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Social Secret –OnlyFans’ porn ban/reverse ban is a mystery

OnlyFans’ porn ban/reverse ban is a mystery

Well, that was fast. Sexually explicit content is allowed on OnlyFans after all. But we don’t know much about why the content subscription service made the abrupt policy change in the first place — nor why it reversed its decision in just a few days.

Here’s what we do know: Less than a week after announcing that on October 1 it would effectively cut off most of the pornographic content the service has become known for (and that helped propel the company’s valuation to more than $1 billion), OnlyFans backtracked.

When it first announced the ban on August 19, OnlyFans said it was an effort “to comply with the requests of our banking partners and payout providers.” CEO Tim Stokely later told the Financial Times that banks were to blame, saying they were making it difficult-to-impossible for OnlyFans to transfer money to creators. He also said they were shutting down bank accounts belonging to sex workers.

But on August 25, following a lot of backlash (as well as the threat of losing a huge chunk of its revenue), OnlyFans said it “secured assurances necessary to support our diverse creator community” and that it was suspending its ban on sexually explicit content. But OnlyFans declined to tell Recode any more than that, including what, if anything, it was doing or had done to secure those assurances from its banking partners — or who those banking partners even are.

One of the banks Stokely mentioned as being particularly difficult, BNY Mellon, would not comment to Recode on if it had reached some kind of agreement with OnlyFans. A spokesperson for JPMorgan, which Stokely told the Financial Times was “particularly aggressive” about shutting down accounts belonging to sex workers or businesses that support them, told Recode the company didn’t have a policy banning adult entertainers.

Meanwhile, the media coverage of the ban has overshadowed one of the possible reasons why OnlyFans might have decided to implement it: a lengthy BBC investigation, published shortly after OnlyFans initially announced it would ban most porn. The BBC reported that OnlyFans was not doing enough to ensure that its creators are of legal age or that all content posted on the platform is legal. It also reported that the company is slow to ban creators found to be in violation of its policies. The report was based on accounts from OnlyFans moderators and leaked internal documents that the BBC said show banned or illegal content on the platform and that OnlyFans recommended its moderators should give creators who post illegal content three warnings before banning them.

OnlyFans denied most of the BBC’s allegations and would not tell Recode if the BBC report influenced its initial decision to ban pornography. It did point Recode to its Terms of Service that details the verification process for creators, including submitting photos of two forms of ID and a photo of the creator holding those IDs, and it said it has a “zero tolerance policy” on banned content. OnlyFans also said that it uses certain technologies to identify child sexual abuse material (CSAM), including Microsoft’s PhotoDNA. OnlyFans also shared its transparency report, which includes select details on CSAM found on its platform (15 OnlyFans accounts were deactivated for possible CSAM in July 2021, for instance).

But the BBC report (as well as a 2020 BBC documentary about the company) indicates that despite those existing policies, users are still uploading illegal content. OnlyFans wouldn’t tell Recode how many humans it employs or contracts to moderate content. Nor would it say if it would be hiring more of them or changing its policies in any way to better reassure those skittish banking partners that everything on the site is legal.

A report like the BBC’s could have been disastrous for a company like OnlyFans. Just look at Pornhub — YouTube for porn, basically — which was cut off from using Mastercard, Visa, and Discover payment processing services after a New York Times report last December said the site wasn’t doing enough to prevent sexually explicit content that included children or nonconsenting adults. Pornhub tried to undo some of that damage by removing all content from unverified accounts and promising to hire more moderators, but the credit card companies have yet to restore their services to the site. Subscribers to Pornhub’s premium service have to either wire the funds from their bank or use cryptocurrency.

There was also a looming deadline from Mastercard that might have played into OnlyFans’ abrupt policy change (the first one): Mastercard had announced back in April that on October 15 it would institute new requirements for adult content merchants. These requirements include age and identity verification, content review before publication, and addressing reports of illegal or nonconsensual content within seven business days. Considering how OnlyFans reportedly has 2 million creators, meeting those requirements — especially viewing all content before publication — would be a very heavy lift.

The National Center on Sexual Exploitation tied Mastercard’s change to OnlyFans’ decision in an early statement about the ban, although OnlyFans itself didn’t mention Mastercard at first and later said that OnlyFans was “fully compliant” with Mastercard’s new rules.

Any pressure from Mastercard would have been indirect, according to Mastercard.

“We did not have any conversations with OnlyFans,” a company spokesperson told Recode. “In fact, we do not have a direct relationship with them. We only found out about the decision they made through the media coverage on Thursday.”

Mastercard did not comment on its upcoming pre-publication content review policy and how that could affect OnlyFans, which offers a livestreaming service.

So, really, the only source we have on these banking partners’ complaints or assurances seems to be OnlyFans itself, and OnlyFans isn’t saying much else. And in the process of trying to satisfy certain parties (whoever they are), the company managed to make pretty much everyone else mad.

Anti-sex work organizations that were pleased about last week’s ban are now back to fighting the company; the National Center on Sexual Exploitation told Recode that it “remains steadfast in holding OnlyFans accountable for enabling abuse and exploitation.”

Sex workers can’t trust that OnlyFans won’t do something like this again (the company has only “suspended” the ban, which isn’t the same thing as canceling it), and they now know that OnlyFans was willing to toss them — the people the company was largely built on — aside when banks supposedly asked it to. Some of these people were already moving their services to other platforms in the wake of the content ban; they may continue that migration even though the ban has been lifted. Fansly, which operates a platform very similar to OnlyFans and has seemingly embraced sex worker content creators, says it’s had a “gigantic influx” of creator applications since the ban was announced.

And the millions of people who put the “fans” in OnlyFans are left to wonder if the content on the site has been properly vetted — and for how much longer they’ll be able to watch it.

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