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Depop Fetish Mining

People are using Depop to ‘fetish mine’ – are you an unknowing victim?

Fetishists are using the online shopping platform to exploit young people and solicit photos for sexual gratification without their consent

TextDani RanIllustrationCallum Abbott

Online marketplaces are booming. Thanks to the proliferation of online shopping platforms over the past decade or so, it’s never been easier to shed your tat and make a bit of extra cash online. Depop has been at the forefront of this trend since its launch in 2011, with upwards of 21 million users all logging on to buy and sell original or second-hand items.

As with any app or online platform with Depop’s level of popularity, there’s bound to be a few bad eggs. At least on Twitter or Instagram, weirdos, edgelords and perverts are a bit more apparent. (Do your thing, @Simon45678, I’ll just block you!) But on Depop something much more covert and insidious is occurring: ‘fetish mining’. 

Fetish mining is the act of soliciting photographs or other content from people under false pretences for the purposes of sexual gratification. On Depop and other online platforms – like Poshmark or Vinted – inquirers will typically pose as young women and ask other young people for unnecessary further images of items they’re selling, non-consensually and exploitatively obtaining photographs from unsuspecting users.

Evie, a 22-year-old student based in Manchester, was 17 when she first experienced fetish mining on Depop. Like many other young people on the app, she was using Depop to sell her clothes and make a bit of extra pocket money. “I was trying to sell a pair of high-waisted Topshop denim shorts when I received a weird message from a suspicious-looking account,” Evie tells Dazed. The person had asked her if she could take multiple photos of the detailing on the back of her shorts, while she was wearing them. “I was essentially just taking photos of my bum, but I needed the extra £10!” After posting the photos, the person originally keen to purchase the shorts was no longer interested. 

Fetish mining is hugely multifaceted and transpires within apps like Depop in many different ways. From the more obvious fetish of asking to buy someone’s worn bikini or underwear to the more furtive request of asking to see photos of clothing or shoes on, many young people have experienced fetish mining to some extent when selling clothes online. 

Rune, an influencer and experienced seller in the J-fashion community, knew exactly what was happening when she received a message on Depop asking to see a photo of her wearing the wedges she was selling. “I knew what was going on the second I got the message – I wanted to trap them,” she says. After exchanging messages with the person, who she notes also had a suspicious profile, Rune reported the account to Depop, ultimately getting it removed within a couple of hours. 

“I was essentially just taking photos of my bum, but I needed the extra £10!”

It’s important to note that many people who’ve experienced fetish mining on Depop are unaware of the phenomenon. Emily, a 22-year-old speech and language therapist from north Wales, was and still is a bit confused about her experience being fetish mined on Depop. In 2018, she received a message asking for her to post a photo of herself wearing the ribbed long-sleeve top she was selling, but with the sleeves rolled up. Eager to sell the item, she replied to the inquirer’s requests and posted the images on the listing, but was met with more specific, impatient messages, asking her to roll them up further. Emily isn’t sure what the images were used for, but found the experience “weird and gross” as she was only using Depop to sell her clothes. “You’re there and you’re wanting to sell things,” she says. “People will obviously feel a bit more encouraged to respond to these requests in the hope that whoever’s messaging them will buy the item.”

Fetish mining can be difficult to detect on sites like Depop, where asking for more photos of an item is common. Oli Lipski, a London-based writer and sex tech researcher, explains that fetish mining can be “subtle and insidious” and that the user interface of online marketplaces “allows for people with other intentions to obtain more information about someone’s body or clothes for sexual purposes – without that person’s consent”. 

Young people have been speaking about their experiences in being fetish mined for the past few years on social media, yet not much has been done to tackle it. Fabian Koenig, VP of Trust and Safety at Depop, explains that although Depop has a “zero tolerance policy” for any abuse of the app, spotting fetish mining isn’t always so cut and dry. “(It’s) not as clear-cut as something like imagery that we don’t tolerate on our site, so we do rely on our community for a portion of that,” he says. Koenig encourages users to report any suspicious activity on the app, and to be wary of any additional information you are providing: “There are certain inquiries which are absolutely relevant to items, but there are other areas which you should think carefully (about) before sharing information or photos with someone that you’ve never met.”

“I knew what was going on the second I got the message – I wanted to trap them”

Evie, Rune, and Emily all mentioned feelings of degradation and exploitation as a result of their experiences being fetish mined. “I felt super-invaded, and also really angry,” says Rune. “Like, you have your fetishes, that’s fine. But go to a provider, don’t come to me.”

We’ve all got our kinks and fetishes, but the number-one rule in carrying them out is consent. Posing as a young person on Depop and exploiting its interface is not consent – it’s a form of sexual assault. And there are plenty of ways in which a clothing or body-part fetish can be enjoyed responsibly and consensually. “There is a growing (number) of fetish dating apps, websites and online community platforms that can help people connect and fulfil sexual kinks – most importantly with consent,” says Lipski. 

One platform, Moomee, was set up this year specifically to empower people who have clothing fetishes, and to provide a safe platform for those who want to buy and sell. “The idea is to remove the stigma that comes with kinks,” says Lipski, “but also to create a safe environment that the mainstream marketplaces don’t do.”