This Thanksgiving weekend, while most people were busy stuffing their faces or relaxing with family, a group of grown men decided to deputize themselves as unofficial informants to the Internal Revenue Service. Their self-appointed mission? Reporting women who post sexual photos or videos online to the taxman.
Using the hashtag #ThotAudit—a play on the insult “thot,” which stands for “that ho over there”—the men encouraged each other to snitch on camgirls and Instagram models, claiming the women had not paid income tax on earnings collected through social media and apps like PayPal and Venmo.
Although the men had zero proof of this—and in many cases didn’t even know the women’s real names—the hashtag went viral overnight.
“Over 100 Thots just got reported to PayPal by someone using the ThotBot datasets,” one wannabe Sherlock tweeted, referring to an aggregator created to help identify sex workers online. “This is really happening.”
“Always remember, T.H.O.T= That Hoe Owes Taxes,” another man wrote. “Keep your wits about you and stay vigilant, fellow Inquisitors.”
Several of the participants credited the campaign to someone calling himself David Wu, who began posting derogatory messages about sex workers on Facebook late last week. On Friday, Wu posted a screenshot from one woman who complained that her premium Snapchat channel had been reported to the IRS. In his best cartoon villain voice, he added gleefully: “LET'S FUCKING GO BROTHERS. RISE OFFICERS! RISE! MUHAHAHAHAHA. LET'S REPORT THEM TO THE FORBIDDEN FORCE.”
Wu, who did not respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment, then linked to the IRS webpage for reporting tax fraud. Piggybacking on the idea, Daryush ‘Roosh’ Valizadeh—a self-proclaimed pick-up artist and “legal rape” advocate—tweeted that whistle-blowers may be entitled to 30 percent of any back taxes collected. “There is actually a financial incentive to defeating thottery,” he added.
Julie Roin, a professor at the University of Chicago Law School, told The Daily Beast that failing to report any income over $400 per year to the IRS is indeed a violation of tax law. Even small, digital contributions should be reported to the IRS if they are paid in exchange for goods or services, she said.
“It’s labor income; you should be reporting it,” Roin said. “I don’t think there’s any mystery in that.”
But tax violations can occur in any industry, and many advocates questioned why these men had singled out sex workers in particular. One California-based sex worker told The Daily Beast she was not worried about being reported to the IRS—she said she always fully reports her earnings—but was frustrated at being targeted for harassment.
“The whole issue is that they are specifically targeting us because we’re women, because we’re using our sexuality to profit, and because we’re not giving it to them for free,” she said.
“That's why I’m worried,” she added. “Because I feel like this is leading down the road to outing people to their families and their coworkers.”
Laura Dilley, the executive director of Canadian sex-work advocacy group PACE Society, said the audit campaign may actually result in fewer women reporting their earnings. While selling sexual photos and videos is legal, she explained, women who do so still run the risk of being outed to their friends and family. It’s this kind of fear—the same kind of fear engendered by the #ThotAudit, Dilley said—that can dissuade some sex workers from reporting to authorities at all.
"Sex workers are stigmatized and subject to a disproportionate amount of violence, and because of that they are going to be scared and silenced and be forced to work in the shadows," Dilley said.
While many of the #ThotAudit propagators claimed they were just going after rule-breakers, others revealed more nefarious motives. In a two-hour podcast on the subject, Valizadeh said men were angry at women for “invading every space and turning it into a softcore pornography hangout,” and were looking for a weakness to exploit.
“If you are a heterosexual man you are not allowed to share your opinion anywhere. You’re not allowed to speak out against hos, thots, people ruining your platforms,” he said. “...If you are a heterosexual man you have no outlet. Zero outlet. So now men find a weakness.”
Valizadeh and the rest of the #ThotPolice probably ought to have checked the IRS whistle-blower guidelines before they launched the online attack. The tax authority’s website states that they are looking for “solid information, not an educated guess or unsupported speculation,” and adds that reporting is “not a program for resolving personal problems or disputes about a business relationship.” Each whistle-blower application also contains a “Declaration under Penalty of Perjury,” meaning that if anything submitted is untrue, the sender could be in trouble.
Dilley said her group has led in-person trainings for dozens of sex workers on how to properly file taxes over the last two years, and has answered questions for many more online. More than 5,000 people have viewed their online sex-work tax guide, she added.
“Sex workers do pay their taxes and they contribute to society,” Dilley said. “These hatemongers feel entitled to women’s bodies, and this entitlement has fueled so much violence and has fueled this hateful campaign. It’s incorrect and unsubstantiated and false.”