50.50: Opinion

Dear BBC: Getting OnlyFans to ban sex videos isn’t something to be proud of

Ultra-conservative US Christian Right groups helped ban porn on OnlyFans – the only safe source of income for many sex workers

Screenshot 2020-08-28 at 12.00.11.png
Inge Snip
24 August 2021, 8.25am
OnlyFans has banned ‘sexually explicit content’ from October 2021
Casimiro / Alamy Stock Photo

Barely awake, before I’d even had my first sip of coffee, I turned on my computer to see BBC News proudly announcing: “OnlyFans to ban sex videos after BBC investigation”. My stomach churned. 

I’d spent the previous night reading numerous anguished tweets from sex workers and sex worker activists, after OnlyFans, the UK-based content subscription service, had announced that it would ban porn. They were cries for help. People were scrambling to pool money for the most vulnerable, crowdsourcing for those suddenly left without an income. 

OnlyFans – the most mainstream platform that still accepted sex workers, the platform made rich because of sex workers – had decided to cut them off. Yet again, a large corporation making money and fame on the backs of sex workers had abandoned them. With the help of a large, influential, international newsroom. 

What most people don’t know is that ultra-conservative Christian Right organisations from the US have been working hard behind the scenes to make this happen. 

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After reading the BBC article, I had flashbacks to last year, when New York Times (NYT) columnist Nicolas Kristof went on a crusade against the website Pornhub. In his “opinion” piece, Kristof claimed that the site was “infested with rape videos” and trafficked children. In response to the article, Mastercard, Visa and Discover cut their ties with Pornhub’s parent company, Mindgeek.

Yet again, a large corporation making money and fame on the backs of sex workers had abandoned them

And now OnlyFans says it made the decision to ban sex videos in order “to comply with the requests of our banking partners and payout providers”. So far, Mastercard, Visa and other credit card companies have maintained their services with OnlyFans. 

It makes sense that people applaud these changes, because, after all, who is in favour of human trafficking and child pornography? 

The problem is, most sex trafficking recruitment and child pornography aren’t actually happening on Pornhub and OnlyFans. They happen on the social media giants: Facebook, closely followed by Instagram and Snapchat. But it’s sites like Pornhub and OnlyFans that are the ones being “investigated”, “exposed” and attacked. 

Christian Right crusade

The reason that platforms offering sexual services are in the spotlight – instead of mainstream social media platforms – is because evangelical Christian conservative organisations have cleverly fooled influential journalists and policymakers with their ‘good’ intentions: to save women and children from exploitation. 

One of the main sources for Kristof’s NYT piece was an activist named Laila Mickelwait, who leads Traffickinghub, a project by Exodus Cry. Both organisations claim they are “committed to abolishing sex trafficking and breaking the cycle of commercial sexual exploitation”. Both are ultra-conservative Christian Right groups that openDemocracy has been tracking for many years. And their main goal is to ban commercial sex completely. 

Kristof didn’t mention these motives and ties, and it’s possible that he wasn’t aware of them. 

The crusade against porn has resulted in the major credit card companies taking a “stance” on “ethical” transactions. But according to US porn industry veteran Cherie DeVille, this actually does more harm than good. “By suspending card payments, Visa and Mastercard harmed porn stars who made legal videos and did little to stop sex traffickers,” DeVille wrote earlier this year in an op-ed for The Daily Beast. 

According to the BBC, OnlyFans’ announcement that it was banning sex videos came after documents were leaked to BBC News revealing that “OnlyFans allows moderators to give multiple warnings to accounts that post illegal content on its online platform before deciding to close them.” The BBC says it then “approached the company for its response to the leaked documents, and concerns about its handling of accounts posting illegal content”. 

Although the BBC investigation may have exposed shortcomings on the platform, I keep wondering why the journalists decided to “expose” OnlyFans, instead of focusing their attention on the platforms where most of the harm is done. But mostly I wonder, why is the BBC celebrating the fact that OnlyFans no longer allows porn? Even the BBC itself later reported on some of the negative impacts this decision could have on sex workers. 

As a feminist investigative journalist, I constantly have to consider the kind of impact our work has – and whether it is the desired impact. For example, a recent investigation revealed that major aid donors were inadvertently supporting medical facilities where our undercover reporters had been offered anti-LGBTIQ ‘conversion therapy’. Our hope was that donors would investigate such instances, but not cut aid to centres where life-saving services are also being offered. 

The BBC, however, doesn’t seem to have much regard for the livelihoods of people who were offering their services through OnlyFans. All they seem to care about is their own moment of fame.

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