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In defence of OnlyFans

There is a rigorous verification process for content creators such as Bella Thorne

May 4, 2024 - 1:45pm

The adult website OnlyFans is currently being investigated by the regulator Ofcom for potentially allowing under-18s to view pornography on its platform. Ofcom said: “We have grounds to suspect the platform did not implement its age verification measures in such a way as to sufficiently protect under-18s,” and “we are also investigating whether OnlyFans failed to comply with its duties to provide complete and accurate information in response to these statutory requests.”

I never thought I would want to publicly defend OnlyFans, but this decision by Ofcom makes little sense. OnlyFans has some of the strictest age-verification protocols for visitors of any site in the word. Firstly, all content is behind a paywall, meaning that fans cannot subscribe to anything unless they put in credit card details (which immediately rules out most minors). Secondly, users have to go through a two-step process to check they are 18: a facial check system, which estimates a person’s age from a selfie picture, and if this fails then they must upload documents proving their age. For content creators, there is also a rigorous verification process, in which they are required to provide nine forms of ID (10 in the US), including name, address, bank details, biometric scans, social media accounts, and government ID.

OnlyFans is therefore more role model than rogue: it goes above and beyond any age-verification system for other adult websites. OnlyFans bosses even lobbied for the Online Safety Bill in 2022, a rare show of support among almost universal criticism, saying they “wished it had happened faster”. Now Ofcom is wasting taxpayers’ money investigating the one adult site that pushed for age-verification measures, all because of a technical error. OnlyFans had erroneously told Ofcom that the threshold to access the site had been set at 23 years old, when a coding configuration issue meant the technology had been set at 20 years old — a mistake which the site reported and quickly amended.

If Ofcom wants to protect children from viewing pornography, there are plenty of other places it could start: what about Pornhub, which simply asks users to tick a box saying they are 18? The majority of teenagers are not watching OnlyFans, but they are watching porn elsewhere. Surveys suggest a quarter of 16- to 21-year-olds had viewed porn while still at primary school, with 50% exposed to it by the age of 13. 79% said they had seen pornography involving sexual violence as children, while one in five of 14- to 18-year-olds admitted to having a porn habit. As long as children can continue to access hardcore content at the click of a button, nothing will change.

We know that prohibitions work. When Louisiana passed a law requiring age verification for online pornography, Pornhub saw an 80% decline in traffic from its site. When Utah passed a similar law MindGeek, which owns Pornhub, blocked access to all of its websites in Utah. The fact that Pornhub would sooner stop doing business altogether than verify that its users aren’t children gives a pretty telling insight into the morality of the pornography industry, yet the UK continues to avoid the issue.

Meanwhile, Ofcom is choosing to investigate OnlyFans, which, in comparison to most other adult websites, is actually a poster child for how we can stop minors accessing inappropriate material. OnlyFans is at least making an effort, and should be held up as a positive example rather than a negative one for doing so.


Kristina Murkett is a freelance writer and English teacher.

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George K
George K
16 days ago

I didn’t even know how strict they are but investigating a paid site immediately made me suspicious that it’s about protection of minors. It’s like investigating the single regulated landfill amidst piles of smoking garbage

Archibald Tennyson
Archibald Tennyson
16 days ago

This title is misleading and clickbaity. Well done, Unherd. I clicked. Happy now?

George K
George K
16 days ago

I also clicked because WTF but if the author to be trusted I learned that prohibition and age verification actually work which made me ever more convinced that our tech overlords and state bureaucracy profit from the pornography

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
15 days ago

Unless it’s changed since you posted what’s misleading about it? The writer is defending Only Fans against Ofcoms treatment of it

M To the Tea
M To the Tea
16 days ago

Perhaps the focus of the investigation isn’t so much on the patrons but rather on the sellers—how can anyone be sure that the player isn’t a minor? Or maybe the investigators are seeking data to determine who the buyers are so they can be blackmailed tomorrow?

David Morley
David Morley
16 days ago

So what is the motivation for going after only fans if it is actually one of the best on age restrictions, and if this is known to Ofcom?

Is it an error? Is it a soft target? Is it because only fans empowers women and we live in an oppressive patriarchy (tongue in cheek on that one)? The article seems incomplete without an answer to that question.

Jack Robertson
Jack Robertson
16 days ago
Reply to  David Morley

If I had to hazard a guess, yes, your third suggestion: the open, unapologetic and tenable commercialisation of female sexual agency it enables is an affront to the usual suspects, who have no particular problem with commercialising pornography…so long as men/big business, somewhere and somehow, can keep controlling and ticket-clipping it. Another striking thing about OnlyFans beyond being the most responsible porn platform around is that it’s also the most autonomous and direct business model for the content creators (overwhelmingly young, attractive women). The sleazy, exploitative sites that exist in the illegal and/or demi-monde internet are, paradoxically, a kind of back-handed affirmation of traditionally repressive and sanctimonious moralities. The patriarchy has never truly objected to women commercializing their sexuality. Just so long as they remain illicit, hidden and shameful with it.
OnlyFans’ and its contributors’ main sins seem to be a) being unapologetic about their business model and, for the most part b) unharmed and often very rewarded for it. Bad girls! They must be shamed and punished.

David Morley
David Morley
16 days ago
Reply to  Jack Robertson

Adding a perhaps different slant to this: perhaps we are uncomfortable with the idea that some women use their sexuality to exploit men without being constrained to do so. This should perhaps be obvious, but it runs entirely contrary to the narrative of prostitution (and other sex work) as exploitation of women by their clients.

There is just too much on only fans that is too obviously exploitation of weak, even vulnerable, men by women. I’m sure it has always been thus, but as with so many things the internet lays it all bare.

Good post, thanks.

Jack Robertson
Jack Robertson
14 days ago
Reply to  David Morley

Likewise yours. Yes, not being cute, but I probably haven’t done enough, or exhaustive enough, research into OnlyFans to be confident it’s all grrr-girl capitalist empowerment and feminist agency in play! (Give me a grant and I’ll spend two years becoming an expert though…)
Yes, my post above not-with-standing, I have never really bought into feminism’s ‘sexual license = sexual empowerment’ narrative. Not collectively, as a ‘net good thing’ for women. (For some, sure – invariably the wealthy, educated, privileged ones). For most women it’s always felt (to me, anyway) more like a posh version of just another ‘external moral authority’ (once the church, nowadays ‘progressive’ consensus) demanding that women grant bullying lothario blokes everything sexually they want, as their (same-old) masculine entitlement…only calling it ‘progressive equity virtue’ rather than ‘regressive patriarchal oppression’. I have just seen too many seriously creepy, ‘sensitive, caring’ men use their ‘feminist’ credentials to get trusting women into bed…and then treat them like dirt (in the timelessly charmless way of the worst of our gender), and without even invoking the traditional civic ‘consolation prizes’ (a requisite marriage giving financial stability, at least the public expressions and accoutrements of moral and ethical obligation, an embraced ethical duty of care to resulting children, etc).
Some smart feminist – maybe it was Greer – once said that feminist’s worst ever strategic blunder was to mistake ‘becoming more like men’ for genuine gender equality. I think there’s something in that. And maybe the epidemic of young girls who think they must transtion to being actual ‘men’ is some logical endpoint extreme of that early misstep. Warm regards David.

David Morley
David Morley
16 days ago
Reply to  Jack Robertson

Just did a quick check on the CEO of Ofcom. One Melanie Dawes.

She was the Civil Service Gender Champion from 2015 to 2019, when she was appointed as the overall Civil Service Diversity and Inclusion Champion.

I think we can fairly say she leans feminist rather than the reverse. It seems unlikely that her policy would be: go after Only Fans because it empowers women; turn a blind eye to “patriarchal” porn sites.

In so far as her ideological position is influencing Ofcom actions it is more likely to be motivated by feminist rather than patriarchal ideology.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
15 days ago
Reply to  David Morley

Nope. Diversity and Inclusion Champions are the employed promoters of transgender activism, which is antifeminist. Encouraging the idea that men can become women and gain access to women’s exclusive spaces – sports, refuges, prison cells, dating sites – is systematically destroying the gains women have made in the past 50 years. The DEI practitioners also tend to agree with the ‘Sex work is work’ ideologues too.

Jack Robertson
Jack Robertson
14 days ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Yep, I’d echo this. Actually, in a weirdly counter-intuitive inversion, my gut instinct is that the most overtly and aggressively ideological ‘feminists’ aren’t really feminists at all. I think their feminist ‘props’ are opportunistic, cosplay ones only, deployed (as with all the more zealous ideologues) in the much more banal, universal (and gender-neutral) pursuit of narcissistic self-interest. In that sense, someone like Dawes, psychologically and intellectually, will be – or is likely to be, I can’t say I actually know – more like the arch-typical bullying patriarchal narcissists she affects to oppose. Scratch the feminist rhetoric and crusading posturing of all ideologues and I reckon you’ll find a common psychic and emotional engine room.
So it follows entirely that a ‘feminist’ like Dawes could easily – inevitably, probably – end up being objectively anti-women’s interests, if the ideological, political and civic trends and ‘feelz’ of the moment provided more fertile bullying traction. The same would apply to the many ‘progressive’ male ideologues who have flipped from lifelong (professed) support for women’s rights, to enabling their erosion, simply because there’s more ‘low-cost zealotry’ and thus narcissistic grandstanding to be got from the trans cult.
The same figures, by the way, will seamlessly transfer their need for moralistic bullying power away from the temporarily useful men-without-willies and women-with-them, the second the righteousness of their current bandwagon fades, and a new one comes along.

Alan B
Alan B
15 days ago
Reply to  David Morley

There are many “feminisms” and one can be sure that a generously funded feminist like Dawes numbers among the elite shock troops of the global oligarchy

Jack Robertson
Jack Robertson
14 days ago
Reply to  David Morley

Not unreasonable point at all, but on balance I would tend to follow Unherd Reader’s counter-intuitive but I think empirically very strongly-evidenced reasoning. See my response to his her their points!*
*See, gender-neutral language can have its spiffing uses. Why yes, thank you, Judith Butler!

Jonathan Nash
Jonathan Nash
15 days ago
Reply to  David Morley

It’s a trophy scalp.

Jeff Cunningham
Jeff Cunningham
16 days ago

Unfortunate choice of words: “Poster-child”. And:
“strictest age-verification protocols for visitors of any site in the word.”
Really? Do any of these articles ever pass before the eyes of a real editor before they go live?

Richard Ross
Richard Ross
14 days ago

^Yes, O.F. are tremendous heroes.^
Any strike against the porn industry should be lauded, even by such a clumsy monster as Ofcom. It may go some way toward redeeming their treatment of Mark Steyn.