The news is true, the billion dollar, subscription based platform OnlyFans is officially banning nudity.
From October 1st, OnlyFans will be removing accounts found breaking the new no nudity rules. No actual or simulated sexual intercourse, actual or simulated masturbation or any exhibition of the anus or genitals of any person.
Sex Workers are the reason behind OnlyFans gigantic success.130 million users log on each day to either produce or consume explicit material. To remove nudity is not solely the decision of OnlyFans, it’s the banks and payment gateways!
Is the removal of NSFW content on this platform another symptom of digital sanitation and discrimination of Sex Workers, me thinks yes!
It’s The Banks Fault
Naturally, sex workers are angry. I’m angry! As an OnlyFans user since 2017 this new policy is now taking away a massive chunk of my monthly income. But, this is not OnlyFans fault. The platform has to comply with the terms and conditions of banking merchants in order to have a payment gateway.
What this means is, if OnlyFans continued to allow nudity, the payment gateways who provide pay-out options would abandon the platform. So, even if OnlyFans sided with sex workers, they would have no way of paying us unless they turned into a crypto based platform or worked with payment gateways that supported adult media but can’t accept all types of cards. OnlyFans has reported they are struggling to find outside investors and even hired a merchant bank to help it solicit venture capital, but several deep-pocketed firms quickly passed. Not even engaging in serious due diligence due to the sites NSFW content.
For nearly a decade, PayPal, JPMorgan Chase, Visa/MasterCard, and Square, have systematically denied or closed accounts of small businesses, artists and independent contractors whose business happens to be about sex. These payment processing authorities have also coerced websites (OnlyFans) to cease featuring sexual content under threat of service withdrawal, all while blaming ambiguous rules or pressure from one another.
“We Don’t Do Business With Your Kind”
In 2012 TED speaker Cindy Gallop launched a crowdsourced porn site based on her TED Talk, “Make Love Not Porn,” which highlights unrealistic expectations about porn sex. Gallop had raised $500,000 from an undisclosed angel investor, but discovered her company “couldn’t work with PayPal, couldn’t work with Amazon, couldn’t work with Google Checkout, couldn’t work with any of the main merchant partner gateways.”
Gallop said, “So, we thought, let’s go back to Chase, we have a business banking account there, let’s apply for a commercial account. Unfortunately, that application surfaced the nature of our business within higher levels at Chase. And it resulted in a meeting with a more senior guy, who essentially said to us, not only can we not give you a commercial account, but you now need to close your business bank account and take your business away.”
One year after Gallop’s rude awakening, Chase denied adult performer Stoya an account outright. The year after that, 2014, Chase conducted a campaign of targeted sex-industry bank account terminations – but this time, the closures made headlines. Included in the sweep were well-known porn performers Teagan Presley (and her husband, by association), Dakota Skye, Layton Benton, Bonnie Rotten and Veronica Avluv.
But at the same time porn stars had been told their accounts were being closed, Chase refused to process payments for condom company Lovability, telling CEO Tiffany Gaines that “processing sales for adult-oriented products is a prohibited vertical.” When news articles pointed out that Chase handles mergers and acquisitions for Trojan Condoms, Chase relented. However, Gaines said when the CMO of Chase Paymentech called to “apologise for the ‘misunderstanding’ she agreed to process my company’s payments but would not agree to officially remove condoms from the ‘prohibited adult’ category.”
PayPal Denies Any Payments To Do With Sex
For over ten years PayPal, the world’s most ubiquitous payment processor, has emerged as the king of denying service, seizing accounts and freezing funds for anyone discovered to be associated with sexual content online, even educational or artistic content.
PayPal’s Acceptable Use Policy states that the PayPal service may not be used for activities that “relate to transactions involving … items that are considered obscene … [or] certain sexually oriented materials or services.” Yet it’s the way in which PayPal has chosen to enforce its policy over the years that make the comparisons with redlining seem not so far-fetched.
PayPal banned dominatrix January Seraph in 2010 and any business run or owned by her “for life.” PayPal froze accounts and seized funds belonging to Tess Danesi, whose transgression was publishing the NYC Sex Blogger Calendar. Blogger and adult industry writer Cara Sutra was banned for selling a corset. Former escort Vicki Gallas was banned from using PayPal to process payments for her memoirs, because they included sex work. Seattle Erotic Art Festival had their account frozen even though they only used the service to process fine art submission fees.
Apparently, PayPal also has no problem making other businesses to do its content policing.
In March 2014, PayPal nailed subscription-model crowdfunding platform Patreon, which emailed its users saying, “We got a notice from Paypal this morning that they were shutting down their entire integration with Patreon because of “adult content” on our site! Paypal informed us that we were violating their terms of service by using PayPal to support creators that made NSFW content. We complied and removed Paypal as a payment option for those creators.”
PayPal’s line is to blame credit card companies. Porn performer and producer Maggie Mayhem began a fundraiser to do relief work in Haiti. PayPal closed her account and seized her money after she linked it from her sex blog, telling Mayhem that the “dispute was ultimately with a Visa policy about blasphemy.”
Removing Porn, Removes Users
Obviously banning much of the content that makes OnlyFans so popular will have a significant decrease in users and revenue. We only have to remember back to the times of when Tumblr was so popular. As soon as NSFW content was taken down and banned, users dropped by more than half.
Yahoo bought Tumblr for $1.1 billion in 2013, and Verizon bought Yahoo’s operating business, including Tumblr, for $4.48 billion in June 2017. Verizon banned porn and most nudity on Tumblr about six months after buying Yahoo, and in 2019, it sold Tumblr to Automattic. Tumblr was by then worth a fraction of its previous value. The sale price wasn’t announced but was reportedly well below $20 million.
Digital Gentrification For Online Creators
Sex workers were early adopters of new technologies, pioneering and spearheading the use of new advertising mechanisms and financial technologies, populating platforms and building up their commercial user bases. Despite the integral part sex workers played in constituting the Internet, sex workers are now being deliberately excluded from services, platforms, and economies as part of widescale digital gentrification, sexual sanitisation, and displacement.
You’re probably familiar with gentrification. The Urban Displacement Project describes it as “a process of neighborhood change that includes economic change in a historically disinvested neighborhood” along with demographic changes “not only in terms of income level, but also in terms of changes in the education level or racial make-up of residents.”
Digital gentrification is complicated because there are no apartment buildings, no mum-and-pop businesses, no block party spaces stalked by squad cars to document. There is an ocean of information involved in an online community’s history, and becoming a digital historian requires a level of online prowess that isn’t quite the same as simply showing up to an intersection and recording. This makes it harder for online activists and organisers to not just document but also break down fascism.
Gentrification Targets Marginalised Communities
When Tumblr announced its NSFW ban, some civilian LGBT users defended the move by claiming sex workers and adult creators needed to be sacrificed to stop rampant problems with child pornography on the site. Make no mistake, algorithms that claim to be designed to protect against ‘child trafficking’ are really just sanitising measures to keep your timelines respectable. One of the reasons that celebrities and non-sex worker OnlyFans users have not been kicked off is precisely because they, unlike us, don’t pose a threat. Sex Worker existence is resistance.
Gentrification in the virtual realm boils down to this: Who is the internet for and what is the internet for? Massive corporations like Facebook (owner of Instagram) and Google privatise the internet and are therefore the digital parallel of real estate developers, exacting inordinate control over the places that people consider home. Many corporations have depended on the support of the sex working community to develop. For example, see OnlyFans, Tumblr, CashApp – and then toss us out as soon as they no longer need us. As in the case of its flesh world counterpart, the logic of gentrification has an aesthetic.
Exposing this aesthetic, and then breaking it, is direct action. It exposes the audience to the reality of the internet. Sex workers, particularly queer and trans sex workers of color, are the engine behind popular online culture, but big tech curates how and when they get to speak.
US Laws Changed Aussie Sex Work
Many sex workers are also worried about the proposed Australian Online Safety Bill, which gives authorities the power to take down online content judged to be unfit for minors, and to set “basic safety expectations” for platforms and websites. Sex workers are worried this could give platforms even more incentive to ban them.
To understand these concerns, it’s worth backtracking to mid-2018, when then-US president Donald Trump signed into law the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA). The legislation to target sex trafficking, made online platforms liable for any content that advertised sex work. This immediately led to the closure of US-based classifieds websites that happened to be widely used by Australian sex workers.
Overnight, many sex workers found they had no way of reaching clients. They instantly couldn’t pay their rent that week and didn’t know how they were going to put food on the table for their families. Some of them turned to advertising in the street for the first time out of necessity. As a result of the shutdown of these websites, sex workers have come to rely on social media to reach clients.
‘Safety Expectations’ Will Increase De-platforming
The bill has two parts that worry sex workers. First, it allows the eSafety Commissioner to issue a removal notice for advertisements classified as X18+, R18+ or RC (Refused Classification). The Scarlet Alliance says this definition is too broad: RC can include bondage and X18+ is defined as anything “unsuitable for a minor to see”.
In response to these concerns, a spokesperson for the eSafety Commissioner said that, under existing laws, the Commissioner already had the power to issue takedown notices for this kind of content. But they have chosen to not make this a priority — instead focusing on child sexual abuse. Secondly, aside from the powers given to the Commissioner, the Scarlet Alliance is concerned about the part of the proposed legislation that allows the Communications Minister to set “basic online safety expectations for social media services”.
This includes the expectation that platforms will take “reasonable steps” to ensure that children cannot access material classified as X18+ or R18+. Rather than installing age-verification systems, social media companies may find it easier to simply remove sex worker accounts. The easiest way for a platform to comply with any regulations around adult content is simply to remove it. And we’ve seen that happen already with all three of the big social media platforms.
Governments and private platforms alike have simply put sex in the ‘too hard basket’ and taken the path of sanitising online space. If the bill seeks to ‘promote and improve online safety’, we must keep asking, ‘whose safety?’
Rate Of Sex Worker Accounts Have Dramatically Increased.
Both Twitter and Facebook say they do not have a policy of widespread de-platforming of sex workers, though Facebook (which owns Instagram) rules out content that “facilitates, encourages or coordinates sexual encounters between adults”. As others have pointed out, that rules out a good amount of what people post on Instagram.These kind of community standards are vague and applied unevenly.
Facebook and Instagram, for example, have rules against users posting sexually explicit or implicit content (including emojis that, it says, suggest “wetness or erection”).
“We routinely disable accounts that break our rules. We try to draw the line in a place that allows people to express themselves while keeping our youngest users safe.” a Facebook company spokesperson said. Twitter has a more liberal attitude, allowing “adult content” that is marked “sensitive.”
Though it says it has not changed its policy on sex worker content recently, data from Amberly Rothfield, an adult-industry consultant, shows that at the start of this year, Twitter began deleting sex worker accounts at a much higher rate than previously.
From a random sample of 5,000 sex worker accounts, the rate jumped from a handful of deletions a day to many times that number. “We went from seeing somewhere close to maybe about three to four banned a day to upwards of 36 on a higher-end day,” she said. “It’s still at 10-plus a day.”
In January alone, 704 of the 5,000 accounts she monitors were deleted. This data isn’t conclusive: Twitter may have been doing some New Year’s housekeeping and deleting unused accounts, including accounts not used for sex work. But the experiences of active Twitter users like Amberly suggests that’s not the full story.
Amberly said Twitter deleted her main professional account of 12,000 followers in February 2020 for using a graphic banner image, even though her banner image had no nudity. She lost her second account of 5,700 followers for having started a new account under the same name. Twitter calls this “evading permanent suspension.” Despite repeatedly begging Twitter for her account back, she’s had to start back with a new name and zero followers. “I need access to social media to make any sort of decent profit. Any censorship that covers sex workers in any fashion scares the s**t out of me.” She said.
What Does The Future Look Like For Sex Workers?
In a podcast I recall listening too, featuring ex porn star, Lana Rhoades. Lana mentioned in 2030 Sex Work won’t be a thing. It will be completely outlawed. As a Sex Worker, this a scary thing to hear. What does the future look like for Sex Workers and how is it possible to completely remove the oldest existing profession from the face of the Earth? I have no idea if this theory will come to fruition.
All I can do is recommend Sex Workers: be informed and be flexible. Educate yourselves on merchant policies and not just NSFW platforms terms & conditions. There are so many layers to websites we host our content on, so learn the process! And become flexible, meaning, if something changes, like a policy or once again we are de-platformed. Look at it as not an obstacle, but an opportunity to find something new and do better! You will be okay. Everything happens for a reason.