PARIS (AFP) - OnlyFans, the platform where people can share erotic photos and videos for a fee, on Wednesday (Aug 25) reversed its decision to prohibit sexually explicit content.
The British-based company said it would "continue to provide a home for all creators", backtracking on an announcement last week that would have seen many adult performers booted from the site.
"We have secured assurances necessary to support our diverse creator community and have suspended the planned Oct 1 policy change," the company posted on Twitter. "OnlyFans stands for inclusion."
OnlyFans soared in popularity during the pandemic as bored millions looked to the Internet for distraction. Launched in 2016, it now counts some 150 million users worldwide.
Top stars include celebrities like rapper Cardi B and the boxer Floyd Mayweather as well as well-known porn actors, but the site is also used by everyone from students to grandparents looking to supplement their income by sharing raunchy images.
"OnlyFans' initial decision to ban adult content was surprising, considering the amount of revenue generated for the platform by adult content creators," said Scarlett Woodford, an analyst at Juniper Research who tracks the adult entertainment industry.
The company's founder and chief executive officer Tim Stokely initially tied the decision to threats from major banks to cut ties with OnlyFans, lest they damage their reputation.
"We had no choice," he told the Financial Times, saying that banks had been citing "reputational risk" as a reason to "refuse our business".
OnlyFans pays more than one million creators US$300 million (S$400 million) every month via the banking sector, Stokely added.
Paying for porn with crypto?
It was not the first time an Internet platform has blamed pressure from financial institutions for a ban on explicit content. Patreon, another website where fans can support creators, announced a similar move in 2017.
Woodford said credit card companies had long considered pornography a high-risk sector - not least due to the high rate of transactions that people dispute, claiming they were accidental.
Payment processing firms and investors are also increasingly worried they could be accused of funding illegal material that makes its way online.
Visa and Mastercard temporarily banned payments to sites owned by porn giant MindGeek last year over reports that it was hosting non-consensual "revenge porn".
And this month, US lawmakers demanded an investigation into alleged child pornography posted on OnlyFans.
Woodford said OnlyFans' ability to keep paying people through mainstream banks "will depend on providers' attitudes towards adult content".
If it is going to keep hosting explicit material, she suggested, OnlyFans might need to "introduce the option to pay via cryptocurrencies", a strategy that is being pursued by a growing number of pornography distributors.
'No love lost'
The "no porn" policy had been met with widespread anger from sex workers' groups, who said OnlyFans had built its success on the work of adult performers - taking 20 percent of their earnings through the site - only to betray them.
Critics also said OnlyFans had offered financial security and a safe working environment to sex workers, who would find themselves in a vulnerable position after the ban.
Wednesday's announcement was met with a mixture of hurt and relief from OnlyFans performers, with some saying they had already taken their business elsewhere.
"OnlyFans has already showed that they're willing to throw sex workers under the bus when they think it makes financial sense for them," said Lydia Caradonna, a British-based sex worker, journalist and activist.
"There's no love lost with this platform. I'm also very sceptical of the move, because it doesn't seem like they've reversed it entirely. They say they've suspended the change. But does that mean forever?"
Over the past week OnlyFans had shown signs of an attempted rebrand, pitching itself as a more family-friendly site where people might go to subscribe to videos by their favourite chefs or yoga teachers.
It has been proactively recruiting artists, fashion stylists and other mainstream content creators, offering them free promotion if they set up an account on the site.