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Study: Facebook is growing in popularity among prostitutes

Practitioners of “the world’s oldest profession” have few reservations about forgoing the mystique of the street corner in favor of the convenience of social media. That’s the implication of a new study by Columbia University sociology professor Sudhir Venkatesh. In an article for Wired, Venkatesh estimates that 83 percent of prostitutes have Facebook pages.

Venkatesh discovered a growing social media trend when he followed 290 New York City female prostitutes over 12 months for his study. In 2003, 9 percent of prostitutes reported using Craigslist as a source for regular clients. That number dropped to just 3 percent in 2008, and that was before Craigslist pulled its adult services category in late-2010.

In place of Craigslist, Facebook has proven to be an increasingly popular choice for connecting female prostitutes to johns. In 2008, 25 percent of working girls reported using Facebook as a regular source for clients. “I estimate that by the end of 2011, Facebook will be the leading on-line recruitment space,” Venkatesh said in his report.

“No self-respecting cosmopolitan man looking for an evening of companionship is going to lean out his car window and call out to a woman at a traffic light,” Venkatesh said. “The Internet and the rise of mobile phones have enabled some sex workers to professionalize their trade.”

Social media sites allow sex trade workers the ability to “control their image, set their prices, and sidestep some of the pimps, madams, and other intermediaries who once took a share of the revenue.” Venkatesh notes that the sites like Facebook have made it easier for women to get into prostitution, attracting middle-class women who might not have otherwise considered the trade.

Another interesting tech fact to come out of the report: prostitutes prefer BlackBerries over other smartphones. A 70 percent majority reported using BlackBerries, while 19 percent reported using iPhones. Eleven percent prefer other smartphone devices.

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