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OnlyFans Says It Will Ban The Content It's Best Known For: Pornography

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

We'll start this next conversation by noting that it will include mentions of sexual content, so it may not be suitable for all listeners. We're talking about the site OnlyFans. It's become very popular during the pandemic. Users sell access to photos and videos, and a lot of those images are pornography, fetish content and nudes. But now the company says starting in October, it's going to ban sexually explicit material in response to pressure from its banking partners and payment providers. NPR tech correspondent Shannon Bond joins us now to discuss. Hi, Shannon.

SHANNON BOND, BYLINE: Hey there.

CHANG: All right. So it sounds like OnlyFans is banning the content that it's best known for, right? What's going on here?

BOND: Yeah, that's right. I mean, OnlyFans isn't a site just for porn, right? It says it has 2 million creators. There are celebrities like Cardi B and Bella Thorne. There are photographers. There are fitness influencers. And it says it has more than 130 million users who pay these monthly subscriptions. But look, Ailsa. This is the internet. There is a lot of porn. And so adult content is a huge part of OnlyFans' business because it allows nudity and explicitly sexual content that many other platforms, like Instagram, for example, just don't. So it's really exploded in popularity, especially during the pandemic, as you said, when lots of people are spending a lot more time at home and online.

CHANG: Right. OK, so why exactly is OnlyFans making this change?

BOND: Well, it does run a subscription business. In order to do that, it needs relationships with banks and with payment processors. And OnlyFans says that's who's pushing these changes. It didn't name specific companies. But, you know, of course, there's a lot of stigma around sex work. And the big payment processors, Mastercard and Visa, have recently been distancing themselves from some pornography and explicit content online. Now, last year, both cut ties with the website PornHub after allegations it was hosting illegal content like videos involving children and rape and sex trafficking. And earlier this year, MasterCard announced it's going to tighten its rules around payments for adult content. There have also been concerns raised about illegal content on OnlyFans, which the company says it bans.

CHANG: I have to ask, what about the people who've been relying on OnlyFans for an income?

BOND: Yeah. It's causing a lot of confusion and frustration because look; OnlyFans has become an important source of income for professional performers like porn actors and strippers and for many people who have lost jobs and income during the pandemic. I spoke with a woman named Morgan Music. She's a single mom in Washington state, and she sells explicit photos and videos on OnlyFans as a side hustle to supplement her day job.

MORGAN MUSIC: Like, I didn't have panic attacks in the grocery store checkout aisle - like, all of that anxiety. To have that lifted because I have, like, a savings account for the first time and have a good credit score for the first time in my life, I think it's hard to really convey how much that means to a person's quality of life.

BOND: And so now she's just not sure what's going to become of that income stream, which she says has been so helpful for her.

CHANG: Right. I mean, do you think people like her will be able to keep making money under these new rules?

BOND: Well, that is part of the confusion. It's not entirely clear what exactly OnlyFans is going to allow once these new rules go into effect in October. So the company says that it's going to ban any content containing what it calls sexually explicit conduct. But it also says it will still allow posts containing nudity. But it's not clear at all where it draws that line, right? When does a nude image become sexually explicit?

CHANG: A key question yet to be answered. That is NPR's Shannon Bond. Thank you, Shannon.

BOND: Thanks, Ailsa.

(SOUNDBITE OF DAPHNI'S "LIFE'S WHAT YOU MAKE IT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.