OnlyFans’ announcement on Thursday that it will soon stop hosting a wide range of sexually explicit content has sent shockwaves across the internet.
OnlyFans has become synonymous with pornography, with 130 million users and over 2 million content creators. Performing on the app is a lifeline for many: To help pay the bills, some people who lost their jobs due to the pandemic turned to sharing explicit videos of themselves on OnlyFans. Many of these sex workers are now expressing their dissatisfaction with OnlyFans’ betrayal of a community that helped the platform achieve massive success.
OnlyFans’ explicit content will not all be removed; simple nudity will be permitted as long as it complies with the platform’s other policies, according to the company. It said in a statement that only “content containing sexually-explicit conduct” — presumably sex acts on camera — would be prohibited.
Platforms that host adult content are often avoided by venture capital firms. OnlyFans’ popularity and revenue exploded during the pandemic, according to internal documents obtained by Axios, but the company has struggled to secure outside investment.
OnlyFans’ decision is also the result of a much broader and concerted crackdown in recent years across explicit parts of the internet, led largely by a group of powerful and increasingly assertive companies: the payment processors who, behind the scenes, handle every swipe of your credit card whether you’re paying for gas, groceries, or, yes, tipping a performer on OnlyFans.
OnlyFans stated in its announcement this week that its decision was made with the goal of creating a long-term sustainable platform. “These changes are in response to requests from our banking partners and payout providers,” the statement continued.
OnlyFans’ decision to limit the content it would allow on the platform was not influenced by Mastercard, according to Seth Eisen, a spokesman for the company. Eisen explained, “It’s a decision they made for themselves.” (A request for comment from other payment processors for this story was not immediately returned.)
OnlyFans’ decision to blame payment companies for its policy change reflects how the financial sector has become increasingly hostile to sites that share adult content. However, they claim that the issue is not one of prudence, but rather one of legal risk.
“I believe we’re on the cusp of a cultural shift in the finance industry that takes this issue far more seriously,” said Haley McNamara, vice president of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, an advocacy group that began pressuring payment companies last year to act more aggressively on abusive sexual content.
Credit card companies are becoming increasingly aware of their legal liability if they are accused of facilitating sex trafficking or the spread of child sexual abuse material, according to McNamara.
Following allegations that Pornhub, one of the largest porn sites on the internet, had hosted child sexual abuse material, Discover, Mastercard, and Visa all announced in December that they would suspend payments to the site. Pornhub responded by removing all videos not produced by verified partners from its site and instituting a verification program that all users would have to go through if they wanted to post adult content. Though Visa later agreed to restore service to some adult sites owned by Pornhub’s parent company, MindGeek, Pornhub itself remains cut off from credit card processors, accepting only direct bank transfers and cryptocurrency.
Then, in April, Mastercard implemented a set of new rules for adult-content transactions. The move was made to combat illegal adult content, according to Mastercard.
“The banks that connect merchants to our network will need to certify that the seller of adult content has effective controls in place to monitor, block and, where necessary, take down all illegal content,” Mastercard said.
Platforms would be required to verify the age and identity of those posting and being depicted in online porn, as well as have a process in place to review adult content before it is posted, according to Mastercard.
Adult websites would be required to provide a complaint process that could “address” illegal or non-consensual content within seven days, as well as ways for people depicted in adult content to request takedowns.
The new rules demonstrated the payments industry’s ability to shape how millions of people use the internet. And it isn’t just Mastercard.
“Mastercard is the most proactive, [but] we’ve had conversations with Visa and other credit card [networks] as well,” said McNamara. “A number of payment processors are waiting to see how Mastercard’s policies fare.”