Misogynists are compiling massive databases of sex workers in an effort to threaten, harm, and harass them for making a living.
People participating in the viral harassment campaign known as #ThotAudit seek to make it more difficult for those in the sex trade to work. It started with calls to report sex workers to the Internal Revenue Services for tax fraud through the IRS whistleblower program, but has morphed into efforts to attack and intimidate these women in general. Harassers have begun reporting sex workers to payment processors like PayPal and Circle Pay, which have historically been hostile toward adult content.
"I never once thought that one of my innocent joke posts made to make my friends laugh would turn out to start a crusade against sex workers"
To streamline the process, they’re compiling databases of sex workers, scraped from platforms like Chaturbate, cam sites, and Kik as well as social media platforms like Twitter. It appears as though these databases are being made with automated scripts.
One of the largest databases Motherboard was able to find, on 8chan, contained more than 166,000 entries and included screen names, full names (although it’s unclear if any of these are legal names or are accurate), locations, links to wish lists, individuals’ payment processors, and bios. Other spreadsheets break the databases down by individuals’ payment processors and what they use. Motherboard was able to find and download four different databases.
All of this is publicly-available information, but complied in this way, makes it easier for people to find, threaten, and harm the people on the lists.
ThotAudit began with a joke post that someone made as a Facebook status in late November, about being audited by the IRS for Snapchat revenue. It was then picked up by misogynists and went viral on Twitter, Facebook, and other social platforms and went from being a joke to something that puts sex workers in danger.
“It all started with a shitpost I made,” the person who posted the joke—whose identity Motherboard is choosing not to reveal for their safety—told me in a Facebook message last week. “As for how it went viral I have no idea. I never once thought that one of my innocent joke posts made to make my friends laugh would turn out to start a crusade against sex workers.”
But to those harassing women online, this much more than a joke or empty threats. Comments in these 8chan threads explain ways to more effectively report to the IRS, ways to report to payment processors, and say that people doing the reporting should learn the terms of service on payment platforms in order to report sex workers to them. “Remember to also report to payment providers, e-whoring and any selling of porn is banned in their TOS,” one commenter wrote in reply to a database sharing thread. It’s also evolved into a crusade against the left in general: “Report all illegal activities,” another commenter wrote. “Find every piece of law breaking action that the left does. It's fucking easy since they broadcast it all on social media for the public to find. Get their dox, use it to report their illegal activities to the authorities, rinse and repeat.”
"For those who rely on this, cutting off those resources just means living a more precarious life.”
These targeted reporting campaigns are reminiscent of efforts in the early days of GamerGate, which were focused on getting advertisers to pull support from media outlets that they said were ‘unethical.’
Last week, Wired reported that this campaign is already hurting people in real life, with sex workers being banned from payment processors following reports. And the tactics used by harassers are getting more sophisticated: ThotBot, an automated program for scraping the internet and finding sex workers’ accounts, was short-lived before GitHub banned it, but collected 20,000 profiles with links to their PayPal. The creator of ThotBot told Wired that their aim is the “extermination” of sex workers, and that they should face the death penalty.
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Kate D’Adamo, a sex worker activist and harm reductionist at Reframe Health and Justice told me that cutting off electronic payment processors can be incredibly harmful for sex workers.
“Access to financial institutions, like payment processors, is about safety,” D’Adamo told me in an email. “If you can get the money electronically, you don’t have to carry your rent home at 3:00 am on a subway. If you can put your money in the bank and build up credit, you can get a lease for an apartment in your name and not be beholden to a partner. If you don’t keep your savings in cash in your house, a burglary might not mean completely devastating your life. It’s not an option for everyone and for some people having a cash-based gig IS safety. But for those who rely on this, cutting off those resources just means living a more precarious life.”
The person who started it all told me that they regret the scale that this has taken. But #ThotAudit grew out of something that already exists online: Men hating women for profiting off of their sexuality. “It bothers me though that some of these girls are getting harassed and even getting death threats over this,” they said. “I genuinely wish I never made that post.”