Submission to the Select Committee on Social Media and Online Safety

Scarlet Alliance submission to the Select Committee on Social Media and Online Safety on March 8, 2022.

“Sex workers are part of the Australian community, online and offline. Sex workers in Australia operate in a range of regulatory environments, from jurisdictions that have decriminalised sex work to those that criminalise some or all aspects of sex work. The move towards decriminalised models in a number of jurisdictions has improved sex workers’ access to justice, health, and human rights, and sex workers continue to advocate for this best-practice legislative model that regulates sex work as work, subject to the same laws and policies that regulate other industries.

Regardless of the laws regulating our work in each jurisdiction, many sex workers across Australia, and indeed across the globe, have used online tools and platforms to improve our experiences of our work. They have allowed us greater control over our work environments and hours, workplace health and safety, access to health promotion and harm reduction information, and connections to peers. For many, equitable access to online tools can be the difference between working and not working, or working under the control of a manager or business owner and working independently or in co-operative structures with other sex workers. Like other workers, sex workers must be able to expect access to the same tools and services used by workers in other industries.

Over the last decade, and particularly over the last 5 years, sex workers have experienced loss of access to these tools and services at exponential rates. This has largely been a result of law and policy seeking to hold the tech sector responsible for what governments envisions as online and real-world harms, and the tech sector’s responses to those changes. Largely, these laws have incentivised strict moderation of sex worker content in order to avoid a wide scope of legal liability for failing to ‘combat trafficking’ or ‘protect children’. The result is a set of crude content moderation practices that result in the deplatforming of sex workers, and the loss of the digital tools we use in the course of conducting business.

As a stigmatised, marginalised, and often criminalised community, sex workers have found few allies in government or in the tech sector as we have worked to resist the legislative trend that that frames sex workers, the content we create, and the actions we take online as inherently ‘harmful’. When we are viewed as perpetrators of online harm, or people from whom other internet users need to be ‘protected’, we have little recourse to reject these laws or appeal against the policies and practices that tech companies use to respond to them. Little attention has been paid to the harms that sex workers experience, online and offline, as a result of deplatforming. In this submission, we urge the Select Committee to include the loss of livelihoods, assets, community connections and access to safety that results from the deplatforming of sex workers within its framework for ‘online harm’. Without this inclusion, sex workers will continue to be left out of and harmed by further measures to legislate and regulate towards ‘online safety’ for all Australians.”