The Acronym SW Is a Common Way to Refer to Sex Work on Platforms Like TikTok


Mar. 21 2022, Published 11:31 a.m. ET

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There are few platforms more fond of shortenings and acronyms than TikTok, and it seems like new or unfamiliar ones pop up there with some regularity. As a result, many TikTok users are regularly confused by the terminology they see on the platform, and sometimes need help deciphering what it means. The latest acronym that has become common on TikTok is SW, and many want to know what it means.

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What does SW mean on TikTok?

When SW is used in a video or caption on TikTok, it is typically referring to either a sex worker or to sex work in general. The acronym applies to a wide variety of people, and it's often used by those involved in the profession in order to avoid being shadow banned by the algorithm or having their account removed completely. In reality, the acronym was born out of some necessity for the people who use it.

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Shadow banning is the process through which the algorithm determines how many other people see your videos. Although you may still have full access to your account, if you are shadow banned far fewer people are going to see your content than might have otherwise. TikTok's algorithm may do that because you use terms like sex work, which it deems inappropriate for a broad audience even if you don't violate their terms of service.

Conversations about sex work are becoming more common online.

SW is a term used on platforms other than TikTok, and it's part of a broader trend designed to destigmatize the work that people in that industry do. Talking about this work online is helpful, as it reminds people outside of the industry that sex workers are full people, and their industry deserves to be out in the open so that sex workers are not stigmatized for the work they do.

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TikTok is a great platform for gaining access to people who have totally different life experiences from you, and hopefully, that leads to an increase in people's empathy and understanding. Sex workers shouldn't have to hide the way they make their money, and they also shouldn't have to worry about being judged for talking about their work just like everyone else does.

Source: TikTok
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TikTok bans sexually explicit material.

While TikTok is not a platform for sexually explicit material, that doesn't mean that sex workers cannot be on the platform and talk about their work. Unfortunately, many people in that profession clearly feel that being too open or honest about their work could lead them to be negatively impacted by TikTok's algorithm.

Social media has become a hugely important way for sex workers and a variety of other content creators to promote their work and increase their following. Sex workers rely on being well known in order to generate subscriptions and a following. Using an acronym like SW means they can't be as forthcoming as they might want to be, but for sex workers who want to talk about what they do, it's better than saying nothing at all.

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