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Sex Workers' Lived Experiences With COVID-19 on Social Media: Content Analysis of Twitter Posts

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Background: The COVID-19 pandemic has drawn attention to various inequalities in global societies, highlighting discrepancies in terms of safety, accessibility, and overall health. In particular, sex workers are disproportionately at risk due to the nature of their work and the social stigma that comes alongside it.Objective: This study examines how public social media can be used as a tool of professional and personal expression by sex workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. We aimed to explore an underresearched topic by focusing on sex workers' experiences with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic on the social media platform Twitter. In particular, we aimed to find the main issues that sex workers discuss on social media in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic.Methods: A literature review followed by a qualitative analysis of 1458 (re)tweets from 22 sex worker Twitter accounts was used for this study. The tweets were qualitatively coded by theme through the use of intercoder reliability. Empirical, experimental, and observational studies were included in this review to provide context and support for our findings.Results: In total, 5 major categories were identified as a result of the content analysis used for this study: concerns (n=542, 37.2%), solicitation (n=336, 23.0%), herd mentality (n=231, 15.8%), humor (n=190, 13.0%), and blame (n=146, 10.0%). The concerns category was the most prominent category, which could be due to its multifaceted nature of including individual concerns, health issues, concerns for essential workers and businesses, as well as concerns about inequalities or intersectionality. When using gender as a control factor, the majority of the results were not noteworthy, save for the blame category, in which sexual and gender minorities (SGMs) were more likely to post content.Conclusions: Though there has been an increase in the literature related to the experiences of sex workers, this paper recommends that future studies could benefit from further examining these 5 major categories through mixed methods research. Examining this phenomenon could recognize the challenges unique to this working community during the COVID-19 pandemic and potentially reduce the widespread stigma associated with sex work in general.
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