Whether you’re a fan (or flan, as that tempster Andrew Fleischman used to suck me in) will probably matter as to whether this strikes you as important at the moment. There are, of course, many other important, even more important, things happening, and even though people say they can think of two or more things at once, they usually can’t. And then there are those people who sincerely believe that only things that matter to them matter at all, because how can anything matter if it doesn’t matter to them?
But Ars Technica founder Jon Stokes said, it’s just a matter of time.
You may not care about guns & sex, but these are canaries in the coal mine. At some point, some activity you do care about will have its ability participate in the payments system threatened. Then it’ll click.
Whether you use OnlyFans, care about OnlyFans or think it should (or shouldn’t) exist, it existed and filled a niche, both for “creators” and those who subscribed to whatever the creators created. If it wasn’t your thing, then you didn’t have to subscribe. That others did has nothing to do with you. Why would anyone care?
Well, banks cared. Credit and debit card processors cared. Why they cared isn’t entirely clear. Perhaps it was because they feared that continuing to do business with OnlyFans would eventually cause a backlash of the woke for being complicit in whatever evil of the moment required their cancellation. Perhaps it was regulatory pressures, as bureaucratic positions were filled by “enlightened” people with agendas that were antagonistic to what they were doing, and who felt no shame in abusing the power of their pen to harm businesses that offended them.
OnlyFans was engaged in the business of hosting porn.
OnlyFans has become a source of income for two million creators, including sex workers, during the pandemic. The company said it had helped to democratize sex work, in part by letting creators effectively run their own businesses and own the content that they post on the site. Creators have collectively earned more than $4.5 billion since OnlyFans started nearly five years ago, the company said.
The platform has more than 130 million users who pay monthly fees to creators to view feeds of imagery that’s often too racy for Instagram or TikTok. With that access, subscribers can also send direct messages and “tip” creators to get pictures or videos on demand, according to their sexual tastes.
Like it or not, there was a substantial demand for “imagery that’s often too racy for Instagram or TikTok,” which is how the New York Times delightfully describes hardcore porn, fetishes, and whatever else sexually floats your boat. For those who had something to sell, it provided the market. For those who had something to buy, it provided the market as well. And $4.5 billion is a serious market. Outside of this offering, OnlyFans would have no reason to exist.
The company said in a statement that it would block users from posting explicit photos and videos at the request of its “banking partners and payout providers.” OnlyFans said it would still allow people to post imagery containing nudity that complied with its guidelines.
“In order to ensure the long-term sustainability of the platform,” the company said, “we must evolve our content guidelines.”
There may be another influence outside of banking that compels OnlyFans to shift away from its only raison d’etre, that it can’t get capital to fund its growth.
Any other company with growth like OnlyFans would be able to raise big money in a matter of minutes.
Why wouldn’t VCs be on their knees begging to throw money at OnlyFans? After all, it’s tech and it has far greater potential than most of the crap they throw money at. Are they just a bunch of prudes for whom human sexuality is too icky to profit from?
Rule 34 suggests that hip tech venture capitalists probably aren’t all that antagonistic to porn. But what of the banks and payment processors who make businesses grounded in porn incapable of being paid and thus surviving as a business? It happened when weed was legalized and national banks were prohibited from taking on the business of locally lawful businesses that violated federal laws. It happened with the NRA. It’s now happening with OnlyFans.
The “why” remains somewhat mysterious at the moment. OnlyFans isn’t telling. But it exists at a very dangerous intersection in the current climate, between claims of sex trafficking, taking advantage of oppressed women, rape culture, toxic masculinity and the plethora of ancillary harms that the unduly passionate raise in opposition to whatever someone claims is offensive at any moment. Why care about the damage this may cause people who choose to be “creators” when there are issues of morality at stake?
But as Stokes notes, you might not like guns are all, and may agree that explicit porn is just bad men taking advantage of oppressed women, but as payment processors make businesses untenable by denying them the mechanism to engage in commerce, they have the power to dictate the terms of the market regardless of whether it’s thriving and whether those who want to buy and sell very much want that market to exist.
And as the winds shift, and other markets are deemed offensive when the current ones no longer serve to sate the perpetually offended, they too will be threatened, or denied, access to payment processing to starve them of the ability to function. OnlyFans may not be your kink, but what about sugary soft drinks, Big Macs or old movies with problematic scenes?
The decision by OnlyFans to eliminate its hardcore porn seems to be a laughable business move, like Burger King deciding to no longer sell burgers, but apparently the threat of losing access to payments was serious enough to take the risk of blowing its existence in the hope that people would still pay for naked pictures. If you don’t care now, because you don’t see the problem, bear that in mind when Visa, Mastercard and Bank of America pull the plug on a business or industry you believe valuable. This is how it happens.