Aug 20, 2021 - Economy

OnlyFans sends creators scrambling with sudden ban on "sexually explicit" material

Blurred out image of a lock

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

That was fast.

  • Shot: On Thursday, we wrote that OnlyFans has a "porn problem," in explaining why a user-generated content platform with epic numbers is struggling to secure outside investment.
  • Chaser: Several hours later, the London-based company took a machete to its business model, saying it will ban "sexually explicit" material, beginning in October.

This is like IHOP saying it will only serve its lunch and dinner menus.

Timing: The announcement felt rushed. OnlyFans provided no communication to its creators, many of whom are panicking over the possible loss of their livelihoods.

  • OF's definition of "sexually explicit" won't be released until October (although OF does say that "nudity" will be allowed).
  • Its customer service account appears to have told some users not to trust "unworthy sources of information," apparently unaware of what corporate was up to (the account didn't reply to my inquiry). This means that some of the creators who should be making contingency plans aren't doing so, choosing to believe media reports from Axios and elsewhere are "fake news."

Rationale: OF says the changes "are to comply with the requests of our banking partners and payout providers." It declined to provide more details.

  • The company uses Stripe for payment processing on its non-adult content, and sources suggest that Stripe didn't make the ask. OF's adult content payments are processed via a pair of companies that largely focus on the adult space, and charge premiums for the privilege, so it's hard to believe they requested the change.
  • Cindy Gallop, founder of the site MakeLoveNotPorn, tells Axios that her longtime payment processor (not one used by OF) suddenly stopped working with her company in July because the processor's "new banking partners" wouldn't allow it to work with adult content providers.
  • One possibility is this relates to credit card providers like Mastercard, which last year stopped servicing Pornhub after allegations that the site featured underage and nonconsensual content. OF released its first-ever "transparency report" with its statement, showing that it received 783 law enforcement requests between June 2020 and July 2021.
  • Another possibility, of course, is that this is to secure that elusive investment. Although, again, the IHOP thing.
  • There aren't available metrics on how much OF content would be banned, particularly without specific details, but my Twitter DMs are full of sex workers explaining that "explicit" material is what sells best (yes, I know how that sounds ... it was a weird day).

The big picture: This may be yet another reminder of how even juggernaut platforms are reliant on others. Not just Wall Street, but also the porn-prohibiting app stores.

  • No matter what, expect that we'll soon learn more about what drove this decision, because that's what happens when billions of dollars are at stake.
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