Shedding light on the conflicting decision OnlyFans made and then unmade
On Aug. 19, the subscriber-based social media platform, OnlyFans, announced their decision to ban sexually explicit content but will still allow nudity by Oct. 1. This news outraged the sex workers, influencers and celebrities who use the platform to make a living.
However, not even a week went by before the company reversed its decision after the user outcry and, what had previously been a worry of the company, received “assurances” from banks claiming that adult content would not be penalized.
Why did OnlyFans want to get rid of explicit content in the first place?
“The short answer is banks,” Tim Stokely, the site’s British founder and chief executive told TIME.
According to Stokely, banks refused to process payments that displayed explicit content. BNY Mellon, Metro Bank and JP Morgan Chase were called out in Stokely’s interview with FT for blocking intermediary payments, preventing sex workers form receiving their earnings, and penalizing busniessses which support sex workers.
The reason for these banks blocking payments to adult content leads back to an New York Times investigation where images of rape and child sex abuse were found on Pornhub. Following the discovery, Mastervard and Visa prohibited the use of their cards on the Porbhub site in Dec. 2020.
OnlyFans saw the wave coming and did not want to follow in PornHub’s footsteps. “In order to ensure the long-term sustainability of our platform, and continue to host an inclusive community of creators and fans, we must evolve our content guidelines [from Oct. 1],” OnlyFans told TIME.
Devastation among the sex worker and creator community
According to The New York Times, OnlyFans enabled individuals over the age of 18 to sell and buy monthly subscriptions to a feed of images and video too “racy” for instagram. This structure of the platform gives power to its individual creators and, with a few thousand monthly subscribers, allows them to make around $25,000 a month while keeping full ownership of their content.
The company went about the situation poorly as content creators found out about the ban from articles, not directly through the platform. The decision came as a shock wave to the creator population who built up this company and were now being swept under the rug with no job.
Brian Gross, an industry publicist, said that his clients were experiencing utter sadness that at a “moment when there was increased respect and empathy for sex workers, a business they’d helped build was gearing up to cast them out in the cold.”
While creators were worried about their own content that was now being banned, they also wanted to know what was going to happen with their customers who paid money for such content.
“I don’t care if OnlyFans thinks [sex work] is work or not,” Savannah Solo, a creator on OnlyFans, Fansly and PocketStars tweeted. “I need to know if they’re going to let my subscribers keep the explicit videos they purchased in my messages with their hard earned cash or not. They better get refunded . . .”
Laying down the Uno Reverse Card
On Aug. 25, OnlyFans, after causing much headache among its creators, announced the suspension of the ban on explicit content.
According to TIMES, the CEO attributed the porn ban to banks which would “cite reputation risk and refuse our business.” A day after, the company tweeted that it had “secured assurances necessary to support our diverse creator community.”
The backlash of creators and the staggering amount of them that left the platform, in part, helped lay down that uno reverse card. “Thank you to everyone for making your voices heard,” OnlyFans said.
During the time that creators thought their work was going to be flushed down the drain, they took their business elsewhere and ventured on to new platforms.
Many sex workers felt so betrayed by OnlyFans that even the announcement of the suspended ban didn’t make them want to come back. Some vowed they would not return to the platform and instead are flocking to sites like Fansly and PocketStars.
Samantha Cole, a reporter for VICE, interviewed Mari Moon, a creator on OnlyFans, and discovered that Moon lost half of her subscribers sometime after the ban announcement.
“I took an estimated loss of 50 percent of my earnings, on average, from OnlyFans alone in the week after the ban announcement, with only a small boost on other adult platforms,” Moon told Cole.
“The company didn’t have much of a choice,” Danii Harwood, OnlyFans’ first content creator, said. With powerful credit card companies not wanting to process payments for material around which issues of consent later arise, the site’s founder and his partners decided to act before the point of no return.