On Wednesday, online streaming platform OnlyFans announced that a decision to curb sexually explicit content has been reversed. In a statement posted on Twitter, the site, which has become one of the world’s largest platforms for pay-for-view pornographic content, said it will “continue to provide a home for all creators”.
The move towards a ban had been welcomed. Describing it as a “step in the right direction”, feminist campaigner Julie Bindel said OnlyFans is “nothing more and nothing less than a pimping site”. She wrote: “The average earnings are in fact £120 per month and most accounts take home less than £102. Nor is the site safe, as I discovered when talking to women who have been stalked, harassed and followed home by ‘clients’ that have managed to trace them.”
Anti-trafficking charity CARE also signalled its approval. Lauren Agnew, CARE’s Human Trafficking Officer, told the BBC: “Current rules provide bad actors with a legal means of extorting money from women. Vulnerable users are at risk of falling victim to human traffickers seeking to groom and exploit them. A curb of sexually explicit content could reduce the likelihood of exploitation by making explicit and pornographic content unprofitable.”
A curb was also expected to reduce levels of extreme content on the site. In May this year, a BBC investigation revealed evidence of illegal sexual content. One moderator expressed concern that site moderation is woefully inadequate as it is not always clear what is and is not allowed. An outright ban would have made moderation more straightforward. If it’s sexual in nature, it goes.
And it was welcomed by anti-porn campaigners. A growing number of groups warn that pornographic content perpetuates dangerous ideas about women and girls which compromise their safety. There is a correlation between pornography consumption and sexual violence in society and this is not surprising. Porn enforces the idea that women are sexual objects to be used and abused. A curb of porn on OnlyFans would have been a pushback against the global porn industry.
A curb on sexual content was not, however, in the interests of two other vocal groups: pornographers and corporate stakeholders. One self-described ‘sex worker’ told the BBC: “If you’re not allowed to post really explicit content it’s going to be a massive kick in the teeth”. “There’s this massive stigma on sex workers that just should not be a thing”. He added, without a hint of irony, “[Making porn] is helping people and they still want to put bans on it, and [that’s] disgusting.”
As news of the ban trickled out, more content creators raised a stink. Tabloid articles, bedecked with photos of scantily clad women, gave a platform for those who stood to lose money or be forced to move to other, similar platforms. According to these people, the decision was ‘unfair’ and ‘discriminatory’. There was no concern for the exploited. It is this outcry by pornographers that got through to OnlyFans HQ.
It’s clear what happened here. OnlyFans realised that a curb on sexually explicit content would undermine its entire business model. The site turns a profit by taking a 20 per cent cut from the money content creators make. Some of the most profitable creators on the site are pornographers. Financial backers who initially raised concerns about content and pressured the company towards a ban have either changed their minds or been replaced by others willing to turn a blind eye.
This is a classic case of corporate greed trumping corporate responsibility. The vulnerable will now suffer, whilst coffers grow.