OnlyFans isn’t banning porn now. But sex workers still have reason to worry.

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imageAn earlier version of this article misspelled Christopher Mallick’s last name as Mallik.Earlier this month, OnlyFans — a website widely used by sex workers to share images and videos with paying subscribers — confirmed that it would be banning the “sexually explicit” content that had been central to its reputation and business model.At the time, the company insisted that payment processors are behind the decision, but by this Wednesday, it had changed course: The site claimed that it had “secured assurances necessary to support our diverse creator community,” which meant the planned ban would no longer go into effect.While the 180 came as a relief to many of its users, OnlyFans’s attempted pivot is still all too familiar to those in the adult industry.This is merely the latest addition in a long history of tech platforms trying out born-again virginity after building their fortunes off the labor of sex workers.In one of the most recent examples, Tumblr — a blogging platform that was once a haven for sex workers and kink communities — updated its policies in 2018 to ban all nudity on the site , citing issues with maintaining its presence on Apple’s notoriously puritanical iOS app store.Tumblr’s traffic plummeted after the transition; it now averages 319 million visitors monthly according to Statista , compared to its pre-porn-ban high of 642 million in July 2018.Even illustrators were affected: The site’s auto-flagging software banned users for nude drawings and sculptures.

The site had destroyed its reputation as a welcoming, open-minded platform for people to explore their sexuality and find community.In March 2020, Tumblr was purchased by former rival WordPress for just $3 million .

Claims of protecting sex workers have long been used to punish them Even Patreon — whose guidelines once stated that “some of the world’s most beautiful and historically significant art often depicts nudity and sexual expression” — enacted a similar policy change a few years before, citing pressure from payment processors.

The increased restrictions on adult content left many creators unable to post anything to their subscribers or even banned from the platform entirely.A petition titled “ Don’t abandon us ” and signed by over 2,000 Patreon creators and their supporters went unheeded.The already nebulous classification of what makes media “obscene” or “explicit” has become a zero-sum game, with right wing lobbying groups arguing that restricting questionable material will prevent violence.

But that contention is increasingly flimsy, given the ways that these policy change hurt sex workers and vulnerable communities.For many sex workers, online platforms were a place to make money without incurring the risk of meeting someone in person during a pandemic.

They provide options for performers to stay independent, maintaining ownership of their own image and content instead of signing away usage rights (as is typical in traditional studio porn).Oyster Kim is a sex worker and OnlyFans creator, and while her streams of income are already diverse, she says online platforms provide stability and record of employment — which is especially difficult to come by in a criminalized industry.

Efforts to bar sexuality — and, principally, sex workers — from the Internet have been, in part, so difficult because of their shared history.Why laws to fight sex trafficking often backfire Despite their puritanical policies, credit card processing companies themselves owe much of their own technologies to the adult industry.Due to the frequency of users scamming adult websites, third-party payment processors developed technologies that pioneered the real-time anti-fraud technology used by mainstream websites today .“We were the first company to do real time credit card verification.We were handling $1.5 billion in transactions per year at one point,” Christopher Mallick, co-founder of Paycom and epassporte, told Business Insider .Subscription site architecture itself is also largely a product of the porn market, with monthly or annual membership sites like Danni’s Hard Drive and porn-ridden bulletin board systems paving the way for Netflix and Spotify’s site architecture.While jokes about OnlyFans’s poor business decision have been all over Twitter — both before and after its Wednesday reversal — the schadenfreude of watching a company choke while biting the hand that feeds it is marred by the economic reality of those affected.Instead of holding the institutions accountable to safer business practices, these policy changes decimate the livelihoods of sex workers and put them at greater risk.

If OnlyFans ends up reversing its course again, there are alternative platforms, but the larger issue pervades.There is a war being waged against sex workers online, despite the fact they built the foundations these companies stand on..

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