Not all of OnlyFans’ explicit content is going away; simple nudity will still be allowed, the company said, as long as it complies with the platform’s other policies. Only “content containing sexually-explicit conduct” — presumably meaning sex acts on camera — will be banned, it said in a statement.
OnlyFans’ decision is also a result of a much wider and concerted crackdown in recent years across explicit parts of the internet, one driven 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, buying groceries or, yes, tipping a performer on OnlyFans.
In its announcement this week, OnlyFans said its decision was driven with a view toward building a sustainable platform for the long term. “These changes are to comply with the requests of our banking partners and payout providers,” it added.
Seth Eisen, a spokesman for Mastercard, told CNN Business it was not involved in OnlyFans’ decision to restrict the content it would allow on the platform. “It’s a decision they came to themselves,” Eisen said. (Other payment processors didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment for this story.)
OnlyFans’ decision to attribute its policy change to payment companies reflects how the financial sector has increasingly leaned against sites that share adult content. But the issue, they say, is not one of mere prudishness, but legal exposure.
“I think we’re on the verge of a cultural shift in the finance industry that takes this issue far more seriously,” said Haley McNamara, VP of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, an advocacy group that last year began pressuring payment companies to act more aggressively on abusive sexual content.
Credit card companies are growing increasingly conscious of their own potential legal exposure, McNamara added, if they are accused of facilitating sex trafficking or the spread of child sexual abuse material.
Then, in April, Mastercard rolled out a series of new requirements governing adult-content transactions. The move, Mastercard said, was aimed at combating illegal adult material.
“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 who were posting and who were depicted in online porn, Mastercard said, and would have to have a process to review adult content before it is posted. Adult sites would have to offer a complaint process that can “address” illegal or non-consensual content within seven days, and offer ways for people depicted in adult content to request takedowns of that content.
The new rules revealed the power of the payments industry to shape how millions of people experience the internet. And Mastercard isn’t the only one.
“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.”
The financial industry’s muscle-flexing has drawn criticism from digital rights advocates who argue it’s throwing its weight around.
Now, sex workers are raising their voices again, this time to defend their ability to represent themselves on digital platforms like OnlyFans.
The fact that OnlyFans chose to ban pornography rather than establish a verification system, as Pornhub did, suggests the platform is less safe for creators than it seems, McNamara said. “It’s an admission they cannot or will not verify age or consent.”
But whether an adult site responds more like Pornhub than OnlyFans, the creation of what’s essentially a new content policy regime enforced by private payment networks says far more about the financial industry’s influence than of the websites subject to its enforcement, according to legal experts.
Payment processors are well within their rights to determine what transactions they will and won’t support on their networks. In that respect, they are not that different from platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, who are massively powerful in their own right, said Danielle Citron, a law professor at the University of Virginia studying online content moderation and who also helps lead the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, a group that advocates against nonconsensual porn.
Citron wants to see changes made to Section 230 that could expose platforms to more liability under certain circumstances. Perhaps, she said, those changes might even allow sex workers who feel their businesses have been harmed by payment processors to sue them for tortious interference.
“We’re talking about OnlyFans, where we’re seeing sex workers doing safe work. It’s from their own homes, they’re making content on their own terms,” Citron said.
“Payment processors have considerable power over sites like OnlyFans and Pornhub,” she added. “They’re private companies. But should we be worried about the kind of power they have?”