Category Archives: internet research

NSFW has a cover!

Screen Shot 2019-04-16 at 21.11.43Forthcoming from MIT Press in October, NSFW: Sex, Humor, and Risk in Social Media, co-authored with the fabulous Kylie Jarrett & Ben Light, now has a cover. And great it is; apparently it will be fluorescent! Here’s the book description:

An exploration of how and why social media content is tagged as “not safe for work” and an argument against conflating sexual content with risk.

The hashtag #NSFW (not safe for work) acts as both a warning and an invitation. NSFW tells users, “We dare you to click on this link! And by the way, don’t do it until after work!” Unlike the specificity of movie and television advisories (“suggestive dialogue,” “sexual content”), NSFW signals, nonspecifically, sexually explicit content that ranges from nude selfies to pornography. NSFW looks at how and why social media content is tagged “not safe” and shows how this serves to conflate sexual content and risk. The authors argue that the notion of “unsafety” extends beyond the risk of losing one’s job or being embarrassed at work to an unspecified sense of risk attached to sexually explicit media content and sexual communication in general. The authors examine NSFW practices of tagging and flagging on a range of social media platforms; online pornography and its dependence on technology; user-generated NSFW content—in particular, the dick pic and associated issues of consent, desire, agency, and social power; the deployment of risqué humor in the workplace; and sexist and misogynist online harassment that functions as an enforcer of inequalities. They argue against the categorical effacement of sexual content by means of an all-purpose hashtag and urge us to shift considerations of safety from pictorial properties to issues of context and consent.

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how to do things with affects

How to Do Things with Affects: Affective Triggers in Aesthetic Forms and Cultural Practices, edited by Ernst van Alphen and Tomáš Jirsa, is just out with Brill. An impressive collection that comes with just a little bit of smut, namely my chapter entitled “Monstrous Resonance: Affect and animated pornography” that looks at monster cartoon porn, some audience insights and, well, affect theory.

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THE dick pic

Eggplant_Emoji_grandeCoauthored with Ben Light & Kylie Jarrett, our article, The Dick Pic: Harassment, Curation and Desire is ever so freshly out with Social media + society, so on open access. It doubles as teaser for our book NSFW: Sex, Humor, and Risk in Social Media, forthcoming from MIT Press in October.  And here’s the abstract:

The combined rise of digital photography and social media has expanded what might be considered photo worthy. Among the pouting selfies and food stuffs of the day exists the ubiquitous dick pic. The mainstream media generally focuses on dick pics of the unsolicited kind, which, negatively positioned, are commonly associated with heterosexual harassment. Considering the ubiquity of dick pics across apps and platforms, research on the topic nevertheless remains scarce. In this article, we examine the dick pic as an online communicative form, first considering how it manifests the ability to harass and then moving beyond this dominant framing to analysis of contexts where such images are collated, expected, and sought after. Through this analysis of dick pics as figures and actors of harassment, curation, and desire, we demonstrate the simultaneous tenacity and flexibility of their meanings in connection with the dynamics of consent and non-consent, intimacy and distance, and complex circuits of desire. We further address the role of platforms, apps, and app stores, via their community standards and terms of use, in shaping the nature, and presence, of dick pics, and discuss the affective and communicative functions that these affordances serve (or fail to serve). Our analysis of three key modes of engagement with dick pics demonstrates the ambiguity and multiple valences of the phenomenon addressed.

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Web porn history

T91260_9781473980051he SAGE Handbook of Web History, edited by Niels Brügger and Ian Milligan, is out just now. My contribution is, unsurprisingly, on web porn history.

Abstract: Pornography has played a crucial, albeit often neglected role in the development of Web solutions and e-commerce. Gaming and online shopping, for example, picked up towards the end of the 1990s while pornography remained, virtually from the launch of the first graphic browsers, one of the few forms of content that users were willing to pay for. Consequently, safe credit card processing systems, streaming video technologies, hosting services, as well as practices such as banner advertisement and pop-ups, were first developed for the needs of, and used on porn sites. Pornographic continues to quickly migrate to new media platforms and formats, yet its position is crucially different in the context of social media than it was in the Web cultures of the 1990s. The role of porn as a driving force in enterprise has clearly passed. Pornographic content is actively weeded out from most social media platforms and targeted advertising while broad diagnoses on the pornification of media culture continue to abound. According to these, pornographic aesthetics have grown ubiquitous enough to infiltrate diverse visual practices from social media profiles to selfies.

This chapter examines the development of web pornography from homegrown enterprises of the early 1990s to the increasing visibility of sexual subcultures and the presence of established studios and companies on online platforms, the shift from gonzo and reality pornography to the ubiquity of amateur productions and the centralization of porn distribution on video aggregator sites, notably many of which are run by the same company. Addressing independent, amateur and commercial enterprises as well as the complexities and paradoxes that such categorizations involve, the article explains how Web technologies and the centrality of search functions in particular have affected the development and uses of pornographic content, what kinds of sexual taste cultures have emerged, how the public visibility of pornography as a media genre has been altered in the course of its online distribution, as well as how all this connects to media policy and practices of regulation. All this necessitates understanding the production of web pornography, as well as the notion of the porn industry that it involves, as characterized by inner distinctions and constant fragmentation.

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Our article, “Littles: Affects and Aesthetics in Sexual Age-Play“, co-authored together with the fantastic Katrin Tiidenberg, is just out, on open access, with Sexuality & Culture. And here’s the abstract:

This article explores the experiences and practices of self-identifying female sexual age-players. Based on interviews and observation of the age players’ blogged content, the article suggests that, rather than being fixed in one single position, our study participants move between a range of roles varying across their different scenes. In examining accounts of sexual play, we argue that the notion of play characterizes not only their specific routines of sexual “scening” but also sexual routines, experimentations, and experiences more expansively. Further, we argue that a focus on play as exploration of corporeal possibilities allows for conceptualizing sexual preferences and practices, such as age-play, as irreducible to distinct categories of sexual identity. The notion of play makes it possible to consider sexuality in terms of transformations in affective intensities and attachments, without pigeonholing various preferences, or acts, within a taxonomy of sexual identities. In doing so, it offers an alternative to the still prevalent categorical conceptualizations of sexuality that stigmatize people’s lived experiences and diminish the explanatory power of scholarly and therapeutic narratives about human sexuality.

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shameless hags!

Co-authored with the fabulous Jenny Sundén, our article, Shameless Hags and Tolerance Whores: Feminist Resistance and the Affective Circuits of Online Hate, is freshly out as part of a forthcoming Feminist Media Studies  special issue on online misogyny. And, what’s more, it’s open access! Here’s the abstract:

This article explores shamelessness as a feminist tactic of resistance to online misogyny, hate and shaming within a Nordic context. In our Swedish examples, this involves affective reclaiming of the term “hagga” (hag), which has come to embody shameless femininity and feminist solidarity, as well as the Facebook event “Skamlös utsläckning” (shameless extinction), which extends the solidarity or the hag to a collective of non-men. Our Finnish examples revolve around appropriating derisive terms used of women defending multiculturalism and countering the current rise of nationalist anti-immigration policy and activism across Web platforms, such as “kukkahattutäti” (aunt with a flower hat) and “suvakkihuora” (“overtly tolerant whore”). Drawing on Facebook posts, blogs and discussion forums, the article conceptualizes the affective dynamics and intersectional nature of online hate against women and other others. More specifically, we examine the dynamics of shaming and the possibilities of shamelessness as a feminist tactic of resistance. Since online humor often targets women, racial others and queers, the models of resistance that this article uncovers add a new stitch to its memetic logics. We propose that a networked politics of reclaiming is taking shape, one using collective imagination and wit to refuel feminist communities.


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4 inches of embarrasment

Figure-2Our entry for the Association of Internet Researchers (AoIR) blog with Kylie Jarrett and Ben Light is just out. “4 inches of embarrassment: humour, sex and risk on mobile devices” explores the continuities between nimping and trolling practices of the desktop computer era and that of personal mobile devices. It’s also one of the teasers we’re pushing for our forthcoming book, Not Safe for Work: Sex, Humor, and Risk in Social Media (with MITP).

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shame, shame, shame

msunderstanding-poster-s2-1Anyone around in Toronto in March? If so, I’m lucky enough to contribute to the MsUnderstanding Media: The Extensions of Woman talk series at University of Toronto’s McLuhan Centre for Culture and Technology on Monday the 19th. And what’s more, it’s a double feature with the fabulous Wendy Chun discussing sexuality, gendered online shaming and much more, under the title, “Shame, shame, shame (refresh)”. The series sets out to “foreground how a feminist focus on ‘the extensions of woman’ renews McLuhan’s concern with the politics of pace, pattern and scale in our everyday technological objects”. Faithful to the theme, my contribution explores dick pics as extensions of man, building on the #NSFW book project I’m currently finishing together with Kylie Jarrett and Ben Light for MIT Press.

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‘2 Girls, 1 Cup’ and a 10-year anniversary

2017 marks the tenth anniversary of the viral shock porn video, ‘2 Girls 1 Cup’, and the journal Porn Studies is dedicating a forum to exploring the phenomenon. The forum is forthcoming later in the year but here’s my introductory essay contextualising the video within the affective online attention economy. And here as free e-print too.


Time to celebrate the most disgusting video online

There is little doubt as to the tenth anniversary of Pornhub (est. 2007) to be the most widely remembered of the online porn birthday celebrations due this year. The site has, since its humble beginnings as an amateur porn site emulating the platform principle of YouTube (est. 2005), grown symbolic of the era of video aggregator sites, the fall of pay porn and the ever-increasing, unprecedented centralisation of porn distribution: the company MindGeek (previously Manwin) owns not only Pornhub but also other key tube sites with the exception of for XVideos (est. 2007) and xHamster (est. 2007).

cg1zaoqugaai36iTen years ago, it was nevertheless not Pornhub but the viral shock porn video, ‘2 Girls 1 Cup’, that more visibly captured the attention of myriad groups of internet users, and continued to do so for some time to come. While the video’s tenth anniversary is unlikely to be a celebrated affair, it is one that these following three forum pieces focus on. In addition to this introductory text contextualising the video within the attention economy of social media, Steve Jones explores the its capacities as shock porn while Daniel Cardoso looks into young Portuguese people’s experiences of the clip. But why would this particular one-minute video, by now markedly stale in its novelty appeal, be relevant in terms of online pornography, social media or the field of porn studies? This is what I set out to outline.

The classics of viral shock porn

For the record: 2 Girls 1 Cup is a trailer for a Brazilian scat fetish porn film titled Hungry Bitches, produced by MFX Media, that features two female performers, Karla and Latifa, a cup, and one compact minute of coprophilic play (see Declercq 2017). The narrative is as follows: the two women kiss and fondle each other; one of them defecates in a cup; the other eats the faeces and then vomits in the first woman’s mouth. Lacking dialogue, the video is accompanied by the unabashedly romantic ‘Lover’s Theme’ by Hervé Roy, also known as composer of Emmanuelle’s theme song in 1974. Shared through links to the now defunct domain,, ‘2 Girls 1 Cup’ was connected with so-called proto-trolling practices (Phillips 2015, 19) where users were led to open a link of shock porn when suspecting to encounter content of the humorous and titillating sort.

The overall aim was to drive users to diverse states of surprise, disgust, amusement, and embarrassment and, in some instances, the recipients were asked to document their reaction on camera for future sharing. The reputation of ‘2 Girls 1 Cup’ was largely built on YouTube reaction videos showing the clip’s content making people grimace, gag, whimper, hold their noses, cover their eyes and turn away from the screen. Accumulating over the years, these affectively animated reaction videos fed interest toward the original clip while remaining a source of entertainment in themselves and their pronounced, and often markedly exaggerated performances disgust. Fascination, let alone arousal displayed vis-à-vis scat porn – independent if the substance was scat, or chocolate fudge as some have claimed – would have no room in such publicly shared displays of affect.

2-girls-one-cup-reactionAlthough only a decade old, ‘2 Girls 1 Cup’ represents a stage now already past in the development of online attention economy and meme culture based on pranks. Around the new millennium, links to a website ending in ‘’ were circulated through email. The link opened up a blinking image alternating between a rainbow flag and gay pornography on the user’s desktop, accompanied by a three-second clip of a male voice amped up high in volume, shouting, ‘Hey everybody I’m looking at gay porno!’ The nimp would routinely freeze and crash the user’s computer by opening up new pop-up windows with the same content much faster than these could be closed, and the sound card could keep on playing the file if no windows were no longer open. The prank’s effect relied firmly on the social embarrassment caused by loudly calling attention to the (accidental) consumption pornography – and not just any pornography, but that of the male homosexual kind during a time when online access took place via desktop computers, rather than with the current range of smart personal devices, often in spaces of work involving their own realms and forms of sociability.

The 2005 ‘Meatspin’, a short loop set to the 1985 Dead or Alive song, ‘You Spin Me Around’, involved a clip from the transgender porn film, TSBitches featuring anal penetration while the partner on top spins their penis round and round in circles in a perpetual, endless loop. As ‘Meatspin’ plays, a counter marks the spins made and, after 45 of them, a text appears stating, ‘YOU ARE OFFICIALLY GAY : – )’. As was the case with ‘2 Girls 1 Cup’ website, links to and were circulated for the effect of shock, amusement and social embarrassment. The framing of gayness in these two instances came rife with homophobic overtones meshed with the overall frame of grossness that helped to cut off the content from sexual titillation while also demarcating the boundaries of bodies, desires and sexual acts deemed desirable. At the same time when grossness allows for a safe barrier of distance and humour, it in no way automatically forecloses or excludes a broader range of titillations, homosexual ones included (see Ward 2015).

So-called shock porn used in proto-trolling drew its appeal from bodies, acts and desires deviating from the white straight norm in terms of their age, sexual orientation, ethnicity or race. In addition to nimping and videos, trolling made us of still images, as with ‘Goatse’ (1999), ‘Tubgirl’ (2001) and ‘Lemon Party’ (2002) – all examples of viral pornography predating social media shared similarly to domain names specifically dedicated to the images in question. ‘Lemon Party’ featured three senior men engaging in oral sex while Goatse showed a man stretching his anus and revealing a broad expanse of his rectum. The sole character of ‘Tubgirl’ was a young Japanese woman squirting an orange enema onto her face in a bathtub. (See Paasonen 2011, 222–223.) As was the case with ‘2 Girls 1 Cup’, the two latter images involved the blurring of the boundaries between the insides and outsides of bodies, while ‘Lemon Party’ displayed elderly gay men’s sexual practices for the purposes of humour and shock, ‘rendering the (homo)sexualized, elderly, or overweight body in terms of disgust and amusement’ (Jones 2010, 128).

220px-hungry_bitchesThe aim of circulating the images and videos in question revolved around the affective registers of amusement and disgust. As that which sticks to things seen as morally objectionable, disgust is linked to both figurative and material filth, such as bodily emissions (Cohen 2005, viii, xi). Viral porn content videos brought these forms of disgust together by depicting acts deemed as somehow shocking in their kinkiness, and hence figuratively filthy, as well as by revelling in things deemed materially filthy, such as faeces and rectums. If ‘2 Girls I Cup’ was crowned as the most disgusting of these all, this was due to its display of excrement turned into nourishment – or even into a delicacy of sorts. Writing on disgust, the historian William Ian Miller (1997, 118) identifies eating faeces as an act so vile that it is hardly imaginable: ‘People do not eat feces as a joke, even as a sick joke; what they do is talk about eating it or ridicule people who do eat it’. Jack Sargeant (2006) points out that sexual coprophilia is practiced in secrecy due to its perceived extremity: ‘Even the few that confess enjoying “brown showers” do not admit to eating raw shit, either their own or that of somebody else. The practice is considered to be too dangerous, too unhealthy, and too disgusting. Even amongst the radical sexual communities many find that it stinks of excess, as if desires and fantasies had limits.’ ‘2 Girls 1 Cup’ then clearly owed its appeal – and its degrees of continuous infamy – to the hyperbolic transgression of such limits, as its performers do not merely eat shit, but enjoy it when vomited.

Porn and the attention economy of social media

Contextualising the video, its production history and fame, journalist Marie Declercq (2017) dismisses the theory of the shit being fudge and argues that ‘The horror of watching actual human feces being consumed by actual humans forever changed the internet, and gave us the classic reaction video genre.’ The websites dedicated to ‘2 Girls 1 Cup’, ‘Meatspin’, ‘Lemon Party’ or ‘Goatse’ may have grown defunct, or given way to other domain names, and links to them have long ceased their intense circulation. It is further noteworthy that, with the exception of shock porn connected to trolling, pornographic online imagery has, despite its broad volume and perennial popularity, fairly seldom grown viral as such. The appeal of porn among users of all kinds is obvious, yet its public visibility has – independent of recurrent claims over its saturated presence across the media and contemporary culture more generally – been curbed to specific platforms dedicated for the purpose.

This curbing, or fencing off, of porn has grown ever more pronounced during the past decade marked by the rise of social media, initially discussed as Web 2.0. The community standard of some social media services, such as Twitter and Tumblr, allow sexually explicit or NSFW (‘Not Safe for Work’) content whereas many others, from the current market leader Facebook to YouTube, Instagram or Pinterest, do not, and actively try to weed porn and other revealing bodily displays out from the data streams that users generate. (Paasonen et al. forthcoming.)

9e6The content likely to attract extensive attention on contemporary social media platforms revolves in the registers of humour that can intermesh with cuteness, be offbeat, vitriolic, heavy with sexist and racist overtones, nostalgic or absurd (Phillips 2015, 96–97; Highfield 2016, 17–18). Independent of its particular edge or resonance, humour plays a key role in how online content catches attention, spreads and prospers. Pornography fits uncomfortably together with laughter, as it is not routine to laugh at that which turns us on. At the same time, the sexual bents of others may be a source of great amusement, especially when they clearly differ from the normative palate of straight vanilla – as in the viral porn examples discussed above.

Writing on affect and social media, Jodi Dean (2010) argues that a search for intensities drives the movements of users across platforms. From the perspective of the platforms in question, content that grabs attention through the intensities that it affords is valuable in its stickiness that makes users pay attention and engage. The visual economy of social media is elaborate, finely tuned, operates at expansive scales and speeds and revolves around the imperative of capturing and optimising user attention. As the mantra, ‘if it doesn’t spread, it’s dead’ (Jenkins et al. 2013, 1) has come to orient the operating logics of online advertising and social media services, content deemed obscene or offensive has taken backseat from cat videos, Doge memes and reaction GIFs. Much of the meme production that has characterized platforms such as 4chan – the home of not only Anonymous but also Pedobear and myriad other strands of controversial humour – fit ill in the social media landscape as advertisers, as the key source of revenue, are likely to veer away from such content.

The anniversary of ‘2 Girls 1 Cup’ then reminds us of that links to content published in order to bemuse and shock have been shared via email and discussion forums throughout the history of the Web, also in ways unlikely to occur today. Memes, in general, live off their participatory possibilities of sharing, remix and modification and their appeal is centrally dependent on their ability to amuse (Shifman 2013). If the content in question cannot be shared without automated filtering or peer flagging intervening in the process, the viral circuits will obviously be severed, to the degree that they can even come about. In addition to giving rise to the now ubiquitous format of a reaction video, as Declercq suggest, ‘2 Girls 1 Cup’ helps in mapping out the recent Web history in terms of its shift to social media platforms and their strategies of content management, as well as the move of online access from desktop computers to personal devices allowing for the consumption of all kinds of content without the risk of social exposure. Shock content continues to live on in decapitation videos, shots of animal torture and forms of porn considered extreme even as growing armies of commercial content moderators are deployed to identify and remove it (see Roberts 2016). Like all viral content losing the stickiness that keeps it in circulation, ‘2 Girls 1 Cup’ has moved to regions of online ephemera as oddities that linger on in both data archives and the embodied memories of users: as such, it is unlikely to completely rest in peace.


Cohen, William A. 2005. ‘Introduction: Locating Filth.’ In Filth: Dirt, Disgust, and Modern Life, edited by William A. Cohen and Ryan Johnson, vii–xxxviii. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Dean, Jodi. 2010. Blog Theory: Feedback and Capture in the Circuits of Drive. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Declercq, Marie. 2017. ‘Ten Years of “2 Girls 1 Cup,” the Most Memorable Brazilian Shit on the Internet’. Vice, June 9, 2017.

Highfield, Tim. 2016. Social Media and Everyday Politics. Cambridge: Polity.

Jenkins, Henry, Sam Ford, and Joshua Green. 2013. Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture. New York: New York University Press.

Jones, Steven. 2010. ‘Horrorporn/Pornhorror: The Problematic Communities and Contexts of Online Shock Imagery’. In Making Sense of Online Pornography, edited by Feona Attwood, 123–137. New York: Peter Lang.

Miller, William Ian. 1997. The Anatomy of Disgust. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Paasonen, Susanna. 2011. Carnal Resonance: Affect and Online Pornography. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.

Paasonen, Susanna, Kylie Jarrett and Ben Light. Forthcoming. Not Safe for Work: Sex, Humor, and Risk in Social Media. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.

Phillips, Whitney. 2015. This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things: Mapping the Relationship Between Online Trolling and Mainstream Culture. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Roberts, Sarah T. 2016. ‘Commercial Content Moderation: Digital Laborers’ Dirty Work’. In The Intersectional Internet: Race, Sex, Class, and Culture Online, edited by Safiya Umoja Noble and Brendesha M. Tynes, 147–160. New York: Peter Lang.

Sargeant, Jack. 2006. ‘Filth and Sexual Excess: Some Brief Reflections on Popular Scatology’. M/C Journal 9 (5):

Shifman, Limor. 2013. Memes in Digital Culture. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Ward, Jane. 2015. Not Gay: Sex Between Straight White Men. New York: New York University Press.


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new anthologies on sex and media

9781138777217The Autumn book season is on – and behold, even 2018 titles are already out! These include The Routledge Companion to Media, Sex and Sexuality, edited by Clarissa Smith, Feona Attwood and Brian McNair, as well as Sex in the Digital Age, edited by Paul Dixon and Isabel Düsterhoft (also for Routledge). Much interesting scholarship just there! By means of self-promotion: the former has a text of mine on user-generated pornography and the elusive notion of authenticity, the latter a chapter on the affective and affectless bodies of monster toon porn.

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