Webcam models have experienced a boom in business due to COVID-19, according to an article in the New York Post published back in March 2020. A 2015 study by sociologist Angela Jones, however, suggests that not all webcam models will gain from the global lockdown.
In “For Black Models Scroll Down,” Jones reveals how Black webcam models have a lower ranking on camming websites and earn less profit due to racialization. Michael Omi and Howard Winant coined racialization to describe “the extension of racial meaning to a previously racially unclassified relationship, social practice, or group,” as stated in their 1986 book Racial Formation in the United States.
According to Jones, racialization leads to the devaluation of erotic labor by Black women and this devaluation conditions the financial outcomes of webcam models.
Camscores: The metric of visibility in the webcam model industry
Jones used participant observation to document how the features of a popular webcam site contributed to racial inequalities in visibility and therefore earnings. Then, Jones used the camscores provided by the website to do a statistical analysis of the relationship between the demographic characteristics of 343 webcam models and their camscores. Webcam sites generate camscores to reflect the amount of tips per time period a webcam model earns while online.
Jones categorized camscores in three ranges: 499 and under for low scores; 500 – 7499 for average scores; and above 7500 for high scores. Jones found that more Black webcam models fell into the low score range than did non-Black webcam models. Compared to non-Black women, fewer Black women had scores between 500 and 7499 scores. Only one Black woman had a high score compared to 81 white women, 4 Asian women, and 11 non-Black, non-Hispanic women of color.
How websites use camscores affects the earnings of Black webcam models
Given the way that camming websites measure camscores, higher tips over less time result in a higher cam score. Owners and moderators of webcam sites use camscores to display the profiles of the models in ranked order. Models with higher scores appear nearer to the top of a webpage and closer to a website’s homepage.
Jones found that in addition to race, nation of origin also plays a role in who earns higher camscores. Still, while webcam models from the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. were overrepresented in higher camscores, nationality did not appear to boost the scores of Black American women.
Jones’s analysis shows that since most Black webcam models have low camscores, the ways that the website uses this data affects them disproportionately. Black women earn lower wages during the time they spend webcamming and this leads to their profiles ranking lower: “In order to find black models one must literally scroll down,” writes Jones.
How Black webcam models negotiate the devaluation of their erotic labor
Jones learned through participant observation that Black women with higher camscores appeared to adopt an aesthetic that conformed to white beauty standards:
I observed no black women who had “natural hair”that is not chemically treated or with weaves/extensions. The only black model in the top earning camscore range was very thin, had incredibly long hair, and green eyes. Black women with short hair and larger physiques were only observed in the low range camscores.(Jones 2015:792)
Like Black women in the strip club industry or pornography, Black webcam models have to negotiate how racialization leads to a devaluation of their bodies. Jones argues Black women sex workers have to confront racist assumptions about their sexuality from clients as they perform erotic labor.
So, while popular culture and the media might suggest that webcamming or similar platforms like Onlyfans are a profitable avenue for sex workers, the reality is that this technology also has its drawbacks, particularly for Black women.