Why Is OnlyFans Banning Explicit Images?

This week, it’s been reported from several news outlets that OnlyFans, the popular premium subscription service known mostly for explicit content will be banning explicit content from October 1, 2021 forward. Why would they do this? What are they planning for the future? Could OnlyFans now become a better option for artists and photographers?
Recently, I’ve taken some interest in OnlyFans. I discovered earlier this year that the founder of OnlyFans is from my hometown and actually went to school with my girlfriend. 

What’s interested me the most is how OnlyFans has marketed itself and how well they’ve created a brand identity. I’d go so far as to say that the word OnlyFans is as synonymous with posting adult content online as Tannoy is with public address systems or Hoover is with vacuum cleaners. During the lockdowns of 2020 and 2021, there have been many people who have made a reasonable income from posting premium content on the OnlyFans platform. It became a safe way for sex workers to still engage with their market in a world where social and physical contact was forbidden. It’s a testament to their branding that so many people flocked to OnlyFans when services such as Patreon already had a good userbase and allowed certain amounts of adult content. Right now, OnlyFans seems like the Wild West of premium subscription services: anyone can get involved, it's not heavily regulated, and there are people making a lot of money from the service. I guess the bubble had to burst at some point.

What Are the Changes Starting October 1st?

This is a great question, and at the time of writing, OnlyFans has yet to outline the specifics. Yet, every major news outlet is posting sensationalist headlines that OnlyFans is banning explicit content. OnlyFans has confirmed that users will no longer be able to post explicit content. However, creators will be able to post nudity as long as it conforms to OnlyFans' terms of service. Their press release says that more information on the specifics will follow in due course. I have reached out to some acquaintances who are content creators on the OnlyFans platform, and they have informed me that OnlyFans has responded individually to a number of creators' concerns after these announcements, confirming that creators will be able to continue posting adult content that meets OnlyFans; terms of service. This expressly bans images of anyone under the age of 18, of torture, rape, revenge porn, or sex trafficking. My understanding is that creators must undergo enhanced age and identity verification that regular user accounts do not have so that creators can continue to post nudity while regular users cannot. These sound like fairly sensible criteria with the suggestion from OnlyFans that there will be no major changes to what creators can post. It’s worth noting that OnlyFans has historically deleted a number of confirmed accounts that they discovered to be posting images of persons under the age of 18; this can only be a good thing and demonstrates that their verification process is probably fit for the purpose.

Why All the Fuss?

Looking at the wording from OnlyFans, as well as some replies to actual content creators, my personal feeling is that this is just a great marketing strategy from OnlyFans. There may be some small changes to just how explicit creators can be with their content, but everyone is now talking about them (myself included). It’s as sensational as a headline like “Apple banning the sale of iPhones.” Most major news outlets are talking about their service and speculating on the changes, which are yet to be specifically confirmed by OnlyFans. Surely, it's no coincidence that OnlyFans has recently released an app for Android and iOS that allows users to post safe-for-work content such as fitness, cooking, and DIY. The new app is called OFTV and is allowed on mobile app stores because it contains no adult content at all. 

My feeling is that this app launch and all the noise being made about OnlyFans banning explicit content, when in reality, it doesn’t look as though they are actually banning much at all, is a heavy-handed attempt to clean up their image and make the company more appealing to investors. If OnlyFans starts to look more like Patreon than PornHub, they may have access to more investors who could otherwise be scared off by the link to pornography. It's also been reported that OnlyFans payment processors are unhappy with their ties to somewhat unregulated explicit content. After all, no one wants to be associated with explicit images of children, let alone inadvertently profiting from them, and many companies don’t want to be directly associated with adult entertainment at all.

What Does Any of This Have To Do With Photographers?

It’s my belief that OnlyFans is trying very hard to change their branding and public image without upsetting their content creators too much or actually disrupting all of that money that comes in from subscribers every month. The action taken to limit what unverified users can post is a positive one in preventing inappropriate images of people who may not consent or may be underage. This is good, so well done, OnlyFans. This is still a very long way away from OnlyFans outright banning all explicit images.

If there wasn’t a stigma attached to OnlyFans then they may become another legitimate service to support artists and photographers in the same way that many artists use Patreon. At present, if I asked someone to subscribe to my OnlyFans, they would likely have a different content expectation compared to the suggestion that they support me on Patreon, although the services can be used in very similar ways. I think that OnlyFans is aiming to aggressively change their image to engage with a wider variety of content creators from different fields. This has the potential to be good for all creators, as more platforms mean more choice, and more competition in the market can mean better terms for creators. With recent criticism of Instagram for their policies on what constitutes nudity, surely an unfiltered platform is a good thing?

What do you think about the OnlyFans announcement? Would you use OnlyFans if they changed their image? Do you already use OnlyFans?

As always, let me know your thoughts in the comments. Remember to be nice.

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25 Comments
Brad Wendes's picture

At this stage, I’m inclined to agree. It will be interesting to see if they can change their image over time

Michael Krueger's picture

Telling someone to subscribe to my OnlyFans would be the equivalent of saying check out my latest video on Pornhub.

It might have a future, but for now it's a porn site and has a long way to go if it wants to change that. I won't use it as a photographer.

Daniel Medley's picture

I knew nothing about OF until about a year ago when on a shoot the model asked me about making Only Fans content.

Trust me, there already are photographers making money with OF.

Daris Fox's picture

I was one of those photographers, the experience was mixed where the relationship was rather one sided both with the model and OF. Unless you made it big the returns was minimal. Just like SG and similar sites they shaft the photographer and the model gets the greater share. Most of the money came from secondary sales rather than subscriptions but other photographers may have other experiences.

Daniel Medley's picture

People have made substantial money photographing models for their OF content. Just because it's not coming directly via OF doesn't mean the income isn't from OF.

Ali Choudhry's picture

If you look at the precedence for this, Tumblr sold for over a billion dollars in 2013 and for much of that time, it catered to audiences for explicit content.
When Tumblr banned NSFW images, a lot of those users simply up and left the platform. I know heaps of people who moved to Twitter. Tumblr sold for $3 million dollars about two years ago? That's a huge drop in valuation.

Once you build up a specific brand identity and try to shift from that, two things happen. You lose the people who built you up; and you have the pressure of absolutely needing to gain the people you are then catering for.
It'll be interesting to see how this pans out. I already know heaps of explicit content creators who are leaving the platform.

Tom Reichner's picture

Brad Wendes said,

"It's also been reported that OnlyFans payment processors are unhappy with their ties to somewhat unregulated explicit content."

I think this is what the whole "image change" is all about. I do not believe that OnlyFans wants to actually change anything, but fear that they must give the appearance of change, or they could lose out on payment processors being willing to work with them, which would effectively shut down their business.

Andy Day's picture

It seems likely that OnlyFans was pre-empting the fallout from this investigation: https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-58255865

Brad Wendes's picture

Well spotted, I knew there had to be a good reason for such aggressive marketing when they didn’t really have anything much to say.
Any and all moves to remove content featuring non-consensual acts or indecent images of minors is a net win for society.

Mark Fa'amaoni's picture

With all due respect to Brad, I would have expected something a bit more substantial in an article titled "Why Is OnlyFans Banning Explicit Images" than a cursory review of a corporate press release.

The reason why OnlyFans is banning explicit images is because of pressure from Mastercard, who as a result of the Pornhub controversy, changed their rules in April for new requirements for adult-content transactions and OnlyFans had till October to comply.

This isn't a matter of legality, because illegal content has always been illegal, and OnlyFans removed illegal content when they found it. (I read the BBC article cited earlier by Andy, and it is missing a huge amount of context). It's a matter of morality: and whether we think it should be the place of Credit Card companies to decide what sort of content mutually consenting adults should be allowed to produce and distribute.

And in a much wider context this is about the "war on sex-work", and is connected to SESTA-FOSTA, the takedown of Backpage, and the drive push people in the sex-work industry back underground. It's really irresponsible to publish an article like this without taking the voices of sex-workers into account here. This is the story of a group of powerful, moral lobby groups working to hurt a very marginalised workforce, and you've framed it as "how can this be a win for photographers?" And that just isn't right.

Brad Wendes's picture

hanks Mark, I think that’s an interesting take. I actually did speak with a number of sex workers to find out what OnlyFans was saying to content creators. I did also mention that OnlyFans was a safe outlet for sex workers, and this is a good thing. Perhaps I should have put more emphasis on that point.
The information I was trying to get across is that OnlyFans haven’t actually announced what changes they are making but everyone is talking about them anyway.
Fstoppers is a photography website so making this news relevant to photographers seemed somewhat necessary. My intention wasn’t to frame it as a “win” for photographers, simply ask if this news changes our audiences’ thoughts towards OnlyFans.
It’s clear that pressure from Stripe and MasterCard are somewhat responsible for this aggressive marketing, I was merely speculating on what image they are now trying to convey. I used their limited press release and conversations with actual sex workers as sources for this.

Mark Fa'amaoni's picture

I mean...you spoke to sex workers, but it seems like you didn't actually believe them. Because they have been fighting this battle for a very long time: not just on OnlyFans, but things like SESTA-FOSTA, on Tumblr, and almost everywhere they exist. Just because OnlyFans haven’t formally announced what exact changes they are making doesn't mean they don't know what is coming. Because they have seen the same thing happen to them over and over again.

And you continue to characterize it as "aggressive marketing", when there is no evidence at all that this is simply a marketing exercise at all.

If OnlyFans don't comply with Mastercard's and Stripes demands, then they go out of business. So OnlyFans has decided to comply with the demands (because they don't want to go to the trouble of setting up verification systems, etc) , which will have a dramatic impact on the people that use the site to make a living. That's the story here. And if it follows the same pattern as what happened to Tumblr, then doing this will drive them out of business as well. This is the Kobayashi Maru scenario for OnlyFans, this doesn't end well for them no matter what they do.

You really can't divorce this story from the greater context, and the link that Martin provided sums that greater context extremely well. This story has relevance to photographers. But that relevance has more to do with, as I said before: whether we think it should be the place of Credit Card companies to decide what sort of content mutually consenting adults should be allowed to produce and distribute.

Brad Wendes's picture

This appears to be a subject you are quite passionate about. I have spoken to two of the sex workers in question again this morning. They’ve informed me that the information they received directly from OnlyFans has changed from yesterday to today and these women are now looking into alternative platforms due to the uncertain future of OnlyFans.
As mentioned in the article, at the time of writing, OnlyFans was expressly telling their creators not to worry and no significant changes were coming. The people in question are good friends and I have no reason not to believe them, nor was there any suggestion in the article that I didn’t believe or respect these people.

As for the reference to “aggressive marketing”. It is not an easy feat for a company to get such broad coverage from a wide range of news sources. This leads me to believe that OnlyFans are deliberately trying hard to get news coverage. This is what I am referring to when I used the term Aggressive Marketing

Mark Fa'amaoni's picture

"It is not an easy feat for a company to get such broad coverage from a wide range of news sources."

It's actually surprisingly easy to get broad coverage from a wide range of news sources. Google Activision Blizzard. Click on the news tab and scroll down. You will see them getting broad coverage from a wide range of news sources...absolutely none of it was good. And none of it was marketing, and none of it was aggressive marketing.

It's a very easy feat to get such broad coverage from a wide range of news sources when you screw something up.

If you think this is marketing: who do you think the target market actually is? If sex workers leave the platform who will replace them? Getting broad coverage is no substitute for a targeted marketing campaign.This is bad news for OnlyFans. They have 130 million users, 2 million creators, and collectively they have earned 5 billion dollars. It isn't easy to pivot something that big to something else, especially when your current brand is so heavily associated with one single thing, and its next to impossible to pivot if you don't have a clue what it is you want to become.

So now that you have spoken to these women and they have said "these women are now looking into alternative platforms", do you think the story needs updating? Did they explain why they are looking elsewhere? I mean, all of this had already been widely reported already in what you described as "sensational" news reporting. The twitter thread Martin cited was published 2 days ago. I can understand why your friends might not have known about the extent of the changes: but if you are going to write an article called "Why Is OnlyFans Banning Explicit Images" then this was stuff you really shouldn't have missed.

You said that I'm passionate about this but the thing is...it isn't about me. There are millions of creators like your friends who now have to find another way to earn money. And even if they do find another platform its only a matter of time before the credit card companies come after them as well.

To be perfectly clear: this isn't meant as a criticism of you. It's just the way that you framed it here really misses the mark IMHO, and I think the topic is important enough for me to point that out.

Tom Reichner's picture

Mark,

You are right when you say that this is not a marketing ploy at all. The only reason OnlyFans is doing any of this is to come into compliance with their payment processors. There is no attempt to change the direction of their platform or to draw in new investors or to appeal to a much broader clientele. That should be painfully obvious, but for some reason some people are just not seeing it.

OnlyFans just wants to keep making money hand over fist the way they have been, but in order to do that they need to appease the prudish credit card companies. Obviously, that is the only thing this is about.

Daniel Medley's picture

The bigger story, and the more frightening one, is the notion that payment processors and credit card companies/banks are able to arbitrate to the world what they consider to be okay or not okay; to actually control the decisions and behaviors of others.

The TOS is quickly becoming the de facto law of the land.

Corporatocracy at its finest.

dale clark's picture

You hit the nail on the head. Your delivery trucks are not electric?, Mastercard may have an issue with you. I know it sounds far fetched now....The whole "Social Credit Score" will be driving the markets in the next few years. Business loan rates etc will be based on their "Social Credit Score" which will be based on everything from Environmental, Social, Political practices etc that are deemed important by the decision makers.

Tundrus Photo's picture

Agreed - to a point. One possible explanation is that credit card companies have managed to fly under the radar when it comes to public opinion and the law as these relate to being perceived as facilitators of illegal or immoral activity. If that were to change, then the companies would see potential legal liability and/or consumer backlash.

Momchil Yordanov's picture

Mark Fa'amaoni, "to make a living" can be a very vague thing. I'm sure professional hitmen kill people to make a living too. And drug lords are working people also... Outside of exaggerated examples, if I was an owner or shareholder (no idea if the company is private or public) of Mastercard, there is a pretty good chance I wouldn't want to be associated with.

Mark Fa'amaoni's picture

Killing people for money outside of a warzone or in self defense is typically illegal. Drug Lords act outside the law. Almost all of the sex work on OnlyFans is perfectly legal. The distinction is both important and relevant.

Martin Peterdamm's picture

also a good thread what's behind this here in this thread

https://mobile.twitter.com/postcultrev/status/1428584131835748359

Tundrus Photo's picture

There are very likely two issues at the core of this decision. First, the ability or inability to comply with the regulatory regimes of various countries around the world. What is seen as "free speech" is one country is illegal pornography in another. It is possible for employees of a company who work/reside in one country to be charged in another country. It is believed that this is partly the case with PornHub. It played a role that company making changes. Second, credit card companies are sensitive to the same issues. For example, facilitating payment for something that is illegal in one jurisdiction and not in another creates the possibility of legal liability. This was the case when some jurisdictions legalized the sale of marijuana. The repetitional risk is also a large motivating factor. The "cancel culture" movement is likely a consideration for the card companies as they too have a vested interest in ensuring the wide-spread acceptance of their product. Regardless, as with any group with a vested economic interest in the status quo, both photographers and models will decry the change no matter its impact on their earnings.

Michael Hickey's picture

If people are serious about mainstream content creation they need to seek out a better platform like TrueFanz because OF is always going to have a stigma.