OnlyFans, the online subscription platform known entirely for its adult content, has announced that it will be scrapping plans to implement new policies that would bar users from posting anything that exhibits “sexually explicit conduct”.
“We have secured assurances necessary to support our diverse creator community and have suspended the planned October 1 policy change,” OnlyFans tweeted on Wednesday.
Last week, the London-based company had said the new policy was part of compliance measures requested by its banking partners and payment providers.
Many sex workers who use the platform and derive income from it tore into the company in response to the original announcement, saying that OnlyFans was abandoning its core user base who grew the site in order to profit financially.
While this reasoning was considered little more than blame-shifting by fans and creators of the platform, the arguments behind it are a little more complex.
Now, with the reversal of the decision by the company, we look at what the drama over OnlyFans will mean for the future of the platform and whether its reputation has been too badly damaged for it to remain viable.
Thank you to everyone for making your voices heard.
We have secured assurances necessary to support our diverse creator community and have suspended the planned October 1 policy change.
OnlyFans stands for inclusion and we will continue to provide a home for all creators.
— OnlyFans (@OnlyFans) August 25, 2021
‘Banking Partners’ and ‘Payment Providers’ Driving the Change
OnlyFans is a site where ‘fans’ pay a monthly subscription fee of between $5 and $50 to view images and videos from creators that they follow. Fans can also pay for exclusive content and give ‘tips’ for custom pictures or videos.
The subscription site, which has grown in the pandemic to over 130 million users, is used almost exclusively by sex workers sharing sexual content. However, the platform appears to be trying to pivot away from risque content and towards things like cooking and other domestic how-to’s.
This is partially to attract a larger user base, but also because the banking sector is becoming more conservative.
In its statement, OnlyFans said that the proposed changes to ban explicit content were “To comply with the requests of our banking partners and payout providers.”
Those banking partners are, namely, MasterCard.
In April, MasterCard announced a change to their payment policy 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.”
MasterCard’s policy changes come into place on 15 October, requiring not only age and identity verification for content creators but a real-time content review process before material can be published. They also mandate platforms create complaint review processes, to be completed within 7 days, and stringent appeals for content to be removed.
All of these ‘protections’ will make OnlyFans a much more dangerous and difficult place for sex workers. They would effectively mean that the site would be required by MasterCard to verify its users, revealing their names and identities to the site, which is something that many sex workers oppose.
The fear and stigma around sex work mean many workers prefer to keep their identities secret, allowing them the safety of separation from their work and the chance to hold less stigmatised jobs if they later choose.
Mastercard’s decision was made off the back of lobbying by conservative groups like as National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE), formerly ‘Morality in Media’, and Exodus Cry.
These groups have been targeting payment processors that facilitate payments for pornographic websites – allegedly to abolish sex trafficking and exploitation, things we can all agree the internet needs less of.
However, when the OnlyFans decision was made public, NCOSE released a statement saying: “The announcement made by OnlyFans that it will prohibit creators from posting material with sexually explicit conduct on its website comes after much advocacy from NCOSE, survivors and allies.”
It’s not just MasterCard who are bowing to the wishes of these conservative lobby groups either. In December 2020, Visa banned payments to MindGeek, the parent company of porn sites like PornHub following allegations that they were hosting ‘revenge porn’.
Revenge porn is where sexual imagery is shared without the consent of the people who feature in it and is typically used to attack and denigrate women.
MasterCard joined Visa in the ban on payments through MindGeek but both companies revoked the ban when unverified videos were deleted.
Both card companies also charge higher fees to process payments made for explicit material, something that OnlyFans has been battling against for years.
It’s this increasingly precarious landscape that has forced the hand of OnlyFans in making their initial decision and it’s likely that the platform will have to switch payment providers if they are to continue offering a platform to sex workers.
What do Sex Workers Have to Say About All This?
When the news initially broke that OnlyFans had banned sexually explicit content, many sex workers that use the platform for the majority of their work – especially during COVID-19 lockdowns – expressed their frustrations with OnlyFans.
One creator, Erica Cherry, was out of her usual studio pornography work due to the pandemic. She self-produced content on OnlyFans, charging subscribers $4.99 a month, but due to the mess that is occurring within OnlyFans’s explicit content sector, she’s thinking of switching to a new platform.
“The interpretation for most sex workers is you’re being basically pushed out of the platform, that you have to get out,” Cherry said in a piece by Bloomberg Wealth.
“A lot of independent creators depend on OnlyFans, and even though we’re supposed to diversify and have a lot of different income sources, it’s still a major shock when a platform like this goes down.”
Another creator, Lilli Sabine, who makes anywhere from $100 – $1,200 each month on OnlyFans for her explicit content, fears that her followers may not follow her to a new app.
“Unfortunately, if I can’t quickly get my fanbase over to another platform … it will take out a major chunk of my content income,” Sabine told Buzzfeed News.
“It can be super hard to convert followers over to new platforms, and I am going to have to rebuild everything from scratch if OnlyFans kicks sex workers and lewd creators off the platform.”
But now that OnlyFans have suspended their ban on sexually explicit content, it’s not a simple fix to the chaos caused by the ban in the first place, in fact, it seems like this decision to suspend the ban has actually made it worse.
Imagine that several days ago, you were told that you’d lost your only source of income, but today your boss has popped back up and wants to rehire you. Would you trust their intentions?
Days ago, this was the case for millions of sex workers, that have been utilising the OnlyFans platform during COVID-19, to pay their rent, their bills, their school fees, their food, and then in what seemed like a split second, were forbidden to work.
Not only does that cause immense stress, but it also leads you to question the stability of OnlyFans as a platform, and where they stand on sex work.
From the outside, as someone who isn’t on OnlyFans, it seems like a platform that is easily swayed by the opinions of others. First, they banned sexually explicit content due to the conservative groups speaking out against them. Now, due to public backlash, they’ve suspended that ban, and are allowing sex workers to continue their work. So, where does OnlyFans stand?
Sex worker and OnlyFans creator Lucy Loe says that the “damage is already done.”
“You have proved that not only are you untrustworthy but that you are willing to put millions of creators out of a job,” she says quoted in an Instagram caption on @thenastywomanclub.au, “you don’t even tell us first.”
Realistically, she has a point. Would you trust an employee that fires you and millions of other workers on the same day and then asks you to come back due to overwhelming public scrutiny? Surely you’d never be able to trust them 100% again, and the experience would be pretty traumatising.
What Happens Now?
With MasterCard’s new policy changes coming into place on 15 October, that requires identity verification, not only does this create an unsafe environment for sex workers, but also makes the platform less appealing to consumers too.
Consumers of explicit sexual content often prefer for their identities to remain anonymous too, and will gravitate towards platforms that can allow them that anonymity. This means that OnlyFans will potentially become a much less popular platform for sex workers to exist, and sexual content to be consumed.
This could be a good thing, as new sites emerge that better protect sex workers and the rights of their fans, but it could also push people toward more unsafe work if these aren’t properly regulated.
It’s a fine line to walk and it seems that the people who most matter here – the workers who create the content – are being shut out of that discussion.
Finally, as a platform that vows to “stand for inclusion”, and, you know, deals in sexual content, why are OnlyFans allowing themselves to be dictated to by conservative groups? You can’t have your cake and eat it too.
We wouldn’t be surprised if a better platform, where safe, anonymous sex work and sexually explicit content can be shared, rises to prominence and we wouldn’t blame users for opting out of the contradicting mess that is OnlyFans right now.