as heterosexual, and 22 declined to answer; 16 identified as white, 9 were Hispanic/Latin American, 1 was Black, 1 Indigenous, 1 mixed race and 12 declined to answer; 12 held private housing, 9 lived in public housing, 6 declined to answer, and the remaining 16 were either houseless, living in the shelter system, or were experiencing some other form of housing insecurity; 59.46% (22) of WCIIA respondents reported having disabilities, of which 95% (n=21) also reported having received a mental health diagnosis.

In Posting Into the Void (n=262), about 21% (55) of respondents identified as a sex worker, 32.4% (85) identified as an activist, organizer, or protester (AOP), 38.9% (102) identified as both a sex worker and an AOP, while 7.6% (20) identified as "other". Throughout Posting Into the Void, we combined data from respondents who identify solely as sex workers with respondents who identify as both AOPs and sex workers to compare experiences of people who identify as sex workers with those who do not.


Despite growth in the number of studies and subareas in which sex workers are research participants, research around sex work alone is still limited. After decades of sex work being studied within carceral frameworks, we are only beginning to see the emergence of well-rounded qualitative data collection and participatory research in sex work studies (Wolf 2019). Within the already limited field of sex work studies, scholarship on sex work and disability is especially sparse. Even our own data in this paper currently uses a broader approach to examine specific phenomena, like surveillance, within the sex industry. While we do have some preliminary data on disabled sex workers expressly, this article is greatly limited to inferring and extrapolating the experiences of disabled sex workers. More research specifically centered on and designed alongside people with disabilities in the sex trade is urgently needed.

Moreover, by collecting our data primarily online through sex worker activist networks, we may not have reached those who do not necessarily identify as a sex worker, do not use social media, or are not accessible through our networking and outreach efforts. Further research is needed that reflects the diversity of gender, race, sexuality, and class found among the most marginalized people in the sex trade. Lastly, our research is primarily funded with co-authors' own sex work income, which presents its own unique set of limitations.


COVID, Disability, and Recent Influx of Online Sex Work

Analysis of Posting Into the Void survey data revealed 71.1% of respondents who have done sex work started doing more online sex work due to COVID-19. This suggests recent influxes of people in online sex work are intensified by pandemic-era reliance on digital technologies, echoing observations from other researchers and community members (Hamilton 2022).

According to one of the key findings of Posting Into the Void, sex workers who started doing more online sex work due to COVID-19 are particularly vulnerable to platform policing and more likely to be shadowbanned, suspended, or otherwise punished. Sex workers who have started doing more online sex work due to COVID-19 are significantly more likely to report they use social media for sex work (96.26%) and report they have been deplatformed or kicked off of a social media account (48%). Sex working respondents who reported being pushed to do more online sex work in response to the COVID-19 pandemic also reported facing significantly higher rates of punitive platform policing, in all forms, than other sex working respondents.

If online sex work was not someone's primary source of sex work income before the pandemic, or if they are not connected with online sex worker support networks, they could encounter serious learning curves around privacy and security when transitioning online.

"I haven't really had any relationship to social media as a sex worker yet (I was a stripper before covid, and very offline in that persona), so now that I might be moving online, I'm just trying to figure out how to navigate it safely. I guess I'd describe my feelings about it as totally freaked out and out of my depth."
- Sex worker respondent

The learning curve for sex workers completely new to online work can be steep, as they attempt to navigate the digital security concerns that come with highly visible sex work and content moderation guidelines that are neither public nor uniformly enforced. They must learn how to maintain the standard of digital hygiene required for mainstream social media platforms and financial technologies through trial and error as well as shared community knowledge—community knowledge that is continually erased from the internet. In their recent analysis of an online forum for sex workers, researchers found that sex workers use public forums to share safety advice, talk about work experiences, mental health, personal, financial and legal advice, and more (Barakat and Redmiles 2021). But post-FOSTA-SESTA, with multiple platforms now banning conversations about sex work, and even sex education, it becomes increasingly difficult to find peer-support and harm reduction resources online (Blunt and Wolf, 2019, Albert 2021). Sex workers who had already been sex working online before the pandemic, on the other hand, may have spent months, years even, building up their virtual skills, platforms, networks, and community.

This may account for some of our data showing sex workers who started doing more online sex work during the COVID-19 pandemic report higher rates of censorship and shadowbanning. Vaughn Hamilton et al.'s Risk, Resilience and Reward: Impacts of Shifting to Digital Sex Work (2022) includes 34 semi-structured interviews with sex workers who pivoted to online sex work during the pandemic. Participants span seven countries (US, UK, Germany, Sweden, Spain, France, and Canada), have a median age of 29.3, and all identify as LGBTQIA; 50% (17) of participants were disabled, though few shared this in relation to their public sex work persona (Hamilton et al. 2022:6). Participants report contracting COVID-19 as their primary physical risk, which they sought to avoid by pivoting to online sex work. Disabled participants said:

"Online work is a life saver when you can't leave the house, when you have to shield yourself and others you live with."
"I'm immunocompromised, and so is my housemate (neither of us are vaccinated), so I think it's [IRL sex work] too much of a risk."

As many sex workers pivoted to online work during the pandemic to mitigate the risk of COVID-19, they also experienced decreased visibility of content and decreased access to online community spaces. This has increased rates of violence for sex workers, hindering their ability to make money, and left disabled sex workers to navigate a whorephobic digital ecosystem without as many digital harm reduction strategies or layers of protection in place.

Internet platforms are becoming exponentially more difficult for people selling sex to navigate safely. Yet, simultaneously, disabled sex workers are forced to increasingly rely on those digital spaces and online sex work to survive. Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, online sex work was exponentially gaining attention and used by many people with disabilities as a means of making money while avoiding offline workplaces (Blunt and Wolf 2020; Simon 2015), which can create many barriers for disabled sex workers participation.

At the same time, disabled sex workers have been disproportionately denied access to public disability benefits and healthcare by many of the same barriers that persist today, such as the inability to use sex work employment to qualify for COVID-related relief (Clements 1996; Moon 2020). Considering how COVID-19 restrictions have contributed to rising numbers of people doing online sex work (Voynovskaya 2020), the number of people starting online sex work to accommodate their disability/ies, or the threat of disability, has grown during the pandemic as well. Not all in-person sex work stopped during the pandemic, but many disabled and immunocompromised sex workers turned to online business models when they were able. Still, sex workers at the margins face numerous barriers when adapting their existing business models to online, including access to technology and digital devices, as well as not having an existing online fan base of consumers. This makes research and advocacy surrounding the digital exclusion of disabled sex workers even more urgent. The number of disabled people relying on access to the internet and online sex work will continue to grow. Those who face more severe platform punishment and barriers to accessing online spaces will be at higher risk of being cut off from life-saving resources.

Disability, Shadowbanning, Chilling Effects, and Lack of Access to Online Spaces

The enactment of FOSTA-SESTA erased communities, increased rates of violence, and exacerbated disabled sex workers' chronic health issues (Blunt and Wolf 2019). In Erased, 43.6% (24) of respondents who reported having a disability or chronic health condition also reported FOSTA-SESTA exacerbated those issues. Additionally, disabled sex workers respondents reported that many of the tools they use to stay safe have disappeared or become more difficult to access post-FOSTA-SESTA, directly impacting their ability to make a living and survive:

"Sex work gives me freedom to have the wonky mental health days, and not fear the social/workplace repercussions of it.. If I panic and have an off day now, I just take it off and take care of myself, instead of pushing thru it and making the situation compound. Regular jobs never allowed me such flexibility."
- Disabled sex worker online respondent
"It's harder to work now."

Disabled sex workers report that many of the tools that they use to stay safe have disappeared post-FOSTA-SESTA and this has directly impacted their ability to make a living and survive:

"After FOSTA, my safer work techniques would basically just be my switch to online sex work. Although I want to, I have not met up with a real time client since April 2015, so I have not been heavily affected by FOSTA in that sense."
"I live in dire, abject poverty and keep getting rejected for Medicaid and disability. I really believe that I'm going to die from starvation or lack of medical care unless sex work becomes decriminalized soon."
"I'm now forced into retirement from sex work, am homeless, and having a hard time getting work anymore post-SESTA-FOSTA."

Many sex workers build community and share resources online, which can serve as harm reduction tools that reduce rates of violence in those communities. Disabled sex workers respondents reported noticing a difference in their ability to access sex worker community in the year after FOSTA-SESTA was passed:

"SO much harder to find people, communities keep getting deleted"
"With people getting shadowbanned or deleted, a lot of who I followed are just GONE. Resources that were typed or infographic? GONE."

FOSTA-SESTA has also contributed to skyrocketing numbers of sex workers experiencing chilled speech online. Posting Into the Void (2020) respondents who identified as both a sex worker and an AOP demonstrated the most chilled speech in our data, with 82.5% of sex working AOPs reporting they did not post certain content strategically to avoid being kicked off, shadowbanned, or faced with legal action.

When asked about other ways online respondents use internet technologies to support their sex work, disabled sex worker respondents said:

"My entire business is online. From marketing and ads, to promotions and social media, to emails and DMs and messages, to using Google to screen potential guests, to review sites to get the word out about honest providers. The internet is invaluable to my business, it is my business"
"When I first started FSSW (prostitution) if it was not for tumblr & other sites, I would have had absolutely no idea how to screen & stay safe"

Disabled sex workers reported difficulty advertising their sex work services online after FOSTA-SESTA and the removal of Backpage. Disabled sex worker respondents said:

"Thanks to my mental illnesses, I'm too paranoid to advertise heavily now and can no longer pay my rent or bills."
"Websites are constantly shadowbanning sex workers (hiding profiles or posts from being seen) or straight up deleting profiles that are found to "violate policies", but I'm a survival sex worker whose money goes right back into surviving, so I can't really afford to advertise on the pro-sites like Eros etc. So with 'free to use' sites attacking swers right and left with regards to what we can and can't post, it makes advertising stupidly hard."

The extent to which chilled speech forces sex workers to censor themselves on the Internet often makes their online content inaccessible to Blind and visually impaired or low vision users, as well as to people searching for information, research, and community-related to sex work. For instance, sex workers have a history of using steganography 24 to obfuscate information likely to be policed or used against them. To avoid platform punishment, sex workers self-censor, in part, by putting text in images or intentionally misspelling words when they share information with clients and community. An example of this is the abbreviation of 'Sex Work(er)' to 'SW(er)' on social media. After typing out 'Sex Work', many community members note that they find their post or account shadowbanned. Another example is using 'seggs' and 's*x' in place of the word sex, or 'wh0re' and 'wh*re' in place of whore.

Sex workers use coded steganography to adapt to new content moderation strategies, but platforms likewise adapt, meaning that sex workers' techniques used to avoid detection often only work for a limited time. It is debated within community whether these forms of steganography reduce the impact of shadowbanning, or how long a specific tactic of content moderation evasion works before the algorithm catches up. Nevertheless, in many cases, this practice of steganography is a necessary tool for sharing information and staying on the platform. Still, it renders the information more difficult to search and illegible to screen readers and people unfamiliar with the coded language. The self-censored content or resources sex workers post are consequently hidden from screen readers used by Blind people. This means Blind and visually impaired sex workers are potentially excluded from coordinated online action, and critical information or harm reduction resources might not be searchable for them.

Sex workers with disabilities constantly find themselves barred from fully participating in the digital spaces their online communities utilize. Sex workers are more frequently unable to use accurate alternative text on images post-FOSTA-SESTA for fear of shadowbanning and deplatforming. Sex workers have always been early adopters of new technologies out of necessity to avoid policing, criminalization, and encroachment on physical and digital spaces. Up until recently, sex workers used text in images to avoid algorithmic moderation of text. Still, as of the submission of this paper, this is no longer an effective tool to avoid algorithmic detection, and sex workers are finding new ways to adapt. One of our authors reports having a screenshot of OnlyFans removed from Instagram Stories and suggests that not cropping the URL from the image likely triggered the deletion. Sex workers constantly work to avoid algorithmic categorization of "whore." Likewise, algorithms adapt to police the tactics we learn and share to increase our likelihood of staying on the platforms.

In Posting into the Void, qualitative data contain several narratives that further illuminate the severity of chilled speech, and the pressure sex workers are under to censor themselves online. Many sex worker respondents shared that self-censorship has become a normal expectation when they are "logged on":

"It terrifies me that my inherent right to privacy is constantly thwarted and that organizing efforts are as well."
"As a sex worker, I constantly have to censor my posts or choose to risk a shadowban for a post that I want to share. My relationship could be described as 'frustrating as hell.' Social media is necessary as a business model, but also as a way to connect those other sex workers and activists. Having platforms strategically surveil or suppress our posts is purposefully reducing our visibility, our needs from society, and calls to action."
"On Instagram, I have to be very careful about the content I post. There are so many banned hashtag words. And I have to be careful not to show too much skin. I also cannot directly link any of my NSFW content to my Instagram account. I try to use Twitter for that, but I don't currently have a big enough following there to rely only on that platform."
"Twisted. You need it to keep up and stay in touch and organize. But at the same time it is very much the system you are fighting."

Even within our own research team, chilled speech presented itself as a roadblock to fully engaging in online discussions about sex workers and punitive platform policing. While sharing the results from Erased and Posting into the Void on social media, Hacking//Hustling researchers had to make decisions about how to discuss sex work, balancing efforts to avoid triggering a shadowban, while making sure that information is accessible and searchable for those who need it. One of our authors was locked out of their account just as we were preparing to publish Posting into the Void and found not only that their research and community work was disrupted, but also networks of social support were suddenly inaccessible. Another co-author faces such heavy shadowbanning that when we typed their handle in the Twitter search bar to tag them in the latest report, it showed the handle did not exist, and an impersonator account showed up instead. Shadowbanning also impacts our online outreach efforts when we distribute community surveys, often to a network of shadowbanned sex workers.

As discussed, crackdowns on sex workers using social media to post in solidarity with social justice movements are not removed from broader systems of white supremacy. In fact, data from Posting Into the Void shows sex workers who shared original tweets about Black Lives Matter from an account where they also posted about sex work were significantly more likely to suffer some form of platform policing. About 44% of those sex workers who shared original tweets about Black Lives Matter from an account where they also post about sex work reported notable changes in the visibility of their social media presence after May 2020. Some sex working AOP respondents explained how these trends in content moderation influenced them to focus on social justice related content:

"I have more or less stopped using social media to promote myself and have transitioned to using it to promote BLM, anti-ICE, and other social justice/ human rights information. I mostly retweet things at this point."
"I said 'fuck it, nobody is seeing my content anyway' and started posting less + started posting less sex work-specific things and more political things that I care about (like BLM-related content)."

These cases of platform punishment are just some examples of how whorephobic, racist, abelist content moderation systems keep sex workers, activists, organizers, and protestors (AOPs) from fully expressing themselves online, leading to chilled speech, self-censorship, and digital exclusion.

Sex Worker Justice, Disability Justice, and Design Justice

Our data suggest the intersections of ableist design and whorephobic content moderation impede sex worker and disability organizing. Still, more research is needed. When disabled people rely on ableist platforms to build support networks, coordinate political action, and work, it compounds the impacts of whorephobic internet policies such as FOSTA-SESTA and EARN IT (Valens 2020). Historically, disability rights movements have failed to fully engage with struggles for sex workers' rights. When sex worker activists were rallying against FOSTA-SESTA, for example, leaders in both the disability and tech communities were largely silent (Tastrom 2019). Now, however, disability rights movements can no longer afford to overlook movements for sexual rights, or the ways disability justice intersects with sex worker justice. Sex workers' rights are a disability justice issue, just as rights for disabled people are a sex worker justice issue. While some existing research in disability studies notes the importance of sex work decriminalization in claims to disability rights and resources (Geymonat 2019), they have done so by mostly focusing on the rights of disabled clients. In response, this paper clarifies that coalition building between disability rights and sex workers' rights movements requires centering disabled sex workers' activism within broader struggles for collective justice and liberation.

This coalition building, of course, cannot end with disability and sex worker rights. Among contemporary anti-surveillance movements and movements for digital privacy rights, sex work and disability rights have been largely absent (Petrick 2015). As we have demonstrated, sex working and disabled users are facing reduced access to technology and worsening chilled speech online (Baumgartner, Rohrbach, and Schönhagen 2021; Blunt, Coombes, Mullin, Wolf 2020). Disability rights and sex worker rights coalitions can strengthen their movement work by engaging with anti-surveillance digital rights groups,and vice versa. Whether those relationships can be built in a way that does not speak over or exploit disabled sex workers depends on disability and digital rights activists' willingness to support sex worker-led efforts. As efforts to criminalize marginalized populations are increasingly leveraging digital evidence (not only FOSTA-SESTA but also recent anti-trans and anti-choice legislation), digital rights movements resisting surveillance will do well to listen to sex workers, disability rights activists, and other communities with compounding marginalizations. Such coalitions must not speak over or exploit disabled sex workers, but rather center and support disabled sex worker-led efforts, insights, and expertise on organizing under criminalization.

While privacy rights and demands for free speech may unify many anti-censorship groups, calls for disability rights and sex workers' rights have historically been left out of conversations about digital freedoms (Petrick 2015). Additionally, research shows disabled digital media users are experiencing more intense fear of technology at the same time that sex workers are facing harsher chilled speech online. With this in mind, disability rights and sex worker rights coalitions can strengthen their movement work by engaging with anti-surveillance digital rights groups. As efforts to criminalize marginalized populations are increasingly leveraging digital evidence (not only FOSTA-SESTA but also recent anti-trans and anti-choice legislation), digital rights movements resisting surveillance will do well to listen to sex workers, disability rights activists, and other communities with compounding marginalizations. Such coalitions must not speak over or exploit disabled sex workers, but rather center their efforts, insights, and expertise on organizing in criminalized economies.

Surveillance technologies are being used increasingly to hinder protest and demobilize movements for racial, gender, and economic justice (Heh 2021; Scott 2016; Tufekci 2017). Covert and overt police surveillance tactics are disproportionately targeted at Black activists, poor communities, anti-colonial struggles, and those resisting said surveillance technologies (Choudry 2019; Data for Black Lives 2017; Eubanks 2014, 2018). With this intensifying "criminalization of resistance" (Choudry 2019), fights for platform accessibility in design justice must position disability justice as a site of Black queer and trans struggle, rooted in fights for sex worker rights and Black political engagement (Costanza-Chock 2020).

More Research by, for, and about Disabled Sex Workers

Future research should continue to explore the relationship between sexual politics, disability, and content moderation online. Whorephobic UX design makes digital platforms less accessible to disabled users. It encourages marginalized users, especially sex workers, to engage in less accessible and at times more dangerous, practices to avoid platform punishment. This paper would be well complemented by further empirical investigation of how increased liability with Section 230 reforms, including FOSTA-SESTA, force sex workers to self-censor and use steganography; consequently, making harm reduction materials less accessible to Blind, visually impaired, or otherwise disabled community members. Such studies should center disabled sex workers in their design and implementation, as well as take a "neuroqueer technosicence" approach as conceptualized by Jessica Sage Rauchberg (2022). At the policy level, passing the Safe Sex Worker Study Act 25 would help fill some of these empirical gaps.

Fights for platform accessibility in design justice should similarly position disability as a site of queer, lesbian, and trans Black feminist political engagement (Kafer 2013; Gray 2018; Richard and Gray 2018) and sex worker political engagement (Costanza-Chock 2020). Like some human-computer interaction scholars, we embrace an ongoing process of unlearning and reparations in working toward more accessible education (Abraham, Boadi-Kusi, Morny, and Agyekum 2021; Costanza-Chock 2020). Black disabled sex workers' claims, specifically, regarding how to advocate for disability justice most effectively, provide valuable information about threats of ableism posed by existing sexual commerce policies or norms. Design justice advocates and researchers should continue to center Black queer and trans disabled sex workers in research questions and conversations about Internet policies, as platform changes impact them first.

Lastly, this paper mostly focuses its analysis and discussion on the USA, where FOSTA/SESTA is enacted as federal law. Due to this, there are several questions about how punitive platform policing and content moderation impact sex workers in other areas of the world. Findings from a recent study (2021) with sex workers in Germany and Switzerland reveal how the effects of FOSTA/SESTA Internet policies extend beyond the USA, even into countries where sex work is not criminalized: many participants reported they experienced digital discrimination and marginalization due to most technology platforms being part of the US market (Barwulor, McDonald, Hargittai, and Redmiles 2021). Though initial studies reveal how whorephobic UX design permeates beyond the USA, more research is needed to understand how sex workers experience the Internet globally, transnationally, and cross-culturally.


This paper contributes to a growing body of scholarship that frames whorephobic UX design—including FOSTA/SESTA—as an intersectional issue. Previous research has explored accessibility issues for disabled, sex working, and otherwise marginalized subjects separately. We urgently need more research on how these intersecting identities bear a compounded burden within systems that criminalize sex work, ignore the needs of those with disabilities, and exist within ableist, racist, whorephobic societies. As power becomes increasingly concentrated in the hands of "Big Tech'' and state-corporate funded surveillance technologies, collective action is further entangled in this violent web of ableist, racist, whorephobic UX social media design, mass datamining, and other punitive outcomes of surveillance capitalism (Taylor 2019; Zuboff 2019).

Sex workers, many of whom live at the intersection of multiple marginalized identities, are the first to feel negative impacts of digital repression. They overwhelmingly face the brunt of harm caused by surveillance capitalism-era policies like FOSTA-SESTA, while signaling what the future holds in store for internet users more broadly (Blunt, Coombes, Mullin, Wolf 2020). By centering disabled sex workers in studies on disability, sexuality, and technology, we can further illuminate how platform punishment of conversations around sex work, sexuality, or sex itself leads to less accessible environments for disabled users overall and stifles political mobilization. Although, it has been clearly demonstrated that digital connectivity is a major force behind contemporary efforts for individual rights and social justice, technology is just one factor in movement trajectory, and its role must be critically interrogated within claims to individual rights, movements for social justice, and struggles towards collective liberation (Tufekci 2017). While social media platforms and other online spaces are frequently seen as providing more access to movement participation, our research makes us ask: Are these platforms really accessible? And if so, for whom?



  1. We allege this based on the few empirical studies of disabled sex workers available (see Fitzgerald et al. 2015; Wolf 2019) as well as co-authors' own experiences as disabled sex workers and organizers.
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  2. We base our use of whorephobia around the two concepts of "whore stigma" and what Chi Adanna Mgbako (2016) refers to as "political whorephobia". Sex worker grassroots collective Support Ho(se) defines whorephobia in their 'Sex Work Centered Guide for Academics' as "the fear and hatred of those involved in the sex trades, as well as what they represent as challenges to hetero/homonormative conceptions of amative relationships and sexualities."
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  3. Here we are building on Costanza-Chock's critique of universalist design, which is founded on the "assumption that there is only one configuration of the human motor system" (2020:39). As such, "universalist design principles and practices erase certain groups of people, specifically those who are intersectionally disadvantaged or multiply burdened under white supremacist heteropatriarchy, capitalism, and settler colonialism" (ibid.:40).
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  4. Specifically Hacking//Hustling's community reports Posting Into the Void: Studying the Impact of Shadowbanning on Sex Workers and Activists (2020), and Erased: The Impact of FOSTA-SESTA and the Removal of Backpage (2020)
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  5. Throughout the paper we use the terms 'sex industry' and 'sex trade' interchangably. We do this intentionally to include folks who have traded sex for food, housing drugs, resources or money and for those who are trading sex for survival and do not consider it to be work.
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  6. Hacking//Hustling (2019) defines shadowbanning as "Shadowbanning is an obfuscated, internal process that prevents certain accounts from showing up in a feed, or prevents their handle from being searchable, and is routinely used on sex worker accounts, or those thought to be sex workers, while simultaneously being denied by tech companies" (Blunt, Coombes, Mullin, Wolf 2019).
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  7. Since social media algorithms are opaque - often referred to as "black boxes" - we only know their outputs, and can only deduce their logic accordingly. Community members have reported that words like "sex work" and even "mutual aid" trigger platform policing.
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  8. For more on how payment processor policies affect online sex workers see ACLU, "How Mastercard's New Policy Violates Sex Workers' Rights," https://www.aclu.org/news/lgbtq-rights/how-mastercards-new-policy-violates-sex-workers-rights.
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  9. Intimate citizenship refers to the right to privacy and autonomy in decisions made regarding our intimate relations (Ignagni et al. 2016). This concept has been instrumental in articulating disability justice demands.
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  10. It is important to note that in spite of this trend, people with intellectual disabilities can sometimes also be pathologized for having hyper- or deviant sexualities, as well as be denied rights and access to intimacy
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  11. For literature on disabled clients see Garofalo Geymonaut (2019) and Fritsch, Heynen, Ross and van der Meulen (2016). See Owens (2015) for a discussion of the experience of queer disabled clients.
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  12. Here, we follow Shannon Bell (1994), using the term "prostitute" here intentionally to refer to the moralized and pathologized symbol of the sex worker, and not sex workers themselves. For Bell, "the modern prostitute body was produced as a negative identity by the bourgeois subject, an empty symbol filled from the outside with the debris of the modern body/body politic" (Bell 1994:72).
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  13. For a detailed analysis of the legal structure and complications of FOSTA-SESTA see Kendra Albert et. al's (2020) "FOSTA in a legal context."
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  14. For more insight into how FOSTA-SESTA has harmed sex workers, see Blunt and Wolf (2020) and Musto et. al (2021).
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  15. The inner workings of these algorithms are not publicly available; however, grassroots activists' experiences suggest this to be true (Blunt et al 2020; Salty 2019).
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  16. A 'chilling effect' is the use of fear or punishment to push people into a climate of self censorship and suppresses or discourages speech (Penney 2017).
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  17. Here we are building on Costanza-Chock's critique of universalist design, which is founded on the imaginary, "assumption that there is only one configuration of the human motor system" (2020:39). As such, "universalist design principles and practices erase certain groups of people, specifically those who are intersectionally disadvantaged or multiply burdened under white supremacist heteropatriarchy, capitalism, and settler colonialism" (ibid.:40).
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  18. For Thomson (1997), the 'normate' refers to a given culture's composite, imaginary incarnation of the 'everyman:' the normative, unmarked person or identity indicator.
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  19. In Erased we asked separate questions on mental health and disability to get a sense of how people identify their experiences. We are not automatically folding mental health diagnoses into the category of disability, but want to note that even when participants report their mental health issues are disabling, some participants didn't identify as disabled. One disabled participant from Erased (2019) says: "I always feel... fraudulent claiming my mental health is a disability but it really does disable me so I don't know what to say. I feel like I don't deserve the title even though logically I really do."
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  20. Steganography is the practice of hiding data or messages behind non-secret messages or data to avoid detection. We refer to the practice of linguistic steganography, the practice of hiding messages in plain site through the use of code words or in-speak that is inconspicuous to convey a meaning that only the intended recipient will understand.
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  21. Congress summarizes the The Safe Sex Worker Study Act as a bill requiring "the Department of Health and Human Services to study the impacts of the reduction in access to client-screening, information-sharing, and harm-reduction websites resulting from the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017 on individuals engaged in adult, consensual sex work. The study must utilize community-based nonprofits to conduct surveys and interviews of sex workers to collect information about (1) experiences of violence from clients; (2) interactions with law enforcement; (3) experiences with exploitation; and (4) the impact on housing stability and mental health, among other effects."
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