I News: OnlyFans’ U-turn on explicit content shows the sex worker rights movement is getting too loud to ignore
We are organising around the world, fighting back not only against criminalisation but against the system which pits us against each other
For sex workers on OnlyFans, the last week has been a wild ride. On 19 August it was announced that the website would ban all explicit content as of 1 October. On Wednesday, OnlyFans backtracked, telling its workforce via Twitter: “We have secured assurances necessary to support our diverse creator community and have suspended the planned October 1 policy change.”
It remains to be seen whether the platform will be true to its word but to force the hand of such a giant corporation is no small feat. Of course it is crucial to fight exploitation, but the use of such a blunt tool – one which would leave thousands struggling to survive – is only deemed acceptable when the industry it decimates is sex work.
During the pandemic, OnlyFans exploded, racking up 130 million users and more than two million content creators. For many sex workers, it became a lifeline. I usually pay my bills doing in-person sex work but, for a few months, I switched to OnlyFans. I didn’t love releasing all this amateur porn into the world but, likewise, I didn’t love the idea of losing my home.
That a platform which built its fortune on the backs of sex workers might, at a moment’s notice, ditch us, is no surprise; it would be the latest in the slow but sure eradication of sex workers from online spaces. In the US, the process has been brutal, with targeted legislation (FOSTA-SESTA) leading to the closure of sex workers’ main advertising platforms, pushing many into poverty, precarity and danger.
In the back-and-forth of the week, it was clear that some part of the financial apparatus behind OnlyFans was putting pressure on the company. OnlyFans’ founder Tim Stokely told the Financial Times that banks were to blame, which, he said “cite reputational risk and refuse our business”. Meanwhile, new rules from MasterCard, which processes payments for OnlyFans, come into play in October, requiring banking partners to ensure that sites they work with rigorously verify and pre-approve all adult content.
Throughout the fiasco, both MasterCard and OnlyFans were keen to separate themselves from the potential destitution of creators and to claim their credentials as non-haters of sex workers. Shortly after the initial announcement, OnlyFans tweeted a statement, addressing its “Dear Sex Workers” and using the activist hashtag, #SexWorkIsWork. Meanwhile, James Thorpe, Head of Communications for MasterCard UK, told me: “Banning adult content is not a requirement of ours. We’re not taking a moral stance.”
Watching multi-billion dollar companies fall over themselves to maintain the veneer of corporate virtue is grotesque. Human rights abuses along the supply chains of other businesses supported by banks and payment processors are rife; sex work, as ever, is simply seen as dirtier.
Still, in the conflicted responses there is hope. No PR fluff can compensate for the disappearance of an income but it’s clear that the sex worker rights movement is too loud to ignore.
Around the world, sex workers are organising, fighting back not only against criminalisation but against the system which pits us against each other. In the UK, sex workers are unionising, offering mutual care, creating hardship funds for those in crisis and whipping up unprecedented support in the face of calls for criminalisation.
Of course, OnlyFans was never an ally. It is a profit-making platform with which sex workers have had no bargaining power. Our battle now is not only against efforts to criminalise our work but also with the monopoly platforms which extract our labour while taking no responsibility for our rights.
Frankie Miren is part of SWARM and ECP and the author of sex work novel, The Service, out now with Influx Press.