OnlyFans’s SFW pivot is the latest example of the limitations of the “creator economy”

The platform is banning explicit content, leaving the sex workers that popularized it in a scramble. Plus: The accessory pouch that could finally help me remember all my electronics when I travel.

I already planned to write about OnlyFans today after Dan Primack at Axios reported this morning that the company doesn’t mention “porn” once in the pitch deck it’s showing to potential investors as it searches for venture capitalists to serve as a “strategic partner.” This bit of news was weird to me since OnlyFans only gained mainstream relevance due to the sex workers and adult content creators who popularized the site and generated a reported $1.2 billion in revenue for the company through this March. From Charlotte Shane at The New York Times Magazine in May:

Though OnlyFans’ representatives seem to distance the site from its sexual content, the platform is synonymous with porn. Its naughty cachet attracts celebrities, whose presence on the site garners a disproportionate amount of attention. When Cardi B joined last August, she made headlines. (“No, I’m not going to be showing my titties,” she warned, but she did promise behind-the-scenes content from her risqué “WAP” music video with Megan Thee Stallion.) Celebrities use the site because they know that regardless of a creator’s stated career (chef, fitness trainer and influencer are popular), OnlyFans’ draw is the promise of seeing that which is normally unseen. Plenty of bios warn subscribers that the attached account is non-explicit yet pepper in teasing cues to the contrary. “This is what we don’t show you,” says one locked post by Rebecca Minkoff, a fashion designer known for her handbags; the caption is followed with the wide-eyed red-cheeked emoji that one might use to punctuate, say, a texted confession of a sex dream. Every assertion that the site isn’t powered by porn is accompanied by an onslaught of winks and nods to the contrary. Sometimes the denials and winks come from the same person.

Turns out, Primark’s Axios report was simply foreshadowing OnlyFans’s complete safe-for-work pivot. Starting October 1, OnlyFans will ban users from uploading photos and videos of “sexually explicit conduct,” according to Bloomberg’s Lucas Shaw. “In order to ensure the long-term sustainability of our platform and continue to host an inclusive community of creators and fans, we must evolve our content guidelines, the company said in a statement. “We will be sharing more details in the coming days and we will actively support and guide our creators through this change in content guidelines.” The updated policy will still allow nudity and is a response from payment providers and banking providers who aren’t with the company’s X-rated image.

OnlyFans was founded in 2016 as a platform for creators of all kinds to build a community of fans willing and able to pay for both the creator’s work and a connection to them. But its currency peaked during the height of the pandemic last year as unemployed people searched for new income streams and office dwellers had some extra free time since new work-from-home policies eliminated their daily commute. But even prior to COVID-19, OnlyFans and contemporaries like JustForFans were propped up by Black, brown and queer creators who were fed up with being fleeced by professional adult studios. “This genre has institutionalized homemade amateur porn in a way that ties it directly to the cult of personality,” Mikelle Street wrote for Out in 2018. “The effect democratizes the porn industry, meaning that any and all genres can be explored.” (FWIW, JFF doubled down on its positioning as a “porn site” after OnlyFans’s announcement.)

Creators charge subscription fees for exclusive content, post up pay-per-view media and generate revenue from tips and livestreams. OnlyFans collects a 20-percent fee. According to KC Ifeanyi at Fast Company, OnlyFans saw a 75 percent spike in new user and creator registrations between last March and April. Earlier this week, OnlyFans started promoting OFTV, a sex-free version of the app, that “provides a super convenient way for fans to watch content from favorite creators,” according to CEO Tim Stokely. “There’s no adult content on OFTV. Because it’s not being monetized and there’s no direct impact on creators’ earnings, we are able to be in the app store.” But as Ifeanyi wrote, OnlyFans isn’t the first to pull an about-face on sex workers:

It’s a familiar story by now: Adult content creators find refuge on a platform — and in some cases become essential to its traffic and growth — just to be squeezed out. It’s only been just over two years since Tumblr and Patreon purged their platforms of porn. Part of the reason was the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act and Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act, collectively known as FOSTA-SESTA, the controversial pair of laws that purportedly set out to prevent illegal sex trafficking but instead put sex workers and adult content creators in the crosshairs.

Rep. Ro Khanna, a progressive Democrat from California, introduced legislation in 2019 to study the impact of FOSTA-SESTA on sex workers, in an effort to fully decriminalize sex work, which could persuade VCs to invest with an open mind. “Sex workers sit at the intersection of a lot of important, but exceedingly difficult, issues surrounding law enforcement, gender, race and speech,” Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon said in a statement last year. “When Congress makes policy that affects any of those concerns, it would be malpractice not to take their voices into consideration.” Last year, two-thirds of all voters under 45 supported fully decriminalizing sex work and 52 percent of voters from all parties said they “somewhat” or “strongly” support sex work decriminalization. (Vice President Kamala Harrissupports it as well, despite her reputation as an antagonist of sex workers.)

Let me be clear: This decision is OnlyFans’ prerogative. The company’s leaders are free to do what they think is best for their business. But for all the talk of the so-called “creator economy” enabling anyone with an idea and internet connection to become an independent business, this is the latest example of its limitations. It’s creators who are ultimately left to improvise when tech executives shift their corporate priorities. The creator economy is really no different than any other previous progeny of American capitalism.

Sex work — not to be confused with human trafficking and sexual exploitation of children — is as meaningful as the knowledge work that I get to create to earn my living. The difference is my profession is unburdened by the stigma that my friends who receive money or goods in exchange for consensual sexual services or erotic performances experience. And even if your politics lead you to believe that this work is unworthy of the dignity and economic stability adult content creators deserve, I’d remind you that the entire creative class is vulnerable to the whims of corporate exploitation, not just those who do in public what you probably do in private.


Coronavirus

President Biden said he and First Lady Jill Biden would get booster shots when they’re available. Biden acknowledged that it was “past time” the eight-month mark public officials recommend for the third shot since the couple was fully vaccinated last December. [ABC News]

Related: Biden said he’s comfortable with Americans getting a third shot when millions of people around the world haven’t had their first. “We’re providing more to the rest of the world than all the rest of the world combined,” he said. “Before the middle of next year, we’re gonna provide a half a billion shots to the rest of the world. We’re keepin’ our part of the bargain. We’re doing more than anybody.” [ABC News]

20,000 Mississippi students have been quarantined for exposure to coronavirus. The state, led by a Republican governor who calls mask mandates “foolish” and “harmful,” has the nation’s second-worst vaccination rate. [Timothy Bella / WaPo]

Politics

Officials evacuated a number of buildings around the Capitol after a man parked in a black pickup truck outside the Library of Congress told police he had a bomb. At press time, the suspect was reportedly in custody. [Eric Tucker and Michael Balsamo / AP News]

President Biden has directed Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to use its broad federal powers to deter governors from banning school mask mandates. “Unfortunately, as you’ve seen throughout this pandemic, some politicians are trying to turn public safety measures — that is, children wearing masks in school — into political disputes for their own political gain,” Biden said yesterday. “We are not going to sit by as governors try to block and intimidate educators protecting our children.” [Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Erica L. Green / NYT]

Sens. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia are advising the nine conservative House Democrats, dubbed the “suicide squad.” The representatives have demanded a vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill before the Senate passes the party’s Build Back Better budget — even though the only way everyone gets what they want is to vote for the entire package at once. It’s such a foolish power play on their part. [Hans Nichols / Axios]

The Federal Trade Commission amended a complaint that was dismissed in June against Facebook for its acquisition of Instagram and WhatsApp. “Facebook has today, and has maintained since 2011, a dominant share of the relevant market for US personal social networking services,” the FTC alleges in its complaint. “Individually and collectively, these metrics provide significant evidence of Facebook’s durable monopoly power in social networking services.” [Russell Brandom / The Verge]

Three judges from Illinois’s court of appeals unanimously ruled that Hobby Lobby violated state anti-discrimination laws for writing up a transgender employee for using the women’s bathroom. “[Meggan] Sommerville is female, just like the women who are permitted to use the women’s bathroom,” the court said in its decision. “The only reason that Sommerville is barred from using the women’s bathroom is that she is a transgender woman.” [Alexandra Hutzler / Newsweek]

Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger of Virginia introduced legislation that would require states to fund addiction recovery programs. Great news but I wish lawmakers had as much empathy for Black crack addicts as we now see with white opioid addicts. [Malcolm Ferguson / Virginia Mercury]

65 percent of Americans say the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq weren’t worth fighting. According to Brown University, over 335 civilians have been killed and 38 million people were displaced, in addition to the $6.4 trillion federal price tag for the post-9/11 wars. [AP-NORC]

48 percent of US adults say the government should take steps to restrict online misinformation, even if it means losing some freedom to access and publish content. Nearly six in ten say tech companies should do so, indicating an increasing frustration with the impact of false information in our politics and culture. [Amy Mitchell and Mason Walker / Pew Research Center]

A global coalition of more than 90 policy groups asked Apple to abandon its plans to scan children’s messages for nudity and the phones of adults for images of child sex abuse. “Though these capabilities are intended to protect children and to reduce the spread of child sexual abuse material, we are concerned that they will be used to censor protected speech, threaten the privacy and security of people around the world, and have disastrous consequences for many children,” the groups, led by the Center for Democracy & Technology, wrote in the letter. [Joseph Menn / Reuters]

Business

Amazon plans to open several physical retail locations across the country because dominating online shopping apparently isn’t enough. The stores would sell clothing and household items and facilitate exchanges, while also enabling shoppers to try out products before deciding to buy. [Sebastian Herrera, Esther Fung and Suzanne Kapner / WSJ]

Related: Amazon acquired the rights to the 57th Academy of Country Music Awards. The company said it will mark the first time a major awards show has been exclusively livestreamed. [Lucas Shaw / Bloomberg]

Facebook will pay 25 local independent journalists from a $5 million fund to write for its newsletter site Bulletin. Some of these reporters probably wouldn’t need this corporate support had Facebook’s business model not accelerated the demise of so many regional publications. [Elizabeth Culliford / Reuters]

Technology

Twitter is testing a feature that enables people to subscribe to newsletters directly from the author’s profile. The company purchased the newsletter app Revue earlier this year to attract power users who write newsletters on other platforms like Substack or Ghost. (Disclosure: The Supercreator is hosted on Substack.) [@revue / Twitter]

Pinterest’s new search feature will return results for different hair textures. When users search for hairstyles, new filter options — created with Black, brown and Latino people in mind — will show coily, curly, wavy and straight textures, as well as shaved/bald and protective styles. [Kait Sanchez / The Verge]

Facebook is testing Reels, an Instagram feature that’s similar to TikTok, in the US starting today. Videos will show up for some users in the News Feed and within Groups where people can watch them together and Instagram users will also be able to cross-post their Reels to Facebook. [Ashley Carman / The Verge]


Read All About It

David Cay Johnston at Salon on how America squandered its wealth on pointless wars:

China spends more than 5.5% of its economy on infrastructure. America spent about 3.1% of the economy on steel and concrete infrastructure way back in 1980, before more than half of today's Americans were born. In recent years, American infrastructure investment has been slashed by half to a record low.

None of this Afghan war spending bought us a better life. None of it was an investment in the public furniture, which is the commonwealth foundation on which private wealth is built.

That money didn't maintain or build new roads, dams, bridges, rail lines or public buildings that could last centuries if adequately designed and constructed. It didn't buy textbooks or strengthen our third-rate grid in this electricity-dependent Digital Age.

It bought bullets and bombs that become useless once they go off. And most of those killing devices were wasted because they failed to kill their targets and, worse, often killed innocents, including women and children.

Kaylen Ralph at Teen Vogue on why Democrats will lose next year’s midterms if they don’t change their messaging:

Even when Democrats do manage to notch legislative successes, they often fail to communicate them to voters. It’s hard to miss a congresswoman sleeping on the steps of the Capitol to ensure housing protections for vulnerable Americans, or your state senator having a catheter inserted so she can remain standing in defense of your rights overnight. But it’s easy to ignore, or feel purposefully excluded from, in-the-weeds policy speeches or backdoor meetings and phone calls.

Matt Ford at The New Republic on how east coast media bias skews the news:

A frustratingly subtle way that geographic bias affects the news industry can be observed in the way climate change is covered. Federal officials declared a water shortage in the Colorado River for the first time earlier this week, likely leading to water cuts across the Southwest. It was a one-day story for most national news outlets. The Dixie Fire in Northern California has already burned more than 700 square miles—more than double the size of New York City—and swallowed whole small towns like Greenville and Grizzly Flats. Over the past 48 hours, the blaze began advancing toward the former logging city of Susanville, where roughly 15,000 people reside and my grandparents once lived.

National news outlets do cover the Western wildfire season when it happens, but rarely with the depth or attention that hurricane season receives; the fact that a smaller share of news photographers and reporters reside out West means fewer images of the apocalyptic scenes make their way into the national imagination. Last September, New York Times columnist Charlie Warzel described how relocating to the West Coast radically altered his perspective on these stories: “Since I moved West, I’ve been preoccupied with this question: Would Americans feel a greater sense of alarm about our rapidly warming planet and the disastrous, perhaps irreversible effects of climate change if everyone could experience a fire season in person?”

The stifling blanket of wildfire smoke that afflicts many Western states each summer received an unusual surge in attention this year only because it became noticeable on the East Coast. I can’t help but wonder what the news coverage would look like if a wildfire more than half the size of Rhode Island were burning in the Appalachians or the Alleghenies, threatening small towns in Pennsylvania or upstate New York and covering cities like Baltimore and Philadelphia in a thick, choking haze.

Sierra Lyons at Scalawag on Florida’s chilling protest-to-prison pipeline:

If this law were on the books during the summer 2020 uprisings, thousands of people in Florida could have been arrested and fined—and if they were ultimately sentenced for rioting, they could have also lost their right to vote. [Activist Delilah] Pierre calls this law "nasty," in part, because in addition to vastly increasing law enforcement's power to crack down on civil unrest, she says it’s an obvious attempt to further strip Floridians of their voting rights, a constitutional right that Florida's leadership has eroded significantly in recent years. Just weeks after passing the anti-protest law, DeSantis signed Senate Bill 90 into law, an election “accountability” measure that limits the duration of requests for vote-by-mail ballots, makes ballot drop boxes less accessible, and prohibits citizens who aren't poll workers from handing out water to voters.

Elaine Godfrey at The Atlantic on the year of postponed grief:

Some people have not been especially bothered by this disruption; perhaps they found relief grieving privately, and without having to host a stuffy luncheon or prepare remarks. But for many people who have lost a friend or a relative during the pandemic, the experience has been disorienting. “The last 18 months have been a time of unreality. All the physical touchstones have disappeared or been altered,” Megan Devine, a psychotherapist and the author of the book It’s OK That You’re Not OK, told me. Funerals bring a kind of reality to the experience of death that some people need. “Loss is a place beyond language, and when you gather in person, you can convey things without needing to rely on words,” Devine said. Zoom services have been meaningful for many people, but they haven’t really been the same: During a funeral, you can offer a gentle hand squeeze or pat someone’s back. You can share the same meal and meet the people who loved your loved one too. Deaths create vacancies in our lives; those rituals and quiet interactions are how we acknowledge the empty space.

Ilyse Liffreing at AdAge on the complex math behind the cost for brands to hire influencers:

Open Influence, which has worked on creator-heavy campaigns for brands like Amazon Prime, Bose and Barilla, weighs several factors beyond creator follower counts and impressions, like which platform is being utilized, if they are using video or static images, and usage and exclusivity rights. Photography influencers, for example, are far more expensive than fashion influencers. And if there's travel involved or event attendance required, that will also drive rates higher.

Some of this may seem obvious: A creator with millions of followers posting a video to YouTube, which requires more production, will be much more expensive than a creator posting an image to Instagram with the same audience. And an influencer granting exclusive rights to content will always be more expensive than ones who grant partial rights or post one-off images or videos.

It’s these types of benchmarks that make influencer campaigns even more structured and varied then digital or traditional ad campaigns. Influencer agencies have to manage many variables like talent aspect along with digital KPIs like CPMs (cost to reach 1,000 views) or CPVs (cost per view).


Michael’s Pick

The Container Store Grey Gadget Case ($25): I’ve started packing for a much-needed vacation down south next weekend and this accessory pouch may be the thing that finally helps me remember all my cords, cables and chargers.