The content subscription service OnlyFans announced Wednesday that it would reverse its ban on sexually explicit content, which the site first reported as a new policy last week. The site's stunning reversal came after it received fierce criticism from creators and advocates supporting the rights of sex workers.
The platform made the switch less than one week after announcing it would ban sexual content due to a need to comply with the policies of banking partners. But then, on Wednesday, OnlyFans said in a tweet that it had "secured assurances necessary to support our diverse creator community and have suspended the planned October 1 policy change." The company added, "Thank you to everyone for making your voices heard.”
The policy reversal came just one day after OnlyFans CEO Tim Stokely told the Financial Times that banks working with the platform did not want to be associated with sex work. "JPMorgan Chase is particularly aggressive in closing accounts of sex workers or ... any business that supports sex workers," Stokely said. As of Wednesday, it's unclear whether the company reached a deal with its banking partners so that creators could continue using the site to produce sexually explicit content.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the company told Refinery29 simply, "The proposed October 1, 2021 changes are no longer required due to banking partners' assurances that OnlyFans can support all genres of creators."
So, is this switch really a result of "banking partners' assurances," or just a backtrack after a very public repudiation? When the subscription service arrived in 2016, OnlyFans was able to fill a void for people over the age of 18 to directly sell and buy sex work away from online platforms like PornHub that aggregated stolen content and shared it for free, The New York Times reports. With OnlyFans, creators had the power to make the kind of content they wanted and could name the price on a platform where they wouldn't necessarily be censored for their work.
But as OnlyFans creator Kimberly Kane told The Times back in May, "OnlyFans is not going to last, but it is a hell of a ride. They'll take it away from us, just like they do everything else. It's only a matter of time." Kane was right. That's why when OnlyFans — as one of the last outlets for sex workers to directly make and sell their own content online — announced last week that it would begin censoring sex workers, the site received an incredible amount of backlash.
"Every single dime that company has made has revolved around porn whether they want to admit it or not," adult content creator Skylar Shark told BuzzFeed News. "I think it's hilarious now watching them try to pick up the pieces from a vase they threw at the wall."
Ever since sex work has existed online, sex workers have had to fight to have any control over the labour they produce, and how it is distributed. Crackdowns on sex workers' rights online followed, as websites like Craigslist and RedBook that hosted classified and message boards became the targets of government censorship back in 2014. Four years later, Congress passed FOSTA-SESTA, a set of controversial bills with the purported goal of curbing human trafficking, which only led to the further censorship of sex work online.
So, it seems clear now, though, that OnlyFans is not willing to maintain protections for sex workers and the incomes they've built on the platform. And with OnlyFans' recent move to ban porn, then backtrack, some sex workers don't know whether to return to the site at all. As a result of the site's announcement last week, many creators had already started deleting content that would violate the new policy, or jumped ship and began moving their subscribers over to new platforms, The Verge reports. Moreover, some creators are mad at the company for abruptly reversing its policy after they say they've already lost followers and money over the initial policy change.
"They were so quick to throw us to the curb when sex workers are the reason OnlyFans has the huge platform they have today," creator xaddiebabyx, who has already lost "countless fans," told BuzzFeed. "It made me laugh reading their post today, thinking we were all going to come back to them, even though they have only suspended the policy change."
Sex workers are now facing a choice to either continue creating content on the site, which has profited directly from their content, or leave the platform behind for good. And with that, the question remains over where OnlyFans sees itself fitting as a social media platform for online influencers. Can the site even survive as a social platform without the very people who made it what it is?