If someone exclaims “check out my OnlyFans,” what are the first things that come to mind? Is it cooking videos, comedy sketches, music and celebrity exclusives? Or is it perhaps the troves of X-rated content that the platform is best known for?
An Aug. 19 press release from OnlyFans stated that, beginning Oct. 1, 2021, the platform “will prohibit the posting of any content containing sexually explicit conduct.” This news comes as a shock to both the consumers of content and the content creators themselves.
It seems nonsensical to prohibit the very demographics that propelled OnlyFans to what it is today, so what exactly is going on?
The company stated it is making the changes “to comply with the requests of our banking partners and payout providers.” No further details have been currently provided.
The motivations behind such a decision may be more nuanced than what’s appearing on the surface.
The site advertises itself as providing a timeline for paid content similar to that of social media sites, while allowing content creators to be in full control of their financial handlings. OnlyFans takes 20% of the revenue generated by its 2 million creators, paying out over $5 billion to the creators on the platform.
At its heart, OnlyFans is a tech company just like any other tech giant in Silicon Valley, such as Facebook or Twitter. An important fact to note, though, is that it does not currently have an app—it is strictly an online website. This is because app platforms, like Google Play, prohibit apps that “contain or promote sexual content or profanity.” Inside Google’s policy for restricted content is another line that explicitly states that “apps promot[ing] sex-related entertainment, escort services, or other services that may be interpreted as providing sexual acts in exchange for compensation” are not allowed.
Guidelines for development and deployment can become tricky when it comes to handling any amount of sexual content. Twitter is able to host sexually explicit content on their own social media platform in part because it is not promoting the content, it does not “verify” or monetize creators of pornographic content and the platform itself is not providing any financial exchanges between explicit content creators and their consumers.
On the other hand, OnlyFans is a direct producer-to-consumer platform that handles transactions on the site, creating a hard barrier against ambitions to expand itself beyond web platforms.
If OnlyFans decides to pursue this direction, it would not be the first—nor the last—platform to dramatically change itself, shunning the sex industries that bolstered it to a massive scale. OnlyFans may also receive the same fate as those that fell before it.
Tumblr, a social media and blogging website known for its not-safe-for-work content, banned adult content on Dec. 17, 2018 and, since then, the site’s traffic has dropped nearly 30%. Many users and content creators that used the site flocked to Twitter and Patreon. While OnlyFans may be able to ban content, the explicit content creators will most likely take their web traffic with them.
In order to discuss OnlyFans’ decision, the elephant in the room must also be acknowledged—Pornhub, the world’s most popular pornographic website.
On Dec. 10, 2020, Visa and MasterCard ended support for Pornhub after confirming the presence of unlawful content on their platform. This came just six days after a New York Times article was published revolving around Pornhub’s missteps in properly combating child pornography. Even when Pornhub subsequently removed over 70% of its content in order to only allow content from verified users, Visa and MasterCard continued to refuse any negotiation with Pornhub. Any payment on the site now must be done through direct bank transfers or cryptocurrency.
That was an ominous warning for what could happen to OnlyFans if the company did not comply. There are no further details given to what “pressure from banking partners and payment providers” means, but it is plausible that credit card companies threatened to cut off support for the platform, causing such a dramatic shift in a desperate act of survival.
However, the corporate survival of OnlyFans comes at an even greater cost to the very people that supported the platform from its advent. What are these content creators expected to do now? Where will they go online, and what kind of impact does this have for consumers and creators alike?
“As anti-porn organizations celebrate, we brace ourselves for the crisis this will likely cause,” stated The Adult Performance Artists Guild Labor Union. “Workers in our industry have families to care for, and this change will push many into potential homelessness.”
Alternative websites do exist, such as JustForFans, which functions similarly to OnlyFans but is advertised and conducted as a porn website. There is also no simple way to transfer any content accrued on OnlyFans, nor is it possible to transfer any subscriptions that content creators and consumers have accrued. For now, there is little that can be done to change current circumstances.