Live Streaming Platform SWAG Reshapes Taiwan’s Sex Industry

Live Streaming Platform SWAG Reshapes Taiwan’s Sex Industry
Photo Credit: AP / TPG Images
What you need to know

Live streamers on adult content platforms are becoming goddesses and idols that are worshipped and paid by fans.

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Translated by Lin Ying-jen

Thanks to high-speed internet and smartphones, “platform economy” extends across video streaming service, food delivery, and transportation. In light of new business models rapidly developing, aside from food delivery and transportation, adult idol streaming platforms also benefit from the platform economy that boasts high-speed internet and high-definition display.

SWAG, an adult streaming platform that features “zero distance from your idol,” has gradually emerged from an open secret among users to a platform promoted by mainstream YouTubers. However, adult streaming platforms don’t seem to receive the same criticism about its “labor practice” like the ride-hailing or delivery apps. Does this open a new door for the adult entertainment industry?

Taiwanese people are already familiar with video streaming platforms that carry adult content. 17, for example, is now an online platform for singers in training. But when it was launched in 2015, some live streamers had put out pornographic content, and the operator of 17 was questioned by the police; the app was even removed from the store within seven days.

Jeffrey Huang, the founder of 17, also founded the popular video streaming app SWAG. It was initially advertised for its “one-on-one private chat” feature. But its private virtual environment eventually turned SWAG into “the largest adult chat platform in Asia,” directly attracting consumers with the label of adult content.

swag_fp
Screenshot From SWAG's Website

SWAG offers free content on its platform, while users can also purchase “diamonds” which they can then use to unlock a variety of adult content filmed by streamers. Some streamers would design activities where fans who gift up until a designated amount of money can engage in real life one-on-one interaction. These interactions would often be documented and uploaded to the platform as paid content.

Although the interaction between SWAG streamers and their audience is like “paying for sexual services,” it doesn’t constitute the conditions of “public” and “disseminating” legally since there is a virtual barrier between gift giving and direct payment. Streamers also provide videos in the name of “one-on-one chat” to avoid being labeled as prostitution. In terms of real-life meetings, the streamers often ask their fans out for a meal after receiving gifts so the “transactions” are not exactly illegal.

SWAG’s seemingly legal environment, along with its “quick cash” scheme, has attracted increasing numbers of streamers and users. The content has become even more explicit. What kind of impact does this have on the Taiwanese society?

Adult live streaming platforms disrupts the traditional sex industry

The sex industry is not new in Taiwan; the difference only lies in whether it has been exposed to the media. Japan always comes to mind when we talk about the adult entertainment economy. From a PTT post titled, “Is Japan’s economy so terrible that women are willing to shoot porn videos?”, we can see lots of Taiwanese sharing the sentiment people only engage in sex work if their country’s economy is poor — which is obviously wrong.

According to the Economist, the five countries with the highest GDP in 2017 were the United States, China, Japan, Germany, and India. Japan’s economy often outperforms other democratic countries in Asia, while the legalized scope of Germany’s sex industry is the most extensive, including protection and insurance for sex workers, their clients, and procurers.

With the examples of Japan and Germany, we might say that a poor economy can barely support such an industry. Countries with sufficient resources, on the contrary, are able to regulate the sex industry and protect its workers. Other countries with less advanced economies could have just as many sex workers, but they’re more likely harmed by human traffickers or gangsters.

In the case of Taiwan, can Taiwanese ever view the sex industry or adult entertainment industry as a decent career option?

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Screenshot From SWAG's Website
Adult live streaming platforms have disrupted the traditional sex industry

The sex industry is not new in Taiwan; the difference only lies in whether it has been exposed to the media. Japan always comes to mind when we talk about the adult entertainment economy. From a PTT post titled, “Is Japan’s economy so terrible that women are willing to shoot porn videos?”, we can see lots of Taiwanese sharing the sentiment that people only engage in sex work if their country’s economy is poor — which is obviously wrong.

According to the Economist, the five countries with the highest GDP in 2017 were the United States, China, Japan, Germany, and India. Japan’s economy often outperforms other democratic countries in Asia, while the legalized scope of Germany’s sex industry is the most extensive, including protection for sex workers, their clients, and procurers. Sex workers in Germany have to pay regular taxes and they’re entitled to social insurance like anyone else.

With the examples of Japan and Germany, we might claim that a poor economy can barely support such an industry. Countries with sufficient resources, on the contrary, are able to regulate the sex industry and protect its workers. Other countries with less advanced economies could have just as many sex workers, but they’re more likely harmed by human traffickers or gangsters.

In the case of Taiwan, can Taiwanese ever view the sex industry or adult entertainment industry as a decent career option?

With the rise of platform economy, the sex services that fall within Taiwan’s legal scope include sex hotels, boudoir photography, adult private chat, and more. Rather than being sensualized by the mainstream media, the adult idols are taking the power back in their own hands. The live streamers are supported by fans and they have made sexual fantasy customizable. Instead of playing the “servicing” role, live streamers can transform themselves into an “idol-like” existence.

Double standards for adult idols and escorts

User Generated Content (UGC) refers to any type of content that’s posted by users on a platform, such as blogs and Instagram photos. As for SWAG, it’s a fusion of self-made adult videos and fan economy, but its essence is nothing new. Self-created photo albums and sex videos have not been new to the Taiwanese internet either. Forums like PTT and Dcard, or Twitter and Snapchat all have explicit content uploaded by “unknown” users.

Those scattered users, however, are shaping a new sex industry in Taiwan by gathering on new online platforms. Some adult idols, aside from managing their own accounts, even have assistants to help with filming, editing, running their social media pages. In a sense, these idols have become their own boss.

If we consider those on adult video platforms as Internet celebrities, why do we look down on escorts?

Among the SWAG adult idols, some do seem to enjoy filming selfie videos and are proud of what they produce. Traditional values aside, these idols have flexible work schedules, followers, and profits. Comments below their Twitter posts are full of positive reviews like “so sexy” or “would love to have sex with you,” etc. The online trolls, who often degrade women for selling their bodies, are nowhere to be found around these streamers.

Like the urban legend about how “all escorts have seriously ill family members,” many Taiwanese are still interpreting sex workers’ job as “sacrificing their flesh.” But for those sex workers branded as adult idols, they are treated like goddesses and sexual fantasies. The same degree of acceptance and friendliness is not applicable to escorts or sex workers on the street.

While some also criticize the adult idols as living off of one’s youth and beauty, these models can say they absolutely love their jobs. With love there would be no wars. On this kind of UGC platforms, gods, goddesses, and fans get along peacefully. They have even become experimental realms of “utopia” amid the conflict-afflicted digital platforms.

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This article was originally published in Chinese on The News Lens Taiwan Edition. Read the original article here.

TNL Editor: TJ Ting (@thenewslensintl)

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