For five days, it seemed that one of Britain’s most successful tech startups was on the brink of a decisive gamble, one that would see it burst onto the world stage or destroy its billion-dollar business.
OnlyFans, a self-described “subscription social network,” announced last week that it would ban “sexually explicit content” starting in October. The ban came as a shock because, behind the generic brand, sexually explicit content is perceived as OnlyFans’ biggest draw.
The site’s name has become an abbreviation for local porn, thanks to its sleek interface, easy user experience, and most importantly, its flexible content policy. Anyone can post photos or videos, charge for views, and if they have fans, earn a living.
After news of the impending ban broke, sex workers began sharing advice about other platforms that would still work with them. They also expressed fears that the decision could serve to push the business back into hiding, or back on the streets, after losing one of the few sites that allows people to make real money from adult content. They were concerned that the company would seek to do what many others had done: build a business on adult content and then abandon it when overall success called for it.
Then, just as suddenly as it had started, the pivot was dropped. On Wednesday, the day after its co-founder and adult performance entrepreneur, Tim Stokely, gave an interview in which he blamed banks that refused to work with the platform for the decision, the company announced that it had reached a settlement. which would allow normal service to resume. He thanked his “diverse” community, but refrained from acknowledging the importance of explicit content on the website.
“Considering they’ve said ‘suspended’ the ban, it’s not that they’re not following it, I think they’re going to comply with the ban in a few weeks,” said Lola Hunt, one from Melbourne. -sex worker. “The community is very nervous at the moment. Every time a site goes down, our customer base is fractured. It’s like having a physical store and being kicked out of town by religious fanatics every six months. “
The site has undergone a rapid transformation since it was founded in 2016 as the last project by Stokely, a member of a wealthy Essex family. OnlyFans was originally a family business, backed by a loan from Stokely’s banker father, Guy, a former Barclays Bank executive who remains on the board. Tim Stokely’s brother Tom is the COO, while his mother, Deborah, was also a director of their parent company.
However, while the Stokelys remain the public faces of the business in the media and run the company on a daily basis, they no longer own shares in their parent company. Corporate filings show the entire company was sold to a low-key Florida-based businessman, Leonid Radvinsky, in 2018, although the Stokely family has still extracted tens of millions of pounds from the business in the last year.
OnlyFans, which is still based in the UK, is in an awkward financial and cultural situation. At a time when the industry estimates the audience for online pornography in the UK at up to 25 million people, the site is rarely discussed in public, and it is toxic to many financial institutions.
Publicly, OnlyFans always promoted itself as a way for any creator to sell subscription content, heavily promoting their kitchen and fitness users while downplaying the extent to which the core business is porn. A launch just days before the explicit content ban, of “OFTV,” a smartphone app and TV service exclusively for less explicit content, was mocked for its attempt to tweak the seedier side of the company.
It is a booming business that is generating significant amounts of cash, with its sales cut. projected to reach $ 2.5 billion by 2022, much of which is pure profit. However, hedge funds and private equity firms are reluctant to take the reputational risk of investing in a high-profile porn business that has been reportedly haunted. to allow the sale of material by minors. OnlyFans has said that their age verification systems exceed regulatory requirements.
OnlyFans has also carried out a publicity push, employing public relations agency W Communications. The agency also works for large companies such as British Airways, Disney and Jaguar Land Rover, but has not formally announced its work for the website.
While OnlyFans continues to operate as an adult business, the company faces a wide variety of opponents. Some, like the National Center for Sexual Exploitation, a US nonprofit anti-pornography organization, have their roots in the religious community and are generally opposed to all such content. Others focus on problems unique to OnlyFans and its like: the lack of oversight that can allow underage users to flourish, and “revenge porn.”
When a BBC report, published shortly after OnlyFans announced its short-lived ban, found that company moderators were instructed to give three or more warnings to users who post “illegal” content before closing their account, there were calls to action.
In a statement, OnlyFans denied that the instructions were an official guide, saying: “We do not tolerate any violation of our terms of service and we take immediate steps to maintain the safety of our users.” It says it uses “a combination of cutting edge technology along with human monitoring and review to prevent children under 18 from sharing content on OnlyFans.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism