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OnlyFans blames banks for content policy change – UPDATED

The founder of Social subscriber platform OnlyFans has pinned the blame on banks refusing to process transactions connected to the company for his sudden policy shift.

OnlyFans is a platform through which video content creators can acquire paying subscribers. The most lucrative type of content has turned out to be of a sexual nature, effectively opening up the sex trade to thousands of people (mostly women) to operate as sole traders. Last week we reported that OnlyFans was changing its content policy to prohibit sexual content, thus destroying the businesses of many of its creators.

Initial reports indicated pressure from both banks and specialist payment processors had forced the policy change but, in a recent interview with the FT, Founder Tim Stokely narrowed down the reason for the move. “The change in policy, we had no choice — the short answer is banks,” he said. “We pay over one million creators over $300m every month, and making sure that these funds get to creators involves using the banking sector.”

It seems banks are increasingly concerned about perceived ‘reputational risk’ of even processing payments that may have some connection to the sex industry. Until recently it would have been absurd to conflate providing a financial services with the overt endorsement of the transaction itself but now, it seems, banks only want to do business with customers that conform to an arbitrary puritanical threshold.

Of course this sudden bout of conscience doesn’t apply to companies or countries involved in all kinds of exploitation, dishonesty and generally questionable ethics. But if you want to charge people for watching you get up to no good, then banks will suddenly clutch their pearls and flee the horridness.

Stokes also bemoaned reports highlighting incidents of illegal content, presumably among which is the BBC investigation that was published at the same time as the OnlyFans announcement. He suggested that non-porn sites face similar challenges but less judgmental coverage and that this has contributed to the banks’ fears of reputational damage. It seems, in this case at least, the companies that dominate the payment processing ecosystem, such as Mastercard, are not culpable, but that’s not always the case.

Whatever you may think of the sex industry can it possibly be right for banks to be able to unilaterally decide to ban it? Surely that’s the job of legislators. And what about the precedent? If banks can act to destroy digital businesses involved in the sex trade today, which other industries might they decide to blacklist for fear of reputational contagion tomorrow? Due process and principle are increasingly absent from the digital economy and that’s bad for everyone.

UPDATE – 14:30 25/8/21: After publication OnlyFans published the following tweet. Could it be that the very media it blamed for creating a moral panic against it also persuaded the banks to change course?


One comment

  1. Avatar Dan Pimental 26/08/2021 @ 10:35 am

    OnlyFans dropped plans to ban pornography from its service in the change citing the need to comply with policies of banking partners. The adult content website’s new policy changes were also met with scepticism, particularly as to how the company would enforce the ban.

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