Sex workers remain united against stigmatisation following OnlyFans’ explicit content u-turn

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UK-based content subscription platform OnlyFans has u-turned on its decision to ban “sexually-explicit” content on its site.

The original, surprise announcement was met with backlash from sex workers, who accused the site of turning its back on the people who helped secure the platform’s success. On 25 August, OnlyFans announced that it has “suspended” the planned policy change. The platform’s flip-flopping has highlighted the precariousness of online sex work – often deemed safer and more secure than street-based work. It’s also shone a light on the continued exclusion and stigmatisation of sex workers, particularly by banks and payment processors.

The worker-led campaign against marginalisation and stigmatisation of sex workers continues unabated.

The proposed ban

On 19 August, OnlyFans announced that it would be banning “sexually-explicit” content on the site from October despite sex workers’ centrality to the platform’s financial success. Founder Tim Stokely told the Financial Times that the planned ban was the result of pressure from banks and payment processors. He stated that this is just one element of the sector’s exclusion of sex workers from accessing banking and payment services. OnlyFans currently has around 130 million users, and it’s set to make approximately $12.5bn in gross value next year.

OnlyFans isn’t the first site to propose censoring or deplatforming sex workers. Tumblr, Facebook, and Instagram have banned explicit content. Online listings website Backpage – which allowed sex workers to screen clients and move away from street-based work – ceased to exist in 2018. And the US SESTA/FOSTA bill – which was designed to prevent sex trafficking – has encouraged online platforms to censor and deplatform sex-working users.

In spite of pertinent concerns about safety and content moderation, some creators have testified that the site provides safer, more secure working conditions than far riskier street-based work. This is particularly true for marginalised workers, including People of Colour, disabled people, and trans people.

Highlighting the potential damage that the site’s proposed ban could cause, United Sex Workers shared:

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Highlighting that the site’s proposals would disproportionately impact marginalised sex workers, Sex Worker Advocacy and Resistance Movement (SWARM) tweeted:

Plans to ban explicit content ‘suspended’

On 25 August, the platform announced a dramatic u-turn, tweeting:

Delighted by the news, but wary of the platform’s commitment, one Twitter user shared:

Responding to the news, St. James Infirmary simply tweeted:

Reflecting to the harm caused by the site’s week of flip-flopping, another person tweeted:

Sex workers’ rights organisation English Collective of Prostitutes credited the sex worker led movement for OnlyFans’ u-turn, saying:

Recognising the site’s continued exploitation of sex workers for profit, one Twitter user shared:

The fight isn’t over

Highlighting the need for banks and payment processors to stop excluding sex workers from accessing basic financial services, legal and advocacy organisation American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) tweeted:

Calling on workers to unionise and put pressure on banks and payment processors to allow people to continue working online, United Sex Workers shared:

This Twitter user also urged workers to keep up the momentum, saying:

Any individuals or organisations working towards economic and social justice should be involved in the fight to end the stigma and marginalisation of sex workers. The censorship and deplatforming of sex workers pushes the community further to the margins and into harm’s way. We must do more to listen to their experiences and centre their voices, while putting pressure on banks, payment processors, and platforms to ensure that sex workers can live and work in safe and secure conditions.

Featured image via OnlyFans/Wikimedia Commons 

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