From Hero to Hated, then Hero Again: OnlyFans reverses decision to ban sexual content

September 28, 2021

3 min read

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What's going on here?

OnlyFans has reversed a decision to ban porn and sexually explicit content by creators within five days, blaming the initial decision on the lack of cooperation by banks.

What does this mean?

Upon announcing the ban, OnlyFans founder Tim Stokely said that it was caused by uncooperative banks, who had cited “reputational risk” and refused collaboration with the social-media service. This is not a new phenomenon. JP Morgan, for example, has been called out for being too “aggressive” in closing accounts of sex workers, while Metro Bank was named for shutting down OnlyFans’ corporate account on short notice in 2019. The OnlyFans decision was met with a flurry of backlash by creators, with thousands of them signing on to other content websites. Within five days, OnlyFans reversed the ban, announcing that it had “secured assurances necessary to support our diverse creator community and [had] suspended the planned October 1 policy change”.

What's the big picture effect?

The reversal of the ban was met with support by the content creators of OnlyFans, most of whom depend on the website to make a living. However, sex workers are still sceptical about the sudden U-turn. OnlyFans stated that the ban has merely been “suspended”, implying that the ban could be reinstated at any time. It is possible that the reversal was a hasty one, made due to the overwhelming online backlash. A report by BBC News claimed that OnlyFans was not doing enough to ensure that its creators are of legal age and was slow to ban creators violating the company’s policies by posting illegal content. This partly explains why, despite its rapid growth and a nearly all-profit turnover, venture capitalist firms and banks are reluctant to collaborate with the company.

 In fact, several people attributed the ban to credit card companies who have grown uncomfortable with processing porn-related transactions. Mastercard announced in April that it was going to institute age and identity verification, content review and address reports of non-consensual content within seven days, starting October 15. It is likely that OnlyFans instituted the ban as meeting those requirements, especially content review, for its 2 million creators would have been nearly impossible. While the hesitance against sexual content is probably due to a board of religious conservatives, credit card companies also do not wish to run the risk of porn consumers disputing transactions and processing transactions around which issues of consent arise. While cryptocurrency could provide a workaround to sustain the company (similar to Pornhub), the bulk of revenue for most online sites comes from automated, recurring subscriptions, which cannot be executed through crypto payments.

Despite publishing its first transparency report in July 2021, OnlyFans has been nothing but vague about this reversal. While the founders were quick to name banks who had not been helpful, they declined to comment on those banks who were reassuring, and what kind of assurances they secured. And since the reputation-fearing financial institutions refuse to directly comment on any relationship with OnlyFans, there is very little information available to sex workers, whose lives have become increasingly insecure. Many have begun diversifying their presence through other websites. 

Due to such factors, it is possible that OnlyFans will reinstate its ban. It seems that they are preparing for it by promoting their comparatively minor cooking and fitness content. It remains to be seen whether OnlyFans will survive, should they ban porn, the core of their business.

Report written by Roshni Suresh Babu

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