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Why is OnlyFans Banning Content?

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OnlyFans is banning content of a specific nature on October 1 2021.

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On August 20 2021, an Imgur user shared screenshots of a Twitter thread about the news that OnlyFans was banning sexually explicit content:

As indicated in the above tweet and subsequent thread, most readers had seen brief headlines about OnlyFans’ banning of explicit content — often without much informative context, if any at all:

onlyfans is banning explicit

The discussions were typically centered around OnlyFans’ looming ban, but not the reasons behind any changes to the platform — as if OnlyFans had decided to ban explicit content in a vacuum. Surface-level tweets about the news typically existed in the form of humorous, if spurious, analogies:

A Bloomberg piece (“OnlyFans to Bar Sexually Explicit Videos Starting in October”) published on August 19 2021 began:

OnlyFans is getting out of the pornography business.

Starting in October [2021], the company will prohibit creators from posting material with sexually explicit conduct on its website, which many sex workers use to sell fans explicit content. They’ll still be allowed to put up nude photos and videos, provided they’re consistent with OnlyFans’ policy, the company said [on August 19 2021].

In the above-linked tweet (seen in Imgur screenshots), the @PostCultRev account added:

OnlyFans isn’t ditching porn and sex workers because it’s trying to get new investments. It’s ditching them because on October 1st of 2021 MasterCard is implementing new rules governing sites with adult content that use their payment processing systems.

These rules will basically require that OnlyFans (and every other site that accepts MasterCard payments) not only fully verify every user and every person who appears in every adult video, but review all posted content before publication, including real-time review of livestreams

The new records-keeping, review processes, verification and other requirements are going to be expensive and time-consuming. OnlyFans seems to have decided it’s not worth it. More importantly though, these rules will put incredible pressure on smaller sites and indie creators.

Of course, they could just decide not to accept MasterCard, but it’s likely Visa and others will follow suit eventually

So why the rule changes? Because last December [2020] the New York Times published an opinion piece by Nick Kristof caller “The Children of Pornhub” that accused the site and its parent company of profiting off revenge porn, child porn and sex trafficking …

The thread referenced a December 2020 New York Times editorial (“The Children of Pornhub,”) a URL for which was partly rendered: “nytimes.com/2020/12/04/opinion/sunday/pornhub-rape-trafficking.html.”

A subheading read:

Why does Canada allow this company to profit off videos of exploitation and assault?

In part five of the editorial, Kristof wrote:

“It’s always going to be online,” Nicole, a British woman who has had naked videos of herself posted and reposted on Pornhub, told me. “That’s my big fear of having kids, them seeing this.”

That’s a recurring theme among survivors: An assault eventually ends, but Pornhub renders the suffering interminable.

Naked videos of Nicole at 15 were posted on Pornhub. Now 19, she has been trying for two years to get them removed.

“Why do videos of me from when I was 15 years old and blackmailed, which is child porn, continuously [get] uploaded?” Nicole protested plaintively to Pornhub last year [in 2019], in a message. “You really need a better system. … I tried to kill myself multiple times after finding myself reuploaded on your website.”

Nicole’s lawyer, Dani Pinter, says there are still at least three naked videos of Nicole at age 15 or 16 on Pornhub that they are trying to get removed.

“It’s never going to end,” Nicole said. “They’re getting so much money from our trauma.”

Part four included a direct call to action:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada calls himself a feminist and has been proud of his government’s efforts to empower women worldwide. So a question for Trudeau and all Canadians: Why does Canada host a company that inflicts rape videos on the world?

In part six, he added:

So what’s the solution?

I had expected the survivors to want to shut down Pornhub and send its executives to prison. Some did, but others were more nuanced. Lydia, now 20, was trafficked as a child and had many rape videos posted on the site. “My stomach hurts all the time” from the tension, she told me, but she doesn’t want to come across as hostile to porn itself.

“I don’t want people to hear ‘No porn!'” Lydia told me. “It’s more like, ‘Stop hurting kids.'”

OnlyFans wasn’t mentioned at all in that editorial, but its content hinted that explicit material necessarily posed a risk to vulnerable minors. As indicated in the Twitter thread, OnlyFans issued a statement about the upcoming changes — context that it seemed was drowned out by discourse about sex work on the internet.

That August 19 2021 statement explained that OnlyFans’ ban on explicit content was solely to comply with payment processor “requests”:

Effective 1 October, 2021, OnlyFans will prohibit the posting of any content containing sexually-explicit conduct. In order to ensure the long-term sustainability of the platform, and to continue to host an inclusive community of creators and fans, we must evolve our content guidelines. Creators will continue to be allowed to post content containing nudity as long as it is consistent with our Acceptable Use Policy.

These changes are to comply with the requests of our banking partners and payout providers.

We will be sharing more details in the coming days and we will actively support and guide our creators through this change in content guidelines.

Tech news site TechCrunch alluded to a broader chilling effect on myriad areas of internet commerce, and the role of payment processors in making industries suddenly unviable:

At the organizational level, however, the companies may find it difficult to scale due to the trepidation of investors and banks, both of which tend to avoid the industry in general as a “vice,” much the way cannabis and sex toy startups have faced challenges. Pushback from financial backers and payment processors can effectively sink an entire business model.

OnlyFans in this case says openly that it is abandoning adult content due to exactly this type of pressure. While the company has recently debuted and promoted its OFTV app, a SFW alternative to the main OnlyFans site, and of course there are many creators on the platform who do not produce sexually explicit content, this will be an enormous blow to both the sex work industry and to the company itself. Affected creators were not notified ahead of time.

“This is going to shatter a lot of people’s main source of income, the foundation of their entire business,” said Tristan West, who as dreamboytristan is a top creator of adult content on OnlyFans. “Me and a lot of people have got to do a lot of work to secure our business, move our assets, move our content to another platform. It’s not the end of the world, but this is a huge setback.”

West noted that other platforms are finding ways to monetize adult content as well, such as Twitter adding its paid follows and sites like PornHub building out direct monetization opportunities as well. But OnlyFans holds all the cards and will need to make that transition possible.

The Daily Beast reported the OnlyFans news through a similar lens, highlighting vague policies, the power wielded by networks like MasterCard and Visa, and like the Twitter thread, and the role of groups intent on banning all sex work.

That story observed that anti-sex work groups targeted OnlyFans and MindGeek instead of Google and Facebook, despite the available data telling a different story:

An open letter to MasterCard, published here on The Daily Beast, called into question the upcoming removal of consensual adult content. For those that missed it, back in April [2021], MasterCard announced a policy change set to take effect on Oct. 15 [2021] requiring “the banks that connect merchants to our network … to certify that the seller of adult content has effective controls in place to monitor, block and, where necessary, take down all illegal content.”

[…]

And MasterCard did not act alone. It was pressured into this decision by groups like Exodus Cry and the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE), both of which have waged years-long campaigns against sites like OnlyFans and Pornhub with the ultimate aim of abolishing the sex-work industry entirely.

Following the OnlyFans announcement, NCOSE did a victory lap … Exodus Cry and NCOSE have targeted these sites claiming that they’re hotbeds of child sexual abuse when, according to an independent study released earlier this year by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, MindGeek—the parent company of Pornhub, which also runs RedTube, YouPorn, and several other adult tube sites—accounted for 13,229 instances of what they deemed “child sexual abuse material,” while Snapchat had 144,095 instances, Google had 546,704, and Facebook topped everybody with 20.3 million … OnlyFans recently released its first Transparency Report for the month of July [2021], and claimed to have deactivated a total of 15 accounts for alleged child sexual abuse material.

Much of the article centered around an April 14 2021 announcement by MasterCard pertaining to explicit content and payment processing. An April 14 2021 Bloomberg article about then-newly announced restrictions cited the New York Times “Children of Pornhub” editorial as a catalyst:

Mastercard Inc. is updating the requirements it sets for banks that process payments for sellers of adult content.

[…]

Mastercard is also requiring banks to ensure that sites have a review process prior to any content being published, as well as a system for complaints that addresses illegal or non-consensual activity within seven business days. The payments network is also mandating that banks make sure that sites have an appeals process that allows for anyone depicted in adult videos or photos to request that the content be removed.

The moves come after Mastercard in December [2020] said it would no longer allow its cards to be used on Pornhub.com after a review of the website uncovered unlawful content. Both Mastercard and rival Visa Inc had begun looking into Pornhub after a New York Times column accused the website of distributing videos depicting child abuse and non-consensual violence.

On August 19 2021, news OnlyFans was banning sexually explicit content prompted extensive discourse about the seemingly-confusing “decision” on the platform’s part to “ban” its primary purpose. It appeared most readers understood OnlyFans was “banning explicit content,” but subsequent and more in-depth reporting explained that the platform had little choice due to MasterCard’s vague October 2021 changes applicable to “banks that process payments for sellers of adult content.” Although news of OnlyFans banning content of an explicit nature was typically accurate, interference by payment processors (in this case MasterCard) was less widely understood as a primary factor behind the changes.

Update, August 26 2021, 6:20 PM: On August 25 2021, OnlyFans tweeted indicating they “suspended” the planned change to content policies, and that they were effectively reversing the ban: