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With a ban on explicit content, OnlyFans is setting itself up to fail

The platform has become synonymous with one thing and one thing only – without that, will it survive?

Victoria Richards
Friday 20 August 2021 09:42 BST
<p>‘The platform will still allow nudes, it says, as long as they comply with its policies’</p>

‘The platform will still allow nudes, it says, as long as they comply with its policies’

Even if you’ve never looked at OnlyFans, chances are you know about it – the subscription platform is most famous for (let’s be honest) one thing and one thing only: sex.

So, news that from 1 October, the site will ban pornography may come as something of a blow to its 130 million registered users. At the moment, creators are able to post adult material and charge subscribers a fee or “tips”, and OnlyFans takes 20 per cent of all payments.

The platform will still allow nudes, it says, as long as they comply with its policies, which I took a look at: the site already bans images of those under the age of 18, as well as any content depicting (among other elements) incest, bestiality, revenge porn – including “deepfakes” – prostitution, violence, rape, torture and assault.

So far, so (seemingly) good. But there’s a problem. In banning explicit content, OnlyFans risks making itself redundant and setting itself up to fail – as well as arguably impacting on the wellbeing of its creators.

One user said that in banning all sexually explicit content from the platform, after making money “off of the backs of sex workers”, OnlyFans had more or less “thrown out” the hands that have fed them. “As someone who does sex work on OF, i’m angry for every creator that has relied on OF for an income just to be thrown out,” she tweeted. The fact that some creators will have used the platform to help pay rent during the Covid pandemic has also been highlighted.

Previously, OnlyFans had been praised for becoming “the paywall of porn”; for putting power back into the hands of its content creators, who are (traditionally) women. Women are so often exploited in the sex industry that the relative safety of online-only work during the pandemic – and the ability to choose their own content and payment rates – could even be said to have changed the industry for the better.

OnlyFans chief executive Tim Stokely told The Independent earlier this year that having a paywall, plus age restrictions (users must be over 18) had allowed the site to have “more liberal content policies”.

Stokely also insisted that while the site had been embraced by adult content users early on, it was now growing beyond pornography – and pointed out that its fastest growing areas are now “fitness, music and more recently fashion”.

But its bread and butter has historically been allowing adult content creators to share videos with relatively few restrictions – something that will end as of October 1, as the site changes in a similar way to the way that Tumblr did in 2018. The photo-sharing and microblogging site banned adult content in every form – including photos, videos, Gifs and illustrations “that depict sex acts” in the wake of reports that child abuse images had made it past Tumblr's filters before immediately being taken down when discovered.

But what happened to Tumblr – in 2013, the company was sold for $US1.1 billion, but in 2019, following the ban, the company was sold for less than $US3 million – should serve as a warning to OnlyFans. Tumblr lost a fifth of its traffic after the NSFW ban was introduced – can OnlyFans afford to run the same risk? Particularly when it’s experienced such a rapid period of financial growth – and has paid out billions of dollars to its creators?

Perhaps its hands are tied – after all, OnlyFans explains the new rules as a response “to comply with the requests of our banking partners and payout providers”, and to “ensure the long-term sustainability of the platform”.

Axios reported that the company had run into trouble securing investment precisely because of the prevalence of adult content on the platform – with a number of venture capital firms explicitly banning apps built to distribute sexually-explicit content – so seems that what sustained the company in the first place (sex) has also become its bête noire.

For now (at least until October 1), OnlyFans is still drawing in subscribers. Whether the site will be able to survive after shucking off its more salacious reputation remains to be seen... and likely paid for – in one way or another.

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