Sex workers made the internet what it is today. But as the internet grew, and tech companies started to monopolize the modern world, they've been pushed to the margins and forced off platforms by private interests and harmful legislation.
In response, a sex worker-led art collective is putting on a 12-hour virtual peepshow that will educate and titillate—and self-destruct at the stroke of midnight, to protest the proposed Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies Act.
Free speech advocates say that the act, known as EARN-IT, could be devastating to speech, sexuality, and marginalized communities like sex workers online.
“We hope those who don’t live under this constant threat will be able to experience what censorship feels like.”
Titled E-Viction, the event is hosted by art collective Veil Machine and produced with Eyebeam. It'll begin on Friday, August 21 at noon and go until midnight, at which point, it'll disappear from the web. During the event, sex workers will come together to make art while nude, have sex on live cams, talk in early internet-style text chat rooms, and sell protest art.
"We envisioned E-Viction as a protest platform," the producers of E-Viction, Niko Flux, Sybil Fury, and Empress Wu told me in an email. "Sex workers were pioneers of the digital realm, but are now being kicked off the same online spaces we built and inspired."
When Donald Trump signed the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) into law in April 2018, websites were made liable for sexual speech on their platforms. The bill had immediate effects on sex workers' wellbeing and financial security, pushing them off platforms that they used to stay safe. Now, EARN-IT is awaiting a Senate vote.
"Our inspiration for E-Viction was to defiantly reclaim virtual space for sex workers and other marginalized folks being evicted from online spaces... So, we decided to take agency over our imminent destruction and dramatize it," the producers said. "By doing so, we hope those who don’t live under this constant threat will be able to experience what censorship feels like."
Veil Machine is working with archivists to preserve the content of the event so it's not permanently lost when it's over. But so far, the group has already encountered the same kind of deplatforming that E-Viction will protest against. The producers said that they've had a post removed from their Instagram account, and a GoFundMe to raise money for the event was shut down for violating its terms of service. (GoFundMe prohibits "sexual content" in its terms.)
The event is meant to raise awareness of laws like FOSTA and bills like EARN-IT, and force viewers to question their biases about sex work and its relationship to art. But E-Viction is also a celebration space, the producers said.
"We also want to carve out a digital space just for sex workers, where they can gather and celebrate and experience joy and make money in a space that is created for them by some of their own." And while the digital protest is free to attend, visitors are encouraged to tip performers. "Here, we can offer each other support and care. Most importantly we want our performers to leave with their CashApps overflowing because there’s nothing that makes us happier than whores getting paid."