Delhi escort service on Facebook, twitter and linkdin
Delhi: Like man y of his friends, Delhi-based chartered accountancy student Sunil Mehta, 24, is extremely active on Facebook and posts new pictures nearly every day. Only this time, he's not logged on to his account to connect with family and friends. Sunil is part of a 634-member open group called "Escorts in Delhi", which describes itself as the "only registered genuine club in the country", and is a meeting place for aspiring escorts and their clients.
"Escorts" is a sophisticated term used for female sex workers. And these services are changing more than just to the extent of the urban terms used to describe them. The world's oldest profession is turning suave, Internet-savvy and accessible with escorts such as Sunil using social networking websites and apps like Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and even professional networking site LinkedIn to solicit clients.
"I do this for money and sex. I am a student and need money; I don't take any from my parents," Sunil said, adding that quite a few friends of his practise the profession. "My friends told me to just post in the group and try."
Sunil's typical client is a woman in her late 30s to mid-40s. "They come and pick me in their Mercs and BMWs. I could even stand wearing a ribbon for them," he said.
A Delhi Escorts service search on Facebook threw up more than 50 groups. A Delhi Escorts service search opened as many pages, too. Twitter has hundreds of accounts offering various services. LinkedIn, a platform meant to connect professionals, is also being used by people providing escort services.
On a busy weekday afternoon, a 28-year-old freelance brand strategist, who didn't want to be named, was staggered when she got a request to "connect" from a Bangalore-based "spa specialist " who promised her "services of her liking", adding that he "supports women in their journey of sensuality".
"His profile has his name, email ID and phone number, and he claims to be an IT (information technology) consultant. Imagine this on LinkedIn," she said.
The mushrooming of such groups and accounts on social media is a recent phenomenon (many of the Facebook groups and Twitter accounts checked by Mint had started earlier in March-April this year), but the number seems to be growing.
"In 2005, blogs were used for promoting so-called escort services. Lately, social media such as Facebook and Twitter are the new big discovery platform," said Bharat Mishara, founder and chief executive officer at communications and branding company Drizzlin Media India Pvt. Ltd. Goel said these platforms allow anonymity and exercise a fair amount of influence among the targeted clientele. "You will see more and more players coming to social media. And it is here to stay," he said.
Most of these groups have illicit pictures, videos and links directing users to other websites. The average size of the groups is 200-400 members, or "likes".
Escort service providers such as New Delhi-based Mona Mathur prefers Twitter over Facebook. Her business manager (who would not share his name) told Mint that while Facebook is "good to have", they prefer connecting with clients through Twitter. Twitter works better, LinkedIn is okay, and Facebook is generally for branding, he said.
"On Twitter, we screen the people who follow us. For us, the privacy of our clients is of utmost importance… They don't connect through Facebook," he said. Suhana's Twitter handle has 6,000 followers and she offers services across India.
The basics of the business, however, remain the same. The pimp is pushy and comes straight to the point of soliciting a deal and asks no questions about a client's whereabouts. He first clarifies when a client wants the service, then sets up a meeting at a public spot. Once the client arrives there, he or she can pick a nearby guesthouse of choice. An average service for two hours costs Rs.5,000-7,000.
Some of the pages on Facebook stress complete privacy. For example, an escorts services group called Ruchi Malhotra Escort Services directs one to a separate website that gives additional details about the services. It has a "monthly picks" segment that lists the best escort for the month selected on the basis of profile, personality, attitude, overall service provided, customer experience, feedback and overall demand. It also has photos of various escorts from which clients could choose. The website can be accessed only by registered members who are provided with a user name and a password, so that members can screen escort profiles.
Some of them even have a feedback section with testimonials from customers based in India and abroad.
For Pune-based Manish, a pimp, offering escort services on social networking sites has opened more business avenues. He gets about two-three "serious" enquires every day for services ranging from Rs.5,000 to Rs.25,000. He charges a commission of up to 20% for facilitating these transactions. "I got into this business three years ago after all my ventures failed. This is working well for me," he said. He joined Facebook four months ago.
The use of social networks for any activity that is illegal in a country is against the rules mentioned in the Terms of Service, and can lead to the content being removed and the account banned. Facebook has a huge list of community standards that users can't violate -- the problem is that with the amount of content being created daily, the platforms themselves cannot find all objectionable material, and so the way such content gets noticed and removed is after a user reports it.
That's the case with LinkedIn as well. "Escort or prostitution services has always been against our user agreement. As we become aware of inappropriate profiles or activities that violate the user agreement, via members bringing these to our attention or otherwise, we will investigate and take the appropriate actions," said Deepa Sapatnekar, head of communication at LinkedIn India, Korea and Hong Kong.
Facebook, in its terms and conditions, mentions that it has a "strict policy against the sharing of pornographic content and any explicitly sexual content where a minor is involved and it also imposes limitations on the display of nudity". It also appeals to users to report inappropriate content.
"Please keep in mind that reporting a piece of content does not guarantee that it will be removed from the site. Because of the diversity of our community, it's possible that something could be disagreeable or disturbing to you without meeting the criteria for being removed or blocked," Facebook says on its community standards page.
Twitter, on the other hand, says in its terms: "All Content, whether publicly posted or privately transmitted, is the sole responsibility of the person who originated such Content. We may not monitor or control the Content posted via the Services and, we cannot take responsibility for such Content."