Mia Khalifa is potentially one of the most noticeable case studies for the overlap between TikTok, a new social media site, and the porn industry, or sex work in general. Mia Khalifa is one of the most watched pornstars on websites like Pornhub and Bangbros, despite only shooting around a dozen videos over five years ago. One of these videos featured her in a hijab, leading to her receiving death threats from terrorist organizations. Despite her millions of views, Mia Khalifa was only compensated a flat fee of 1,000 dollars per video. Khalifa has taken to TikTok to raise awareness of how the porn industry has unfairly treated her, as well as making regular TikTok videos garnering her over 9 million followers and over 84 million likes. However, Mia Khalifa’s critique of the porn industry is centered on the executives of the industry, and not on the individuals who act in the films.
Since pornography is tied in many ways to the internet, as usage of the internet shifts pornography shifts along with it. The app TikTok is a recent addition to the internet’s scope of social media. TikTok consists of 15 second to 60 second videos, made by some of the apps over 800 million active users and is often associated with teens (1). Indeed, from conversations with children that range in age from 9 years old to 14 years old, TikTok is incredibly pervasive, and has become so in the past year mostly.
When discussing the body online, there is nothing that “embodies” these words more than digital pornography. The rise of the internet is directly intermingled with the rise of pornography. Pornography is one of the most prevalent usages of the internet, with adult entertainment accounting for 4.41% of all desktop visits worldwide (2). Indeed, much of the internet's development is tied to the porn industry, which is commonly advertised towards men (3). There is a saying that sex work is the world’s oldest profession, and the porn industry is the latest way in which this industry exists. In feminist literature and discussion, sex work is controversial, with sex positive feminists advocating for women’s own autonomy and other feminists pointing out how pornagraphy can degrade and objectify women. The porn industry can certainly be used however as a method of empowerment, as can be seen in the case of Danni Ashe, a stripper in the 90s who programmed her own website and gained a net worth of 2.5 million dollars. Indeed, the prevalence of the website OnlyFans, a website where one can sell memberships to receive photos and videos, which are often explicit, shows how many turn to digital sex work where they are in control of the content that is produced.
Due to the young demographic of TikTok users, the link between TikTok and sex work is particularly interesting. The rise of Mia Khalifa on TikTok is interesting especially because of the demographic of TikTok users as underage people, who should not be old enough to watch these videos, much less have watched them five years. However there is a certain amount of overlap between TikTok and sexwork, as can be seen in the Beyonce verse on Megan Thee Stallion’s Savage remix. As is the title of this blog post Beyonce name drops TikTok as well as Only Fans and Demon Time, which is a live stream set up for strippers who were put out of work by coronavirus.The definition of what constitutes as pornography is notably murky, with legislators saying that “you know it when you see it.” Indeed there is decent number of popular TikTokers who are strippers, further tying sex work to this app. While TikTok monitors their videos as to attempt to keep them clean, there are certainly videos that border on sex work, including many videos featuring male identifying TikTokers. Anthropologists, and digital ethnographers, should be profiling and investigating TikTok, and other social media forms, to learn more about what people’s current approaches towards sex, especially how we are indoctrinating children into sexual behaviors and maturity.