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Webcam sex platforms make up an industry worth billions worldwide. But how exactly do they work, and who is making money off of them? And how are they regulated? Thomas Poell (Media Studies) and Olav Velthuis (Sociology) are about to start an NWO-funded research project in which they aim to find out more about this matter.

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Chaturbate, Cams.com, Myfreecams; these past few years have seen the spectacular rise of webcam sex platforms. Nevertheless, our systematic knowledge of them remains limited. ‘At the same time, the people who work in this industry form a highly vulnerable group’, researcher Thomas Poell says. ‘That is why it is an important subject to study.’

Poell and Velthuis have set up a multidisciplinary project in which they will investigate the impact of platformisation on the sex industry. They will also study which risks sex workers run by webcamming and which opportunities they gain from it, as well as whether there are reasons to work towards better regulation of these platforms. The NWO recently awarded this project funding of around € 750,000.

The financial picture

Although webcamming might seem like an easy way to make money, the reality is different: many webcamming sex workers struggle to make ends meet. Webcamming platforms use an algorithm to determine which content is shown at the top of the page, and these videos receive far more clicks than those below. Furthermore, various parties – ranging from the financing parties who take care of payments to the studios in which the recordings take place – claim a percentage of the revenue.

'The government often only intervenes when issues begin to appear.'

Legislation often lags behind

Poell and Velthuis are looking to interview a large number of webcam performers as well as webcam studios, administrators of platforms and advertising networks. One of the questions the researchers are trying to answer is whether more regulation might be needed. ‘At the moment, regulation is partially done by the platforms themselves,’ Poell says. ‘But should the government be involved, too? When it comes to other platforms such as Uber and Airbnb, the government often only intervenes when issues begin to appear. This means that legislation often lags behind a few years.’

About the awarded funding

The NWO is funding nine multidisciplinary research projects from the Open Competition for Digitalisation. Within the projects, social scientists and humanities researchers from various disciplines are working together on societal issues concerning digitalisation. The project The platformization of the global sex industry: Markets, morals, and mass intimacy will start later this year and will have a duration of five years.

Read more about all of the projects on nwo.nl

dr. T. (Thomas) Poell

Faculty of Humanities

Capaciteitsgroep Media & Cultuur

prof. dr. O.J.M. (Olav) Velthuis

Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences

Programme group: Cultural Sociology