OnlyFans reverses planned porn ban after backlash from its adult-content creators

·National Reporter & Producer
·9 min read

 

The content subscription service OnlyFans announced Wednesday that it was dropping its plan to ban sexually explicit content on its platform. The reversal comes a week after the London-based company announced proposed changes, including a ban on pornography, to “evolve its content guidelines.”

“Thank you to everyone for making your voices heard,” the platform tweeted Wednesday morning. “We have secured assurances necessary to support our diverse creator community and have suspended the planned October 1 policy change. OnlyFans stands for inclusion and we will continue to provide a home for all creators.”

Initially, OnlyFans explained its decision to ban sexually explicit content by noting that, because of the proliferation of sexual content on the platform, banks had refused to do business with the company and that it was struggling to find outside investors. Despite those issues, however, OnlyFans, which has more than 120 million subscribers, was still able to generate a large positive cash flow, and also paid out more than $300 million a month to its content creators.

“The proposed October 1, 2021 changes are no longer required due to banking partners’ assurances that OnlyFans can support all genres of creators,” the company said in a statement to Yahoo News.

OnlyFans logo (Photo Illustration by Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
OnlyFans logo. (Photo illustration: Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Adult-content creators on the site reacted with cautious optimism to the news that they will not be banned from the platform. One self-proclaimed sex expert and model, Tyomi Morgan, says OnlyFans was a “saving grace” for her in early 2019, at a time when her life was in complete disarray.

“OnlyFans was the only space that really supported me and gave me an opportunity to express myself and make money doing it,” Morgan, whose fans know her as Glamazon, told Yahoo News. “My world was on fire at the time, and it was just easy. It was easy to sign up. It was easy to get started and it just made sense.”

Morgan says news of the company’s reversal is “great news for sex workers and a huge sigh of relief,” but adds that the flip-flop does not make her feel supported or safe.

“[For] a platform as large as OnlyFans to tamper with the livelihoods of so many people is apathetic and unacceptable,” she says. “Money talks. … They see the power sex workers have in building brands and dismantling them as well, and they chose to stand with sex work for the safety of their business.”

Launched in 2016, OnlyFans billed itself as a way for content creators of all kinds to interact with their “fans” by receiving money directly from them in the form of one-time tips or through a pay-per-view feature. Initially, the site was largely populated with physical fitness experts, musicians, comedians and other content creators.

Last March, as the pandemic halted in-person activities around the world, the platform grew exponentially, serving as an outlet for adult-content creators and sex workers to continue to make money from the safety of their homes.

“One of the things that made it really lucrative and very popular for sex workers is they didn’t have to see people in person, especially during a pandemic,” Hasan “King Noire” Salaam, a creator of adult content who has been in the adult industry for more than two decades, explained. “Think about how COVID-19 is spread and how communicable it is. It’s not safe to go and do a lap dance for somebody, especially when people are fighting being vaccinated or people are fighting wearing a mask in close quarters. So a lot of people who were dancers were able to go on OnlyFans. [They were able to host] OnlyFans live or send little videos on OnlyFans to people who wanted a dance. And that’s safe for the dancer and for the customer as well.”

The OnlyFans website on a smartphone (Photographer: Gabby Jones/Bloomberg)
The OnlyFans website on a smartphone. (Gabby Jones/Bloomberg)

Last Thursday’s decision to ban porn on the site encountered a visceral reaction from the site’s users and more than 2 million content creators.

“Seeing the rug pulled from under people was extremely unfortunate,” Salaam said. “They were about to have a mass exodus of creators and subscribers and fell back. They knew sex workers brought them money and they thought they could f*** us over and no one would care. We called bulls***."

For many adult-content creators, the move showed how quickly a platform like OnlyFans can dismiss the people who have made billions of dollars for it. The top 10 earners on the platform earn north of $2 million a month on the site, and at least five of them create and share adult content. Overall, the top 1 percent of accounts on the platform earn nearly 33 percent of OnlyFans’ $5 billion annual revenue, based on monthly income listed by Influencer Marketing Hub. OnlyFans takes 20 percent of the creators’ revenue.

In the past 18 months, the company’s reach and revenue has increased exponentially, but it made the decision to change its business model after struggling to gain outside investors, according to internal documents obtained by Axios. While selling sex online is profitable, it scares off potential venture capitalists, many of whom are wary of being associated with illegal or unauthorized sex work.

In April, Mastercard railed against the adult-content industry by pulling its processing system from many adult sites. “We’re taking an even more active stance against the potential for unauthorized and illegal adult content,” John Verdeschi, the company’s senior vice president of customer engagement and performance, wrote in a blog post. “This starts by ensuring there are strong content control measures on sites where our products are accepted.”

Mastercard Credit Cards. (Photo Illustration by Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Mastercard credit cards. (Photo Illustration: Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Internal documents leaked to BBC News also revealed that OnlyFans was lenient on certain content that violated its guidelines, including the use of minors in sexually explicit content, allowing moderators to give multiple warnings to accounts that post illegal content on the platform before shutting them down. An OnlyFans content moderator who spoke to the BBC also said he has come across videos posted to the platform that include illegal content including bestiality, the use of spy cams and weapons.

“In May, BBC News revealed the site was failing to prevent under-18s from selling and appearing in explicit videos, despite its being illegal for children to do so,” BBC News reported. “At the time, OnlyFans said attempts to use the site fraudulently were ‘rare’.”

Anita S. Teekah, senior director of the Anti-Trafficking Program at Safe Horizon, notes that sex work and human trafficking should not be conflated.

“Legally speaking, there’s a really clear distinction that there has to be force or fraud or coercion for something to be considered human trafficking for the purposes of commercial sexual activity or any other form of forced labor,” Teekah told Yahoo News. “And so if there is consent between two adults … even if the activity itself is illegal, it’s not human trafficking if there’s no force, fraud or coercion.”

“The irony is that by eliminating this online platform, which would give greater control for the content creators to obtain that consent and to provide their own consent, they’re forcing them into unofficial avenues of work that are underground, where there are no protections,” she added.

Mike Alvarez, public affairs specialist for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations, which conducts more than 1,000 human trafficking investigations annually, agrees with Teekah.

“Sex work and prostitution are often conflated with sex trafficking,” Alvarez told Yahoo News. “An important exception involves the sex trafficking of minors, in which case force, fraud or coercion is not required to prove sex trafficking.”

(Photo Illustration: Yahoo! News; Photos: Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images, Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images)
Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images, Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images

In April 2018, federal authorities seized the largest online platform for buying and selling sex, Backpage.com. Immediately thereafter, a bipartisan bill called the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act and Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act, or FOSTA-SESTA, was signed into law.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who co-sponsored the legislation, claimed it would ensure justice for victims of sex trafficking. “For years, Backpage.com has knowingly facilitated online sex trafficking and child exploitation, destroying the lives of innocent young women and girls,” he said at a press conference introducing the bill. “It is disgraceful that the law as written has protected Backpage from being held liable for enabling these horrific crimes. Our legislation would eliminate these legal protections and ensure companies like Backpage are brought to justice for violating the rights of the most innocent among us.”

In June of this year, however, the Government Accountability Office issued a report that found that shuttering Backpage.com and the passage of FOSTA-SESTA simply “led many who controlled platforms in this market to relocate their platforms overseas” and eventually caused the market to become “fragmented.”

Rather than helping identify and prosecute traffickers, this pushed sex work into less easily identifiable and potentially dangerous spaces. Critics of OnlyFans’ flirtation with banning sexual content say that’s exactly what will happen if the platform ever follows through on that plan.

Shauna Brooks, also known as Shauna B, is a creator who says OnlyFans helped her “get off the street” and turn her life around. The former escort was homeless and living in a shelter when she began making funny videos on the platform in late 2018, gaining a monthly payout of $2,000 to $3,000, enough for her to afford a place to live. Now she makes upwards of $10,000 a month, making adult-content videos and more.

Brooks says that while OnlyFans was a platform she used to better her life, she’s also taken her share of online shaming.

“It’s like a double-edged sword for me, because on one hand, I’m trying to gain some type of respectability in mainstream entertainment sectors that sex work is shunned upon ... especially as a Black trans woman,” she says. “But I’m also unapologetic about that part of the lifestyle.”

Cover thumbnail photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Yahoo News (2), Getty Images

_____

Read more from Yahoo News:

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting