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Skip to main content. Log In Sign Up. Dissertation - Casual Encounters: Constructing Sexual Deviance on Craigslist. Many thanks to my father, Robert Reynolds, who reminds me how lucky I am to teach, research, and write. Much love to my brother, Ethan Reynolds, whose positivity is contagious.
Endless appreciation for my step-parents, Brenda Reynolds, John Ward, and Dana Ward, who entertain my academic monologues during holiday dinners. I am most indebted to my mother, who taught me that hard work and tenacity pay off. Four years after losing her battle with breast cancer, she motivates me every day.
I raise my glass to those friends who saw me through the past five years: The next round is on me. I am indebted to the faculty and staff at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, especially Angie Rehn and Jennifer Welsh, without whom I would have never navigated university bureaucracy. My gratitude for Drs. Finally, praise the academic gods for my advisors, Kathleen Hansen and Shayla Thiel- Stern, who in their turns provided compassion and guidance in equal measure.
Ward, - Research about online sexuality has built on early theories of cyber identity, in which the Internet was conceptualized as a great emancipator. This dissertation builds a research line that investigates journalistic discourse about online sexuality using more than a decade of coverage of Craigslist sex forums as a case study. It also examines user activity on Craigslist sex forums, testing dominant theories of online identity.
For journalists, Internet-mediated sexuality represents a compound moral threat. Since , national U. Newspaper journalists call on police and government sources to frame Craigslist users as prostitutes, violent criminals, and cheating politicians. By relying on elite sources, news media surveil social deviance for the public. This is an outcome of normative reporting practices.
Representational scholars have argued that media made by marginalized groups will provide more nuanced narratives than the mainstream press. But in stories about Craigslist sex forums, alternative media reproduce stigma about online sexuality.
Popular LGBTQ and feminist online magazines describe Craigslist sex forums as catalysts for illegal and immoral activity. Media across the ideological spectrum police social deviance and reinforce cultural norms — online and off.
Mass media surveillance of online sexuality encourages people to surveil their own behavior online. The Craigslist Casual Encounters forum provides a productive outlet for people to fantasize about kink, non-monogamy, race, and sexuality. But it also reflects the politics of its white male user base. Sexism, homophobia, and gendered logics saturate the forums.
Offline stigmas about sexuality bleed into online sexual expression. This dissertation theorizes the role of normalizing judgment in determining media representations of online sexuality. It offers perspectives from journalism sociology and cultural studies to help explain why media paint Craigslist sex forums as spaces that foster illegal and immoral sex.
The dissertation concludes that online sexuality must be added to definitions of deviance in news. It problematizes theories of representations of sexuality by alternative media, and it demonstrates that online sexuality is deeply intertwined with offline identity. Defining Deviance in Journalism and Sexuality Research …… Critical-Qualitative Discourse Analysis ………………………………… 32 Chapter 3: Newspaper Coverage of Craigslist Sex Forums, Newspaper Articles Sampled …………………………… Craigslist Casual Encounters Ads Sampled ……………………….
But by , sex, violence, and scandal saturated reportage. By describing Craigslist sex forums as prurient spaces and by framing Craigslist users as sexual criminals, journalists worked as agents of conservative ideology.
The message was clear: This dissertation, Casual Encounters: I identify ideology, i. I blend empirical methods with critical theory to examine why and how deviance-defining messages structure journalistic discourse about Craigslist sex forums.
Casual Encounters is thus a case study in the social construction of sexual deviance within four distinct media contexts. Today, Casual Encounters is the only forum on Craigslist explicitly devoted to sex. Those digital message boards allowed sex workers, masseurs, and exotic dancers to advertise their services publicly. By , police and lawmakers became increasingly concerned with sex work and sex trafficking on the Erotic Services forum.
The classified ad giant caved under pressure from U. But why have journalists focused on anomalous events that paint sexual activity on Craigslist as especially high-risk? Although the Federal Bureau of Investigation has described financial fraud FBI, and extortion Butler, as risks for online daters, there is not a conclusive relationship between online dating in the U.
And while some research in the early s suggested there may be a link between HIV acquisition and online-mediated hookups among gay and bisexual men, new studies have shown this is not the case Heiman et al. As our online and offline lives continue to intersect, scholars must challenge tropes that paint the Internet as an especially dangerous place.
This dissertation argues that news media do not necessarily report on the statistical prevalence of online dating risks. Nor do they focus on the cultural importance of online dating platforms such as Craigslist. Instead they build discourse around Craigslist sex forums using the same news gathering techniques that guide all reporting.
Those reporting techniques result in journalism that identifies deviant subjects and events as newsworthy. This project expands existing theories of deviance as news by identifying trends that emerged in newspaper and alternative media reporting of Craigslist sex forums during the last 15 years. My research uncovers a deviance-defining paradigm present in contemporary journalistic writing about Craigslist sex forums, while pointing out internalized sexual stigma among posters who use Craigslist to seek casual sex.
Research Questions To explore the links between ideology and representations of sexual deviance, I address the following research questions: The five chapters of this dissertation respond to those concerns as they apply to contemporary news media, contemporary alternative media, and Craigslist sex forums themselves. I also walk readers through recent paradigms of sex science, including psychoanalysis and behavioral sexuality scholarship, which paved the way for defining sexual deviance.
Finally, I articulate the importance of contrasting mainstream news representations of sexuality with alternative media produced for and by marginalized communities. I theorize online sex forums as self-representational spaces in which users explore their sexual identities while simultaneously reflecting cultural stigmas against sex.
In Chapter 2, I articulate the methods used to analyze the data in this dissertation. The data include U. I outline a rigorous and empirical qualitative coding method for critical discourse analysis, which is applied in Chapters 3, 4, and 5. I call out themes in reportage across time and geography, illustrating trends in reportage that focus on surveilling and monitoring sexual deviance.
I demonstrate that mainstream newspaper reporting relies on police and government officials to frame stories, and that news articles most commonly report on Craigslist within the context of sex crimes and sex work, high-profile sex scandals, lawsuits and regulation surrounding Craigslist, and promiscuity in online dating culture. By providing descriptive statistics about themes in news stories alongside in- depth qualitative analysis of the reportorial rhetoric, I illustrate conservative ideology within news narratives about Craigslist sex forums.
Chapter 4 mimics Chapter 3 in terms of its methods of analysis. I code articles published in six U. Like newspapers, LGBTQ and feminist online media cover online dating culture, sex crimes and sex work, law and regulation, and sex scandals. By comparing news coverage in mainstream U. By turning away from mass media to understand sexuality as articulated by sexual subjects themselves, I uncover discrepancies between the subjects reported upon in the mainstream and vernacular press and activity observed on Craigslist.
I demonstrate that Casual Encounters posters tend to be young-to-middle aged white men who use the forum to express fantasies they perceive as especially deviant. Indeed, Casual Encounters personal ads solicit casual sex and sometimes arrange sex work.
But more importantly, the forums provide an outlet for LGBTQ people, non-monogamous people, and kink and fetish communities who use the Internet to explore sexualities that mainstream culture deems abhorrent.
This chapter untangles the tensions between online exploration and self-surveillance as Craigslist users post digital personal ads for sex. Outcomes The five chapters in this dissertation centrally examine representations of Craigslist-mediated sexuality, converging in the conclusion, where a discussion of themes between and across the sample articulates an overarching narrative about sexual deviance in media culture. I illustrate the pervasiveness of stigma against marginalized sexualities within culture at large.
Those stigmas are produced and repeated within social science research, national newspapers, vernacular online magazines, and online personal advertisements for casual sex. This dissertation illustrates the diffusion of cultural messages about sexual deviance within a circuit of culture see DuGay et al. Surveillance of sexual deviance is an important part of normalizing judgment in U.
Stigma against online sexuality has been especially pervasive during an era when new technologies and alternative sexualities represent compounded moral threats. But why have such trends arisen in reportage of Craigslist sex forums? How have journalists determined which stories to tell and which stories to skip when reporting about online sexuality? It also theorizes the functions of ideology within mass and interpersonal media.
I call out the importance of analyzing discourse about Craigslist sex forums in the mainstream press and the alternative press.
I also compare those mass mediated representations with messages about sexuality written by posters on Craigslist sex forums. Two fields help explain this phenomenon: However, journalism scholarship draws on its own sociology of meaning making, with ethnographers such as Gaye Tuchman a, b and Mark Fishman establishing newsroom culture and bureaucratic influence as antecedents to news production.
The most marketable news illuminates social and moral disorder Schudson, This dissertation applies perspectives from the sociology of culture and the sociology of news to link Craigslist sex coverage with systemic Othering. While mass communication researchers have quantified representations of sex in large-scale content analyses of TV Kunkel et al.
This dissertation theorizes LGBTQ and feminist online magazines as alternative media in the case of Craigslist sex coverage.
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A cultural phobia about online sexuality had officially registered, fanned by legislative pressure for Craigslist to remove its Adult Services forums, which Craigslist introduced in spring as a replacement for the Erotic Services category. But officials have stepped up their criticism since the slaying of masseuse Julissa Brisman, whose body was found April 14 in a Boston hotel.
Police say the killer found her through a Craigslist ad. And while stories like those about the Craigslist Killer capitalized on fears about online dating, the sex industry, and violent crime, others tried to quell concerns that Craigslist hosts particularly prolific sociopaths. Lawmakers fear the Web more than they understand it. Just watch yourself if you choose to go down that road. But discourse started to expand to describe more meta-level concerns about the Internet and society.
Journalists seemed surprised that Craigslist would yield to pressure from the moral authorities: While Erotic Services flagrantly advertised sex work, Adult Services was supposed to be less explicit. However, the Adult Services forum was taken down in , with Craigslist bowing to pressure from attorneys general across the country.
That's a mixed blessing. The adult services section gave prostitutes and their customers a convenient way to find each other, making it easier for those crimes to be committed. Keeping it open may have endeared Craigslist to libertines and libertarians, but it was corrosive to the company's reputation.
There also was the risk that the anti- Craigslist fervor would prompt lawmakers to remove the legal shield that protects sites against liability for third-party content. Such a change would stifle not just Craigslist but also EBay, Google, Yahoo and much of the rest of the online world. Although Craigslist removed Erotic Services in and its replacement, Adult Services, in the fall of , follow-up coverage continued through the spring of Scholars supported paranoias about casual sex orchestrated online, pointing to Craigslist as a primary catalyst for poor sexual health.
Wrote a reporter for the Washington Post in spring While a handful of stories in and continued to report on sex work, prostitution stings, rape cases, and sexual assaults arranged through Craigslist, a counter-discourse about Craigslist also developed. Louder voices emerged in support of online dating, online sexuality, and the like. In a Washington Post editorial, Christian Rudder, the president of the online dating site OkCupid, rebuked the old ways of understanding Internet-mediated intimacy.
In a first-person essay about online dating myths, he wrote: In , Boston's "Craigslist killer" was charged with murdering a woman he had met online he later committed suicide in jail. In , Mary Kay Beckman sued Match. But despite the occasional bad press, the numbers suggest that online dating is very safe. OkCupid creates something like 30, first dates every day, and complaints about dangerous meetings are extremely rare. I remember only a handful in my 12 years at the company.
Although there are no comprehensive numbers, executives with other sites report similarly low levels of abuse.
Additionally, dating sites have taken steps to respond to concerns. But that's not how law enforcement portrays it. They claim to be fighting sex trafficking, which federal law defines as the recruitment, harboring, transportation or obtaining of a person for commercial sex through the use of force, fraud or coercion. The Los Angeles Times editorial was the most recent story published in the newspaper sample.
It was one of the few U. The story represents a continuing shift in discourse toward increased acceptance of marginalized sexual communities. Reporters have begun covering Craigslist sex forums as gathering spaces for LGBTQ people and sex workers — a shift that finally attempts to remove stigma from Craigslist sex forums and the people who use them.
In the following section, I go into further depth by breaking down topical themes in Craigslist sex coverage. Story Topics Story topics in the high-circulation newspaper sample fit into seven categories: Themes or holistic codes represent the topical coverage of each entire news story in the sample.
Critics of compartmentalized coding processes such as holistic coding may argue that news topics are not mutually exclusive, and that a story about law and regulation, for instance, may also be about sex crimes. In order to avoid reductionism, I followed a specific protocol for establishing holistic codes. That is, I determined story topics based on journalistic framing of the news story.
Story topic frequencies are detailed in Table 3. Sex crime and sex work stories included articles about prostitution and pimping, rape and sexual assault, police stings against sex workers, sex trafficking, and the like. Less common story topics in the newspaper sample included business and economy 3. Public health stories discussed online interventions within Craigslist forums and research about sexually transmitted infections on Craigslist.
And media stories include those about arts related to Craigslist sex forums this will be explained in more detail later. Sex crimes and sex work.
Sex crimes and sex work comprised the largest proportion of topical coverage in newspaper stories about Craigslist sex forums. Sex crimes were represented by stories about sex workers that involved the police as well as articles about murders, homicides, and assaults targeting primarily young women victims.
Sex crimes coverage most substantially reported on Craigslist-mediated police stings that netted prostitutes conducting their business online. Sometimes sex sting coverage featured pimps or traffickers who were at the root of sex crimes being committed, but most often stories reported on prostitution arrests with little sympathy for the economic or social conditions that may lead a woman to engage in sex work.
Newspaper stories about sex crimes on Craigslist engaged in a discourse of misogyny and victim-blaming. Little attention was given to sex workers as self-employed free agents.
Sex work and the sex industry. Before delving into coverage of violent sex crimes, it is crucial to examine news coverage of the most-discussed community in Craigslist sex forum coverage: Coverage of the sex industry commenced almost as soon as Craigslist began being reported on by U. Between and , discourse about Craigslist-based prostitution ebbed and flowed, peaking alongside concerns about the legality of its sex forums in In , police and lawmakers put the pressure on Craigslist, suing the company to remove its Erotic Services ad category.
Craigslist closed the Erotic Services forums on September 8 of that year, but public reactions were mixed. While police and some anti-sex work activists called the shutdown a victory, others saw Craigslist as a scapegoat in the war against sex workers. Mused a writer for the Los Angeles Times: Discourse stably referred to sex workers as prostitutes throughout the sample. Table 5 demonstrates the relative frequency of both terms throughout the newspaper sample timeline.
Prostitutes and sex workers. Prostitutes were described overwhelmingly as being female, though sporadic examples of male sex workers appeared in stories about sex workers. In news coverage, sex workers were consistently objectified, demonized, and blamed for their own victimization.
When sex workers were not to blame, it was because they were the young female victims of sex trafficking. Level-headed responses were sparse in Craigslist coverage. That Craigslist is a hub for sex trafficking, a criminal offense more exploitative in nature, involving the explicit enslavement of women and children for sex work. Although the topic had gravitas, the same flippant tone used in previous stories accompanied descriptions of trafficking cases.
So what does this discourse about sex workers on Craigslist sound like? How have newspapers described those women and men exchanging sex for cash? Many stories read like scripts for the earlys television show Cops. A story from the Chicago Tribune reported on the scene directly after a Craigslist-mediated prostitution sting. The writer led the story with a description of the sex worker in question: Nearby, undercover police officers examine her modern-day tool of the trade: Even stories about scientific studies on Craigslist were attentive to the aesthetics of the prostitutes using online advertising.
Wrote a New York Times reporter, quoting a social scientist: The objectifying language was not limited to female sex workers, however. James said he was self-employed — no one manages his affairs, hires him out or takes a cut of his earnings. Red Bulls kept you awake, and cigarettes kept you from being hungry. For some of the time, Graves herself remained in high school, attending classes sporadically in boy shorts, small tank tops and worn heels. A number of stories highlighted the nefarious sides of Craigslist, tackling issues related to pimps and human traffickers.
Stories about these characters were not forgiving, and were written with an objective tone common to other types of newspaper crime reporting. Pimps and human traffickers. More often than not, stories reported on stings in which pimps used Craigslist as a tool to liaise prostitutes with potential clients. For instance, an October story in the Chicago Tribune reported that: This was illustrated by longitudinal trends in sex work terminology used throughout the sample.
Table 6 shows this pattern. Pimps were described in coverage as both male and female. However, stories about pimps more often reported on men being arrested.
A central question was raised: Do sex workers have more autonomy in an online-mediated sex industry, or has Craigslist created a lucrative space for promoting the abuse and enslavement of women and children? The story continued, describing the processes that pimps and prostitutes have used to harness the power of Craigslist: Among those arrested here in August, on charges of promoting prostitution, was Victor Teixeira, 31, of Mineola. He put different ads up sometimes three times day.
He would screen the calls and make the appointments. That is, prostitutes are able to locate clients themselves rather than relying on pimps. As a result, pimps' role in the sex economy has been diminished. Men order them as if from room service. Traffickers and trafficking victims. Compared with pimps, sex traffickers received substantial coverage. Sex trafficking is defined differently than prostitution under a pimp, in that it requires by law coercion or force, or in the case of child sex trafficking, the introduction of a minor by a pimp into the commercial sex trade Polaris, It is unclear whether newspapers reported on pimping and trafficking as determined by court definitions, or if newspapers referred to each phenomenon colloquially based on their news judgment.
Use of sex trafficking terminology peaked in the newspaper sample during , before which few stories about trafficking on Craigslist were published. The uptick in coverage appears to be a response to law enforcement pressure in for Craigslist to remove its Adult Services forum after it replaced Erotic Services in Activists and advocates argued that the Adult Services forum provided an outlet for sex traffickers to exploit women and minors.
The frequency of trafficking-related terms by year is provided in Table 7. The first story about sex trafficking was published in in a traditional crime report about a police sting. Chicago police were on top of prostitution, pimping, and trafficking on Craigslist from early on in the coverage timeframe. A reporter for the Chicago Tribune wrote that area police made arrests related to prostitution, pimping, and trafficking between January and June This story identified teenagers as particularly easy victims.
Wrote a reporter for The Washington Post in a story about sex trafficking prevention in D. Human Trafficking Task Force. They believe this person loves them. Trafficking stories also flipped the discourse of blame present in many articles about prostitutes and police stings.
Stories were more attentive to the manipulation and coercion involved in sex work — an important distinction given that prostitution stories typically vilified the sex workers in question.
Another article in The Washington Post reported on a girl who was trafficked online. She soon met an older man. Then he started hitting me. By , headlines responded directly to trafficking concerns and personal ad forums. There were first-person appeals by trafficking victims, including one published in an Aug.
In , horror stories about child sex trafficking gave way to social analyses. Another discourse shift occurred. Wrote The Times reporter: The demand sustains human trafficking and under-age escorts engaging in survival sex. Although coverage continued to include crime reports of traffickers and exploited women and teens, more recent coverage invalidated concerns about trafficking on Craigslist altogether.
Finally, media were aware of their own shortcomings in reporting about Craigslist-related sex crimes. They merely asked a small sample group of people to guess the age of women pictured in ads for escort and erotic massage services. Still, it inspired not only a wave of media coverage, but outrage from state attorneys general and members of Congress, and promises for new laws. The activists knew exactly what they were doing. If we give it to you with all the words and the stuff that is actually accurate — I mean, I've tried to do that with our PR firm, and they say, 'They won't read that much.
It turned out that the news may always be news, but that the facts reported may not have be facts at all — at least in the context of Craigslist sex forums. Equally troubling as the sometimes misreported narratives surrounding sex work on Craigslist were the sensationalized stories about violent crime mediated through the website. Murders, manslaughter, and homicides. The first prominent story appeared in June , when the Los Angeles Times reported that a female San Diego State University co-ed went missing after she had met a man for a date through Craigslist.
To be clear, the co-ed was not a professional sex worker. Her mother received a text message the next day from Jou's phone, saying that her cellphone battery was dying but that she would be home soon. Authorities suspect the message wasn't sent by Jou. Burgess evaded prosecution due to lack of evidence, but was picked up on an unrelated drug crime in Florida in He was charged with involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to five years in prison. Reported the Los Angeles Times: Despite pressure arising from Burgess case for Craigslist to increase ad monitoring, more high-profile murders and violent crimes entered news discourse in the following years.
News stories about Craigslist-related deaths peaked in and alongside stories of lawsuits against Craigslist, then trailed off into the present era. The most memorable and oft-covered perpetrators were men seeking female victims, as in the notorious Craigslist Killer cases.
One story even involved a consensual threesome gone wrong. That Craigslist-mediated killings were anomalies, but that they could happen to anyone — lawyers, masseuses, babysitters, or even you. Sex crimes and sex work comprised half of newspaper coverage about Craigslist sex forums.
After three stings that netted child prostitutes as well as adults running brothels, Dart went to the press. This was the statement that launched a thousand stories, so to speak. Two days later, on May 13, , Craigslist bowed to national legislative pressure and agreed to remove its Erotic Services forum, replacing it with the highly-monitored Adult Services ad forum.
That lawsuit was thrown out by a federal judge in late October The judge determined that erotic services such as exotic dancing were protected on personal ad forums, and thereby not considered illegal prostitution.
According to the same Tribune story, U. But he cannot sue Craigslist for their conduct. The Washington Post reported in August about a teenager who was trafficked using Craigslist. Rather than crumble under pressure from legal agencies, Craigslist took policing of Adult Services into its own hands.
Later that month, spokespeople for Craigslist went on the record, saying that they had permanently disabled the Adult Services section, although it was not clear whether the forums had been closed due to pressure from legal teams and activists, or whether Craigslist intended to make itself an example of impositions against free speech by political interest groups.
The Washington Post articulated the debate in simple terms: On one side is an iconoclastic company defending what it sees as a major virtue of the Web: Although Craigslist removed its Adult Services forum voluntarily, a formal lawsuit would have created unwelcome precedents for the Communications Decency Act, which at the time prevented and still prevents websites from liability for what their users post online.
Discourse about speech implications surrounding the Adult Services censor continued well into the end of , and bubbled up again as new court cases challenged the role of website operators in surveilling violent and hateful speech online. A California court hearing delivered a ruling that Match.
As lawsuits against Craigslist faded into history, so did discourse surrounding First Amendment concerns, with related discussions falling off after One area of newspaper discourse that also addressed surveillance of online ad forums, but that relieved sex workers of some blame, was discussion of online sex scandals.
The heat mostly centered on political figures who turned to Craigslist to orchestrate affairs outside of their marital commitments. Scandal coverage was most prominent in , when a bevy of politicians was put under the national microscope see Table 9. Newspapers began picking up political scandal stories in , when then-Idaho Republican senator Larry Craig was arrested in a Craigslist sting at the Minneapolis-St.
In , New York governor Eliot Spitzer made headlines with a prostitution scandal involving a high-end escort service in New York City.
Surfing the Internet for hookers. But it's not what it sounds like, I swear. The Eliot Spitzer scandal back East made me wonder how a lonely politician might get into trouble here in the land of milk and honey. So I'm with the vice squad at a downtown Los Angeles police station, tracking suspicious ads on Craigslist and other websites.
Yes, Craigslist, which offers much more these days than used sofas and Subarus. In light of the Gawker news, just hours later Lee resigned from his congressional post. Newspaper coverage did include that Lee sent the woman a shirtless photo. Twitter exploded after his resignation was announced.
Which brings the news narrative to another political controversy: The Anthony Weiner Twitter scandal. In June of , Weiner tweeted lewd photos of himself to his public Twitter account. Right off the bat, Weiner was mentioned in the context of other political figures who had taken falls online. Reported The Washington Post: Chris Lee resigned after sending shirtless photos of himself to a woman he had met on Craigslist.
Weiner on Monday said he had no reason to believe that any of the women he communicated with were underage but allowed that he had only their social media profiles to go on. Ethics lawyer Stanley Brand said there are no clear-cut congressional rules on how members should behave on the Internet. Articles began to take on a tired tone. Not even two months later, another scandal — this time involving David Wu, a Democrat and congressman from Oregon — preoccupied news headlines.
Like the other lawmakers caught up in online sex scandals, Wu stepped down from his political post, and newspapers reported on the bizarre online- mediated events that led up to his resignation. Although not all stories were directly associated with Craigslist, reporters were quick to cover each scandal by relating it back to Chris Lee. Politicians were featured more prominently in newspaper scandal coverage than other members of society, and were reported in the context of Craigslist even when they had no established links to the site.
But that is not to say that politicians were the only public figures featured in fall-from-grace stories. And as recently as February , police in Washington, D. The Washington Post repeated a narrative already familiar to readers: A number of articles also discussed online dating culture without the added dramatic context of sex crimes, sex work, legislation and regulation, or sex scandals.
Online dating stories were more frequent early on in Craigslist coverage. They trailed off after see Table Online Dating Culture stories included those about the Casual Encounters Craigslist forum, which — unlike Adult Services or Erotic Services — has historically catered to individuals looking for no-strings-attached hookups with consenting adults who are not sex workers. The very first story in the sample, published on Dec. Many stories discussed the utility of the site for gay men seeking casual hookups e.
Other stories about Online Dating Culture included those about dangers and safety concerns, people you might meet online such as LGBTQ people or criminals , or online sexual exploration such as having threesomes or finding others with sexual kinks. Others still focused on the types of linguistic summer-saults Craigslist posters use in order to evade police or other authority figures. And then there is that hallmark of the personal-ad columns: One such story announced that meeting in public could help assuage concerns about online dating safety, but it went on to quote the founder of the Manhunt.
The truth about Craigslist — at least as determined by high-circulation newspaper journalists — seemed to be this: No matter what you do online, you are never truly safe, because the next murderer, rapist, or pimp waits patiently on a sex forum nearby. Stories about public health, business, and related media. Fewer than one of every ten stories 7. Those articles described one of three areas: Other business stories reported that the economic recession forced some women into the sex trade, or they commented that Craigslist was recession-proof because the sex trade is always booming.
Conclusions If one fact is true about the way Craigslist was described in mainstream U. High-circulation newspaper stories covered Craigslist primarily in terms of its utility for the sex trade. Sex workers were demonized for using Craigslist, and Craigslist was villainized for allowing sex workers a comparably safe space to ply their trade. Craigslist was also criticized for its lack of interest in surveillance culture, which newspapers suggested allowed murderers, rapists, and other violent criminals to rampantly attack women on the site.
When questions of First Amendment rights seemed to finally play out, news of political scandals and high-society sex stings dominated coverage. Even less controversial stories, such as those covering everyday online dating issues, framed Craigslist as an unreliable, dangerous forum through which to orchestrate casual sex. It diminished the value of marginalized populations, including sex workers and gay men.
Not mentioned are the stories of everyday folks using Craigslist to expand their sexual horizons — not to exploit the naivety of others or to hire sex workers, but to meet other curious people interested in low-stakes trysts, or even romances.
To use Craigslist for sex was to label oneself a sort of pariah. At worst, if you frequented Craigslist, you might wind up dead. But such counter-narratives were always lost among fear-mongering and a vicious type of voyeurism fed by stories of social Others. Although the mainstream press beat alternative outlets to the earliest stories, LGBTQ and feminist media quickly established a familiarity with Craigslist and developed a tone of authority by reporting on stories not found in newspaper content.
Sex workers and online daters shared their experiences on the sex forums. Audiences were assumed to be familiar with online personal ads. This chapter describes trends in alternative media content about Craigslist sex forums. It identifies tensions in alternative media ideology when describing online dating cultures. To accomplish these goals, I follow the same structure and methodology as described in Chapter 3. The chapter continues by describing six primary themes in content that emerged during pattern coding of the LGBTQ and feminist media sample: These primary themes were surfaced by linking themes that emerged in LGBTQ and feminist online magazine content back to ideological concerns and linguistic patterns related to normalizing judgment.
News sources and sexual subjects related to each topic of coverage are also described within each section of the findings.
News sources included, for instance, sex workers, LGBTQ community members, feminists, and media critics. Sexual subjects included sex workers, politicians and other high-profile public figures, various criminals, social outsiders and marginalized communities, and risk groups for STIs and HIV, such as gay men.
This chapter describes how Craigslist sex forums have been spoken about in LGBTQ and feminist online magazines, with attention given to whether those media have truly crafted alternative, oppositional discourses about Craigslist sex forums. The date of publication, story title, and news source are provided alongside each quotation, as is any contextual information necessary for understanding the meaning of the quoted content.
Although the goal of this chapter is to illustrate longitudinal trends in discourse using qualitative methodologies, quantitative findings are interspersed in the text when they help to illustrate trends in content.
In total, I coded and analyzed themes in LGBTQ and feminist online magazine articles published about Craigslist sex forums between and The articles were sampled from six of the most prominent online alternative news sources targeted to LGBTQ people and feminist readers see Table Stories were coded in clusters by year of appearance based on turns in discourse that occurred during the sampled timeframe see Table I used the first- and second-cycle coding procedure outlined in Chapter 2 and applied in Chapter 3.
In that first story published in , Feministing reported on young women coming out as sex workers on social and traditional media. Unlike most of the mainstream news stories, the Feministing story gave a voice to a sex worker herself.
But this story also begged the question: Does reclaiming language truly diminish oppressive forces present in word choices? This is a subject I will return to many times throughout this chapter in discussions of alternative media ideology. The gay pride website Out. Later that spring, Out. This is a prominent demographic on Craigslist sex forums described in Chapter 5 , but one that was largely ignored in mainstream news narratives.
In and , stories about Craigslist continued to link its sex forums with abnormal behavior and events, such as sex work and gay cruising. In the eyes of many media, Craigslist was a candy store for the depraved.
For instance, when The Advocate reported on a new book about sex addiction among gay men, the author, a famous psychotherapist, was quoted: Toward the end of the s, writers began highlighting concerns over online safety for women and people in queer communities. Like the mainstream press, LGBTQ and feminist online magazines turned their attention to Craigslist-based prostitution in the early s, and stories about Craigslist appeared with much more frequency than in years prior.
This is reflective of Craigslist-related lawsuits and legislative actions taking place during the time period, as well as concerns over murders orchestrated through the site. While a summer story about online dating published on Pride. Sex workers took the brunt of the criticism. Magazine wrote that Craigslist made sex work too easy.
Stories in the LGBTQ and feminist press were sometimes resistant to mainstream messages that sex forum shutdowns would combat prostitution. An essay in Feministing reported on a story that danah boyd, a feminist media scholar, wrote for the Huffington Post. The Feministing author reported that boyd: But was surveillance of Craigslist forums by police actually beneficial for sex workers, or were sex workers the ones being prosecuted for prostitution-related crimes?
This was a critique Feministing neglected to consider. Other stories in and turned their attention to the amusing and the bizarre. How do we have a threesome? In winter of came the many stories about Chris Lee, a congressman who send his topless photo to a woman he found through Craigslist.
Chris Lee was reported on extensively in national U. Later that year were other stories familiar to readers of the mainstream news: In , Craigslist discourse trailed off compared to the deluge of stories in and It appeared that Craigslist had become engrained in the social milieu, seeming more commonplace to LGBTQ and feminist readers than in years past. For instance, there was a story about a sci-fi film about lesbian aliens from Planet Zots.
However, the strange and sordid still dominated the mix. As reportage slowed to a trickle in recent years, stories about Craigslist in LGBTQ and feminist media had developed their own trends, which differed substantially from stories in the mainstream press. In some stories, sensationalized Craigslist reportage had become the butt of its own joke. In order to avoid reductionism, I followed a specific protocol for establishing holistic codes: Story topic frequencies are detailed in Table Table 13 clearly demonstrates that Online Dating Culture stories made up the majority of Craigslist sex forum coverage Three topical areas were essentially tied for third-most-covered: Related Media stories centered on arts and culture related to Craigslist sex forums.
Public Health was the topical focus of only two stories in the sample 1. Online dating culture comprised the the largest proportion of topical coverage in the alternative news sample, and coverage was distributed broadly across the time periods sampled see Table Online dating stories often took on a lighthearted tone, sometimes making fun of the ways LGBTQ people and feminists use online dating sites.
However, many stories also referenced misogyny and homophobia in Craigslist forums, or they discussed cyberbullying and cyber-harassment in online communities. Early stories joked that being obsessed with Craigslist was an indicator that gay men were bored with their sex lives. Signs of relationship boredom included that: You insist that the television be on while engaging in oral.
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