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OnlyFans’ Porn U-Turn Is a Victory Against Banking Censorship

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OnlyFans this morning announced that it will reverse plans to ban sexually explicit material, saying in a statement that it has “secured assurances necessary to support our diverse creator community.” That suggests it has reached a better banking arrangement: The platform, primarily known for hosting adult content creators, had openly and explicitly blamed banks for the original ban on explicit content.

The ban, announced just a week ago, was met with widespread outrage both from adult performers and, more generally, those concerned about the power of banks to effectively shut down businesses they don’t like by cutting off payments service. Public discussion of that threat, often referred to as “banking censorship,” was likely a key element in the reversal of the ban.

David Z. Morris is CoinDesk’s Chief Insights Columnist. This article is excerpted from The Node, CoinDesk’s daily roundup of the most pivotal stories in blockchain and crypto news. You can subscribe to get the full newsletter here

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OnlyFans CEO Tim Stokely took a refreshingly clear and direct line on the porn ban, which was likely an existential threat to his very profitable firm. Speaking to outlets including the Financial Times, he explicitly placed blame on banks for blocking OnlyFans payments, saying that his company “had no choice” in the decision to ban explicit content. More than that, Stokely specifically named three banks that had refused to service OnlyFans: BNYMellon, JPMorgan Chase and Metro Bank.

Meanwhile, adult performers have been organizing protests against Mastercard scheduled for Sept. 1. Those may still continue and could be hugely embarrassing for banks and financial services – particularly to the degree they highlight payment processors’ ability to block pretty much any payment they please.

All of this marks a major defeat for efforts by social conservatives and other anti-porn activists to leverage the payments system to impose their views on society. It also appears to have more broadly raised awareness about the threat of banking censorship.

Mike Stabile, director of public affairs of the adult industry trade group the Free Speech Coalition, detailed the backlash to OnlyFans’ decision in a Twitter thread published before today’s reversal. He noted, first, that the pressure groups that have pushed banks to crack down on adult businesses “are scrambling” because “95% of coverage about OnlyFans supports [sex workers].”

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Stabile says the push has been led by the Christian group Exodus Cry and the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, formerly known (rather revealingly) as Morality in Media. Those groups lobbied Mastercard to impose a new anti-porn policy, according to Newsweek, that appears to have played a role in OnlyFans’ initial porn ban.

But, Stabile says, the groups “didn’t expect so much of the [OnlyFans] coverage to paint them as bad guys, or to talk about their religious campaign.”

Banks, it seems, have been caught similarly flat-footed by the response to the OnlyFans ban – particularly compared with the response when similar moves were made against PornHub last fall, leading to policy changes at that site.

“Very few people are talking about illegal content [as they did with PH (PornHub)],” Stabile wrote. “Everyone is talking about banking censorship.”

When the banks came for the public’s porn, they knew, for the first time, exactly where the problem was and the right people to yell at. For cryptocurrency advocates who have spent more than a decade banging on about the threat of bank censorship, this may come to be viewed as a watershed moment. 

The next time a bank or payment processor tries to pull a similar stunt, they will be sure to think long and hard about the consequences.

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