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CAM: Sex Work & Social Identity

CAM is a truly haunting film that gets increasingly more uncomfortable and terrifying in ways certain content creators and femme-presenting people can feel at their core. The film follows camgirl Alice, a charming creator who specializes in intense but memorable “experiences” for her fans. After making her way to the top of the camgirl charts, her account and identity are stolen by someone wearing her face. Ghouls discuss the horrors, stresses, and complications content creators face. Gabe unpacks the layers of terror in this film that hit too close to home and Kat shares some helpful tips to protect your work.


Media from this week's episode:

CAM (2018):

Alice, an ambitious camgirl, wakes up one day to discover she's been replaced on her show with an exact replica of herself.

  • Director - Daniel Goldhaber

  • Writers- Isa Mazzei(story by), Daniel Goldhaber(story by), & Isabelle Link-Levy(story by)


Don't Let Them Steal Your Shine: CAM, a Content Creator's Worst Nightmare by Gabe Castro

RED: Quotes, someone else's words.

TCAM is a truly haunting film that gets increasingly more uncomfortable and terrifying in ways certain content creators and femme-presenting people can feel at their core. The film follows camgirl Alice, a charming creator who specializes in intense but memorable “experiences” for her fans. She begins her show, playfully chatting with those in attendance. She gives in to their requests, well paid for, as she spanks herself and coos at them. All is well until a new voice joins the chat demanding blood, literally. Caught slightly off guard she quickly blocks him only for him to rejoin as a new user. He insists on violence, using a mixture of emojis and obscene language while the other attendees begin to join in. Alice searches her chest of toys and withdraws a knife. In a most intense opening scene, Alice slits her throat to the chorus of coin chimes. After a few stressful moments, Alice rises and pulls the silicon blood-drenched piece from her neck and smiles. Giddily she chats with one of her regulars celebrating her rise in the cam-girl charts while also worrying slightly at the easy viciousness of her viewers. They had so clearly wanted to see her blood, so easily. And we are led to believe these are viewers that spend frequent nights with her.

We learn quite a lot about Alice in the beginning. She is a playful camgirl who enjoys creating fun new experiences with her fans. She is anxious to break the top 50 charts. She is close to her mother and younger brother, the latter of which knows of her escapades. She is waiting to get to the top of the charts before letting her mother know, hoping she is proud of her. She never feels ashamed of her work. She has clean and clear rules she follows, separating her real life from her profession. She doesn’t tell her fans she loves them and she never fakes an orgasm. Her desperation for the top of the charts peaks after a close call, during a dinner date with her fans they break the top 50 only for her to fall rapidly back down as another creator taunts the fans to watch her instead. She is adamantly never nude, only offering to remove clothing for every ten spots Lola drops. Writer Isa Mazzei explained her idea of Alice as, “wanting to express the anxiety around my own digital identity, and I was deriving my personal validation from my performance and from my digital persona’s validation. It was this constant anxiety of, ‘Do my viewers like me? Do they just like this persona I’ve created? And also how much of my persona is real?’”

In an act of desperation, Alice agrees to do a duo show with a fellow creator, this time astride the Vibratron. Rumored to do irreparable damage to her clitoris and even despite the many warnings from friends and competitors alike, she endures, even breaking a precious rule in the process and fakes an orgasm. The morning after her hardwon success, she hears strange sounds from her camming room and finds that she’s still climbing the charts. She then discovers that someone is using her name, her channel, and her face to perform. Alice immediately calls the website Girls for Money but gets no help.

The film becomes increasingly uncomfortable as she seeks justice, turning any which way she can for help only to be denied, abused, and disrespected every time. There is no end to the horrors. One of her viewers finds her IRL, a true terror as he attempts to remove the barrier she’s placed. Seeing her only as Lola, even calling her such in person. The fake Lola is rising in the charts, starting with similar content before completely disregarding Alice’s rules including telling her fans she loves them. She also has an on-camera suicide but this time with a fun. Alice looks on in horror at her own death on camera, completely shook by the experience. Fake Lola even goes to a public place, a library, to perform. It is this stream that Alice’s younger brother’s friends find online. They are watching it at her brother’s birthday party and eventually call his sister a whore, ruining his birthday and revealing Alice’s occupation to her mother.

Eventually, the website doesn’t even acknowledge her identity. She calls the police to find them, unsurprisingly, unhelpful and also unsurprisingly, predatory. One of the officers makes foul comments about her work while the other dismisses her completely. She suffers from invasion of property, her personal world crumbling around her. Fake Lola even goes as far as leaving the camming room to go into Alice’s real room. Alice watches in horror, sobbing for them to get out, as she shows the fans photos of her life including one of her beloved younger brother.

Even outside of the supernatural, the film boasts some truly uncomfortable and horrifying things. One of the cam girls, mentioned previously who is never nude, in one scene complains at the insistence of her viewers to disrobe. The blatant disrespect at her rules shows how they see her as an object and not a human. The website she cams for is titled something like Money for Girls and her videos can be found on other sites, having been downloaded and stolen titled something like Cash4Girls. As a content creator, the idea of having your account, and your livelihood stolen, and profited on by another is terrifying in and of itself. To have your brand corrupted, your morals and rules undermined. Alice discovers that this supernatural being, the imposter, is a part of a bigger insidious scheme, one that has stolen the accounts of many cam-girls. The number one cam-girl is actually dead IRL but is now at the top of the charts as this imposter, one of which has no limits: can stream all day, and has no rules, no boundaries.

Much of the themes covered in this film reminded me of Perfect Blue and Mima’s struggles with identity and the commodification of her being. However, I truly appreciated this films’ approach to Alice/Lola’s claim to fame. So many OnlyFans horror stories are of women needing to use OnlyFans because they’re in dire straits. And it's super gross and belittling to content creators. In CAM, Alice is never ashamed of her work. Even her hesitation in telling her mother isn’t from fear of disapproval but because she wants to show her how good she is. Later, after her mother has found out we see that this was a realistic approach as her mother isn’t ashamed or disappointed in Alice. She explains she understands her and sees the confidence she exudes on camera, the beauty and pride she feels. It is a beautiful moment even in the shadow of the imposter. In the end, Alice figures out how to get her channel back. In a rather clever play, Alice challenges Lola to a game the winner of which will get the channel. She wins her fans over, gets into the account, and shuts it down. However, this is not the end because camming is exactly what Alice wants to do, it is what brings her joy. So I was so happy to see that she opened a new account in the end. Not letting this situation destroy her dreams. She even explains to her mother that if it happens again, she will destroy that imposter too, and make another account. Because in the end, the monster was not her choice of career but that it was stolen from her. This approach is thanks to writer Isa Mazzei, who has experience in camming. She told Daily Dot, “sex work is work, and it’s normal.” Much of the cam experiences came from Mazzei’s own life. The users we see on the screen on inspired by the personalities she saw on her own streams. After having her own work stolen and put on PornHub, Mazzei explained the feeling of alienation, explaining there was a “disembodied version of myself that I was completely alienated from, and that was terrifying. I was seeing this form of myself that was no longer me. But it was me.”

Mazzei’s goal was to show the normalcy of this line of work, that it is normal and at constant criticism. “I think what’s so frustrating is that sex work is the only career where we demand that it be empowering, or we assume that it’s exploitative,” she says. “And we don’t let it exist in a nuanced space for what it is. We don’t demand of a waitress or a programmer or a writer or a retail clerk that their job be empowering. But we also don’t assume that they’re some sort of victim for having chosen to sell clothes at Forever 21.” The writer’s experience outside of camming, in simply trying to pitch this script was equally alarming and horrifying. In an article on Daily Dot, they explain, Netflix thriller 'Cam' explores the fractured nature of online identity, “Assumptions about sex work followed Mazzei when she tried to pitch the script with Goldhaber. Executives grilled her about the craziest sexual act she’s ever had to perform. Others weren’t sure why she had to be involved. One guy rewrote the end of the script to include him and Mazzei in a demented kind of fan fiction; he saw it as a joke, while she saw it as sexual harassment.”

In the end, the film is incredibly realistic despite the paranormal deepfake fiend. There is gore and it certainly is a horror film but the real scares come from the sense of stolen identity, personal space, and disrespect by the world. It is a complex story that will get under the skin of any content creator, who’s very being is their selling point, their identity the service, and their presence online their livelihood.


Content Creator Horrors: How to Protect Your Content & Image by Kat Kushin

RED: Quotes, someone else's words.

It’s a scary thing to have your platform, hard work, and a piece of your identity stolen and exploited. CAM does a fantastic job highlighting how stressful that experience would be, as well as how invasive. There is something very personal about putting your face at the forefront of your brand, and with that comes a danger. That even if someone does not know your name, that they would recognize you in public, have access to your personal time, space or identity. The film does an amazing job showcasing just how vulnerable that can be, especially if the content you’re creating is one society demonizes. This is something that content creators and folx that work in the Sex Industry can both experience. It’s something artists and creatives can experience. All of it ties back to the commodification of any and everything we have, and how capitalism preys on all the things that make us great. There is a way that capitalism influences how we see others as well, that gives a feeling of entitlement to the consumer, over what they are consuming.

When someone's image and identity are commodified there is an entitlement that a consumer may feel over the creator themselves. For this reason there is a big risk in taking on a job that has your face or body attached to it, especially when an industry is so heavily stigmatized. Many people who work as content creators within the sex industry are at risk of violence from people who think what they are doing is wrong, or who feel entitled to them. That risk can be worth it when the rewards of financial stability and growth are attached, especially when living in a society where wealth is a direct pathway to a higher quality of life not only for yourself but those you care about. When the reward is stolen they are not only dealing with the mental trauma of having their consent taken away through the exploitation of their privacy, but their physical safety is also put at risk. There is an added layer when thinking of theft, through piracy, exploitation from big companies, AI or identity theft. The theft of content creators' work is so damaging because it attacks not only their livelihood but many times their personal image, their name, and their families. It’s a different kind of theft than stealing from a big business, because it impacts individual people and their abilities to survive.

Helpful Tips that are relevant for CAM performers and honestly any content creator making video content

Gabe found an article on ways to combat this kind of theft, titled Adult Models: How To Fight Piracy and Stolen Content so hopefully this information is helpful to you or someone you know.

There are a handful of ways that CAM performers can protect themselves when creating accounts, and some of these protections are able to be opted into in CAM sites themselves. One method of protecting your content is through DMCA, also known as Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which is a federal law that protects the intellectual property rights of creators. ​”A DMCA Complaint is a notice that’s sent to the infringing party, or a 3rd party playing a role in the infringement. DMCA is the first tool in the anti-piracy arsenal, but there’s some important things to know, and a right way to go about doing it. Here’s the details. Here’s the details.” Sites like BongaCam offer DMCA protections on their site and offer more protection than the others, in that they have the ability to submit DMCA requests to Google and Webhosts that offer pirated content. Others like CamwithHer, Chaturbate, MyfreeCams, and Vuier also offer some protection for creators, but do not submit DMCA requests to Google or Web Hosts. Submitting to Google apparently doesn’t remove the content from the internet but does keep it from being associated with your name.

The article also recommends watermarking all the content you create, which is a good practice for all content creators and is something that protects you. “Watermarking your content is a good practice to begin with. It works as a form of promotion, and makes it easier to identify your content. Trademarking your watermark is an easy way to provide additional protection. Trademarks hold more legal weight than DMCA alone. Webmasters and companies are more likely to respond to trademark violations, as it’s a harsher fine in court. It’s also possible to file foreign trademarks and gain a legal foothold in countries that don’t recognize DMCA.” Having your content watermarked is just a great way to legally protect yourself, and your content. You can also apparently fight piracy through better marketing, to ensure your content is at the top of searches, algorithms etc. and that the pirated content gains less traction.

One last piece of info that seemed important and helpful is “that copyright isn’t the only law that pirates are non-compliant with. All pirates are also non-compliant with the 2257 Record Keeping Requirements. This is a federal offense and a big deal in the United States. It’s also a big deal in a number of other countries as well. Being able to stack the 2257 Compliance on-top of the copyright infringement gives more legal ammunition. Sometimes in jurisdictions where copyright isn’t that big of a deal.” Hopefully this information helps and there was even more in the link in our blog. There are also many interesting articles linked that give some perspective and real life experiences of people working in the CAM industry.

Deep fake technology and AI

The last terrifying thing I learned about is how actually very scary deep fake technology is. Specifically when it comes to exploiting someone's identity and their image. If you don’t know what a deepfake is, a quick google search will tell you Deep Fake is, “a video of a person in which their face or body has been digitally altered so that they appear to be someone else, typically used maliciously or to spread false information.” The use of deepfake technology poses obvious threats to identity protection, and in a country that demonizes sex work, it can be life threatening. In an article titled Deepfakes, Revenge Porn, And The Impact On Women by Chenxi Wang they go into detail on some of the threats Deepfake technology presents. When looking at the film CAM, and the follower TinkerBot who is openly a tech person, it’s very possible that what took place in the movie was his manipulation of Deepfake technology to gain different levels of access to the protagonists life. The reason I think that is because apparently deep-fake open source. “One reason that fuels the rise of the Deepfake footage is that many implementations of Deepfake algorithms are open-source, easily accessible to anyone with basic programming skills and a reliable Internet connection. The popular code repository created by the anonymous /r/ is available on Github, free for all to use. This dramatically lowers the barrier for non-experts to utilize the technology.” It also opens up the possibility for people to weaponize the technology against their enemies. “Even though AI techniques like Deepfake have many applications, including photo editing, image repair, and 3D transformation, unfortunately, their main application today is generating sexually explicit videos for cyber exploitation. According to the Deeptrace report, 96% of the Deepfake videos on the Internet are pornographic videos. Not surprisingly, the main victims of the fake videos are women, whose images and likenesses are used without their consent, and often without their knowledge.” Additionally, there is no reliable method to detect what is or isn’t a deepfake, so in creating these videos without a person's consent, there is no reliable way to disprove that they are not real. This ultimately means that the damage to someone's public image could be done without the ability to disprove it, and without the person’s consent. With the combination of things like doxxing, and deepfake technology, you could really put someone in danger. There are limitless ways that this technology could be used to harm people, alter evidence, and destroy people’s lives.


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