Gentrification is understood spatially. The erosion of a culture and community, replaced and transformed within a space, zone, area, neighborhood, location. To then understand digital gentrification it became necessary to visualize its space. Render maps of the digital, constructing its domains within a time and of a locale—as in, the images above.

The map was conceived from web traffic data collected from Alexa statistics. It does not reflect the web at large, but focuses on platforms that host user-generated content, while often featuring some form of newsfeed in their design. Spaces where a public, a community, a niche group of individuals, come to virtually assemble.

Average (% Global Reach) x Weighted for a US context (US Rank) = Average % US Reach

It is no coincidence that the map resembles Gayle Rubin’s diagram of “the sex hierarchy: the charmed circle vs. the outer limits.” Layers of sexual value, determined by their accessibility via their mobile-ity. Concerned with the discourse of sex online, its layered divisions follow the accordance of rational-libidinal principles, the moral code which demarcates sexual order in the digital space determined data-ficially through years of age. Manifesting liminal outer zones, which grant “virtue to the dominant groups,” while relegating, “vice to the underprivileged.”

Inner Circle = for all ages (Apple App Store)
Mid Tier = +18 individuals (Apple App Store)
Outer Limit = unavailable (Apple App Store)

the Sexuality
of Digital Gentrification

In the early days of the Internet, it was seen as a digital commons, a fringe open-source domain technically and structurally ungovernable. A reality of complete virtual freedom. With such freedom came a prolific presence of sexual discourse. As Wendy Hui Kyong Chun contends, the proliferation of its content online “was so well-known among users it was not even an open secret.”1 Many even attribute the sex industry as the springboard for today’s cybereconomy. Not only is the industry, “the most profitable market on the Internet; it’s also the model of maximum profitability for the global cybernetic market.”2 Like other communications technologies that came before it, pornography proliferated. So much so, its pervasiveness enmeshed differentiations between the medium and its content. When Senator James Exon presented the Communications Decency Act (CDA) in 1995 he said the Internet was "like taking a porn shop and putting it in the bedroom of your children.”3 It was an invasion on the home, a Trojan horse that needed attendance. Protections from a perversity culturally endowed to a technology. A space where one could “temporarily evade public norms,”1 and access without prejudice “tasteless, offensive, and downright spine-tingling"3 content. It was a logic that denied the possibility of a “perversity lurking within us” all, a perversity inherent to the acquisition of knowledge.1 Instead it was a tenacity towards a techno-culture, which threatened the assumed innocence in curiosity, a community seemingly outside its bounds.

What resulted from the CDA, later called the Telecommunications Act of 1996 followed the neoliberal logics in their prime—the deregulation and privatization of cyberspace. Arguments in defense of free speech decidedly dominated first attempts of state moderation (besides that of the most “obscene”). And so, the toxicity of the pornographic web was left to be solved through market forces. The dominant business models that surfaced were those capitalizing from quantifying identity, business models which needed to materialize the internet into a physical space.4 Premised as a domain for a brand of public, the new Social Media platforms subverted the illusion of freedom by blurring the distinctions of private and public space. Its attractive power was premised off enclosure of “open spaces, that is, spaces that feel ‘free’ because they are enclosed.”5 It is in this lure, where freedom of expression was supposedly spared, and instead zoned into private chambers of virtual containment. Now in the hands of only a few the internet services expression through the moderation of a “publics’” content. This evolving transformation to the Internet of today, is just part of what Jessa Lingel describes as The Gentrification of the Internet, wherein a culture of freedom became commodified, commercialized, and subsequently displaced.6

For legislation, the once free, anonymous, and non-space Internet only allowed legislation made to contain; to address the internet from its networked exteriority and its potential leakage into society. Yet with the privatization of the Internet, enclosure meant arguments of exclusion were deemed permissible and logics of carceral capitalism could now be invoked. Enacted into public law in 2018, the FOSTA-SESTA bills were framed in the pursuit to end sex trafficking and its “reckless” proliferation online.7 Distinctive from legislation that came prior, it placed increasing criminal liability on digital service providers who remained negligent to sexual crimes on their platforms. In avoidance of risk, it compelled platforms to bias towards caution, to be more expansive and more stringent to what content or individuals could be equated with criminality. Rather than what the internet contained and projected onto society, it became “seedy” individuals within online space that needed to be walled out—digital gentrification at the scale of the user. It was an expansion of accountability, or rather an “alternative” to carcerality that, “can and often do lead to enhanced mechanisms of control.”8 Even the EARN-IT Act which followed went further to “recommend” corporations take consideration in “the ability of law enforcement agencies,” to conduct their investigations.9 This implied either providing decryption tools or eliminating end-to-end encryption entirely. While the bill has yet to pass its motion exemplified a phenomena of punitive rearrangements. Which, made with a diffusion in actors of enforcement, render a more elusive and blurred carceral state.  

1 Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, Control and Freedom: Power and Paranoia in the Age of Fiber Optics (Cambridge, MA, USA: MIT Press, 2005).
2 Beatriz Preciado, Testo Junkie: Sex, Drugs, and Biopolitics in the Pharmacopornographic Era., trans. Bruce Benderson (New York: The Feminist Press at CUNY, 2013).
3 Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union, 521 U.S. 844, No. 96-511 (United States Supreme Court 26 June 1997).
Gabriella Garcia, Lorelei Lee, and Kate D’Adamo, ‘FOSTA, Section 230, and Digital Gentrification’,
Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, Updating to Remain the Same: Habitual New Media (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2016), 114.
Jessa Lingel, Gentrification of the Internet: How to Reclaim Our Digital Freedom (Oakland, California: University of California Press, 2021).
Ann Wagner, U.S. Congress, House, Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017, HR. 1865, 115th Cong., 1st Sess., Pub. L. No. 115-164, § 230.
8 Jennifer Musto et al., ‘Anti-Trafficking in the Time of FOSTA/SESTA: Networked Moral Gentrification and Sexual Humanitarian Creep’, Social Sciences 10, no. 2 (8 February 2021): 58,
9 Lindsey Graham, U.S. Congress, Senate, ‘Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies Act of 2020’, S. 3398, 116th Cong., 2nd Sess.v

Both harm and sexual acts involve doing, actions of which can be different and the same; even becoming most detrimentally one in the same. Yet, to disentangle the conflation with sex and unsafety, meant locating when sexual activity aligned with its associated harm. To make an intentional partition to their deed. Understanding the movement of both as they traverse the digital landscape. Ultimately deciphering how digital service providers have become armed to perceive the risks and subsequently follow with their eviction.

The colored lines trace this temporal perception across five categorizations of time. The number of ways sex and its harm are understood to be occuring at the same time (in the past, present, or future). Or when its temporal dimensions have no bounds (timeless), or just simply share no time (displace). As the line of sexual harm circulates through and across platforms spiraling outward, its varying thickness shows its varying priority within each domain. The negotiation through policy iteration across the map’s window of time (April 2018 - April 2019). How over a year following the passing of FOSTA-SESTA has affected the ways of seeing temporal fusions and fissures with sexual action and harm.

*Gray areas designate a lack of access to versions of policy from 2018, to which policies from August 2021 were used in their stead. ** As this is a work in progess, some of the domains, notably those in the outer limits, have yet to be assessed.

Where both the sexual act and harm occur in the past

Where both the sexual act and harm are occurring now—in the present.

Where both the sexual act and harm occur in the future.

Where either or both the sexual act and harm are always occurring, have multiple temporalities, or are pure fiction, a timeless temporality.

Where the sexual act and harm occur in different temporalities, displaced from one another.

Methodological Determinations

‘Community Guidelines’ and policy documents reflect this entangled way of seeing, with its language telling of all the temporal (dis)alignments. The number of statements or iterations to clarify the risk, or the ways in which they are kept ambiguous. Referencing when possible, the policy documents of that time over time, I deconstructed their language. To tally the clauses of prohibited content, activity, and behavior online only when it related to sex. All with the assumption that its prohibition was made for reasons of perceived harm.
1.    Sex within policy
While there was often a dedicated subheading for “Adult Content” or “Sensitive Media”, sex was mentioned in several areas of policy, including categories of “Violence”, “Illegal Substances and Services” amongst others. Rather than rely on the subheadings, it became a matter of locating key terms to qualify notions of sex within policy. Therefore, variations of the term sex or key terms containing a sexual definition needed to be mentioned (i.e. ‘pornographic’, ‘lewd’, ‘adult content’) in order for the statement to be included. For example, harassment and child exploitation is never always sexual, so for statements concerning those violences the adverb ‘sexual’ was required for its inclusion. I decidedly excluded mentions to sex when it related to gender identity, however I chose to include it when it was mentioned as an identity of sexuality or sexual orientation.
2.    Notions into clauses
Policy documents are naturally generative, with frequent changes made to their terms and definitions. Citing examples, adding particular nuance to distinguish accepted content, or adding lists of synonyms to reiterate and reinforce the same notion. For this reason, in collecting statements I maintained their redundancy and tracked their iterations over time using WayBack Machine for their interstitial constitutions. All the while converting every policy into singular action clauses. Clauses which contained as much specificity as declared within their cited context.

e.g. Facebook’s Policy (October 15, 2018): “We draw the line, however, when content facilitates, encourages or coordinates sexual encounters between adults.”︎︎︎

    1. Facilitates sexual encounters between adults
    2. Encourages sexual encounters between adults
    3. Coordinates sexual encounters between adults

3.    Clauses into temporalities
After collecting clauses across time and across the platforms within the digital map, I meticulously determined within each singular action clause, the temporality of assumed harm and the temporality of the cited sexual act—categorizing their notions as categories of time.

While the actions of digital engagement (posting, sharing, commenting, circulating etc.) can more generally be seen as the temporality of harm, their construction within policy did not always suggest this notion. Or rather the complexity of harm digitally often warps its temporal ramifications. Thus in order to locate the temporality of harm I decided to make it a matter of locating its first instance of infliction. Whether sex was the source of injury or whether it was made into a device to wound.

Determining the temporality of the sexual act, was also a layered approach. While the act of sexual intercourse can be obvious, defining sexual acts outside of physicality was as expansive and indeterminant. Does sexualization occur at the instance of the shutter-click, or is it made in its contextual distribution? Policy statements of prohibiting depictions of certain nudity, becomes a sexual act of sexualization in itself. With all the ambiguities determining sexual action required the same blindness with which the policies were written—the claim of innocence and assuming a cautious bias.

*If you find the spreadsheet below difficult to navigate, you can access it in a new window here.︎︎︎