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Wednesday, May 15, 2024

OnlyFans’ Explicit Content Ban Betrays Its Creators

OnlyFans creators are getting screwed—and not in the way many subscribers are used to seeing. This week, the adult fan site, which rose to prominence last year and was even name-checked by Beyoncé on Megan Thee Stallion’s Grammy-winning “Savage Remix,” announced that it was further distancing itself from the business that made it an in-demand enterprise: hardcore porn.

The sharp pivot comes on the eve of the company’s five-year anniversary and the introduction of a new app, OFTV, in what is a clear attempt to become more of a general-purpose marketplace for creators.

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In a statement released Thursday, the company said that, starting October 1, it would forbid the “posting of any content containing sexually explicit conduct” that doesn’t adhere to its Acceptable Use Policy. Details about the ban are still forthcoming, but OnlyFans representatives did confirm that nudity would be allowed as long as it abided by the company’s updated guidelines. The changes are, in part, to appease its “banking partners” as well as to “ensure the long-term sustainability of the platform,” the company said, and seem to be in line with its recent efforts to widen the composition of its creator pool beyond sex workers.

What remains unclear in the wake of OnlyFans’ announcement is whether those guidelines could become even more restrictive as the company’s financial interests evolve. A BBC report confirmed that the company decided to update its guidelines in part because of Mastercard’s decision to implement new rules for adult content sites that use their payment processing system. Last year, both Mastercard and Visa terminated their relationship with Pornhub. Mastercard’s new policies are meant to make sure adult sites have controls in place to monitor and remove illegal content, but OnlyFans’ move to ban nearly all explicit material left many worried about the fate of sex workers on the platform.

Across the internet, the surprise announcement was met with a mix of cynicism, support, and humor. Creators say they are skeptical of the changes, though hardly surprised. “They used us,” says Xavier Blanco. “They exploited our connections, only to toss us out.” Blanco, who is 34 and lives in New York City, joined the platform in the summer of 2019 and has made a considerable living through the site, where he uploads all manner of gay erotica. “They are laying off countless individuals without caring about their livelihood.”

In December 2019 when I spoke with Dominic Ford, the founder of JustFor.Fans, a rival adult fansite, he predicted such a future. “As has been the trend, sex-positive imagery of any kind is slowly being washed away from social media,” he said at the time, pointing to websites such as Tumblr, Craigslist, and Patreon cranking up restrictions on pornographic content.

Still, the impact of OnlyFans—and the site’s abrupt change in course—cannot be understated. Since its founding in 2016, the site has slowly ushered in a new frontier for adult entertainment. In what was once a hostile, and sometimes dangerous, landscape for sex workers, OnlyFans became a lucrative alternative to conventional services, such as camming, escorting, and studio porn. Conceptually, what made OnlyFans feel like such a radical leap forward was how it melded a growing need for personalized porn with our obsession with influencer culture. Eventually, Big Tech followed suit. Twitter, YouTube, and other major platforms have since developed tools that allow users to monetize their unique skills.

As a result, OnlyFans became the premiere adult subscription site online, drawing users from all corners of the internet. Today it is home to 2 million creators that have collectively made $3 billion in earnings since its launch. That includes reality stars, former pro athletes, celebrity musicians, and social media influencers, all of whom post varying degrees of adult content. The bulk of creators, however, remain bona fide sex workers—many of whom rely on earnings from the platform to survive.

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For Anshuman Iddamsetty, a 38-year-old nonbinary creator who uploads content dedicated to fat pleasure, the news was especially upsetting. They joined the site in September of 2019 and the earnings from OnlyFans, Iddamsetty says, “helped me stabilize my life after being laid off from my previous job in tech.” Iddamsetty, who posts under the pseudonym Boarlord, says they “did not earn a lavish amount—modest may be more accurate,” but, “I had a tiny fractal of peace doing something I excelled at. This would not have been possible without OnlyFans.”

Still, Iddamsetty told me, they expected this to happen, just not so soon. And the repercussions run deeper than many realize. The outcome, they added, will severely impact already marginalized creators who are denied access to traditional routes of employment. “This is nothing short of catastrophic to thousands of survival sex workers, the vast majority of whom are Black, Indigenous, brown, queer, mentally ill, disabled, fat, single parents, undocumented, and unhoused,” Iddamsetty says. “If this was any other industry, we would report it as a staggering number of people being laid off across the planet.”

When his job in health care began to limit hours during the early months of the pandemic last year, the artist known as Trapcry used OnlyFans as a lifeline. He began posting “selfie porn and aesthetic nudes,” he told me. “Me fucking myself is true self-love.” The response was immediate—and he was able to stay afloat. “Utilizing OnlyFans stabilized my finances and kept me in the green throughout the year,” he says.

Like several creators across the platform, Trapcry feels betrayed by the company’s decision to limit adult content, given that is how the site built its brand. “They used me and other content creators to build an empire and then threw us away,” he says. Despite the growing restrictions, he doesn’t plan to abandon the platform just yet. “My account will stay up, and I’ll continue to post things that fit under the regulations so I can collect money.”

One of the prevailing criticisms to arise is how many startups that experience rapid growth similar to OnlyFans’—the site had a more than 75 percent increase in user registrations last year—eventually ditch their foundational base. But Iddamsetty says that is not entirely true. “I don’t believe in the narrative that all platforms eventually evict their initial user base,” they say. “One, it erases how sex workers have attempted to create their own platforms many times before only to hit a wall with the same gatekeepers—banks and credit cards, US piousness—and two, the amount of money OnlyFans was making was absolutely bonkers.”

Regardless, not all creators want to work under the updated guidelines. Many, like 23-year-old creator Jasmine (she asked to only be identified by her first name), are finding alternative routes to earn a living through fan content. She says being on OnlyFans helped her survive the first year of the pandemic—her content runs the gamut, from PG to lewd, including singing covers, lingerie pics, masturbation photos, and video calls—despite the heavy mental toll of being a young woman online. She says she has received several rape and death threats, as well as unsolicited graphic videos, since joining the platform. “Lots of people felt entitled to my body because they subscribed to my OnlyFans,” she says.

Jasmine says she never had much faith in the platform’s commitment to sex workers. “I never once felt like they gave a shit about me as a creator, never had my emails responded to despite being a [top-earning] creator, never had anyone help me with leaks and abusive messages,” she says.

The larger issue at play, Iddamsetty adds, is the ongoing criminalization of sex workers. “We need to be real about the degree to which sex workers and platforms that serve sex workers are criminalized by our banking system under the guise of ‘high risk.’ Sex workers who do solo work like myself run the risk of having their bank accounts seized no matter how diligently we follow a particular platform’s Terms of Service,” they say. “We can’t even promote each other or discuss safety tips without it being seen as some form of criminal conspiracy.”

When asked by WIRED if the company’s pivot to restricting x-rated content was, in any way, a betrayal of the creators who made the site what it is today, OnlyFans responded, “The platform has no further comments at this time.”

Several of the creators I spoke with say they plan to migrate the bulk of their content to competing, less-prohibitive platforms, such as JustForFans and 4MyFans. “Just like any other field, you have to stay innovative to keep up with the changing times. Sex workers will find a way. We always do,” Trapcry says. “When Tumblr and Instagram did us wrong, we relocated to Twitter and OnlyFans. We will find other places to mingle.” Blanco echoed similar sentiments.

Still, the lingering threat of erasure remains, no matter what platform creators find a home on. It is a problem that keeps already disadvantaged creators in a state of precarity—and worse. “The ongoing gentrification of the internet,"  Iddamsetty says, "means that marginalized sex workers will continue to be evicted not just from whatever the next platform is but from our economic system entirely.”

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