Updated: Apr 26
dWeb Guide does not promote or condone the sale and purchase of explicit content, and we abhor exploitation in any form. However, we acknowledge there is both demand for and supply of sexual content, and many people make a living from selling such material. We do support making the sex industry safer and more secure, and this article discusses how this might be possible with the decentralised web.
In August 2021, the subscription social network OnlyFans announced that it would be banning sexually explicit content. Within just five days, the company reversed its decision. What happened, and how might crypto, the blockchain and the decentralised web be a solution?
What is OnlyFans?
OnlyFans is a social media site that allows creators to retain, and charge for, their own content. The site is popular with cooks, artists, musicians, trainers, yoga instructors and dog behaviouralists…anyone who is creating content really, and feels they should be paid for it. However, the site has been particularly useful for new and established sex workers because it cuts out the middleman. Creators can engage with the public, provide costed and often more explicit content, and manage it all themselves with only a small payment to the platform out of their subscription profit.
These explicit content creators, OnlyFan’s biggest draw, have helped make it a billion-dollar company. This is partly because most social media platforms are PG rated and their algorithms harshly police content that might be seen as subversive or pornographic. The site has a slick and easy-to-use interface, and a relaxed content policy…and 17 million users purchasing photo and video views and even text and face-to-face conversations with their favourite service providers. In a world of lockdowns and restrictions, this can mean a lot to both the content provider and their clients. OnlyFans are also offering more than porn; users can get that for free online on any number of platforms. What many men and women want is getting to know the people in the pictures and requesting content specific to them; a personalised experience, like having an online girlfriend.
On the company’s competitor sites, such as Pornhub, the content creators make next to nothing for their work (less than $45 per 1000 views). The content is provided to users mostly free, and the sites make money from advertising. While content creators do make a small percentage of the advertising revenue, the prices are set by the platform.
What happened to OnlyFans?
The initial announcement by OnlyFans was a shock and seemed to go against the company’s own business proposition, since explicit content is their bread and butter. It has also, in a post pandemic world, become an important income stream for content creators from all walks of life, but particularly those in the sex industry.
The biggest backlash on the initial decision from OnlyFans came from sex workers and their allies. With the loss of one of the few sites that allow adult content, the industry feared that the news would drive their businesses back underground or onto the streets. OnlyFans had become a site that was empowering to sex workers, and it was being pulled out from underneath them. Worse, the company looked like it had exploited sex workers to build a business then abandoned them when the celebrities and influencers arrived.
Then the pivot. OnlyFans announced that banks had been refusing to work with the platform, but they had been able to make a deal to resume services. The company’s profile has taken a battering but, for now, the site is live.
So why the initial announcement?
The banking sector is mostly to blame. As payment providers, banks have their own policies on what can and cannot be purchased by a credit and debit card. Of course, illicit materials such as drugs and certain weapons are banned, and the banks are very aware of issues to do with laundering and fraud. The restrictions on pornography supposedly stem from concern about underage material and banks’ inability to monitor such transactions. This means that sex workers such as escorts and erotic masseurs cannot easily or legally offer banking facilities on their own websites, so they are limited to cash and other in-person payments, which makes their transactions less safe.
What does the dWeb do to help?
The Blockchain can ensure anonymous private transactions
Digital currencies allow transactions to be completely private, without the need for a bank, through the blockchain. Clients’ purchases are digitally safe, with no credit card bills or bank statements. On the supply side, some explicit content providers and sex workers can’t risk revealing their identity or information such as an address; fiat platforms often have security holes that might be exploited to put a sex worker at risk. While Blockchain platforms have KYC systems (Know Your Customer) to prevent fraud and money laundering, this information is secure. “Shielded” anonymous transactions allow traders to conceal all transaction details except their wallet address.
Crypto helps sex workers protect themselves
With traditional credit card payment providers, there is the possibility of payments being reversed (a chargeback), frozen funds and declined credit card payments by the middleman – the bank. Crypto payments can’t be reversed, and sex workers are able to accept funds upfront without being concerned by paypal freezing their account or the bank reversing the payment. Blockchain transactions are immutable (they can’t be reversed or refunded) which prevents data manipulation and promotes integrity.
Crypto helps sex workers attain financial independence
Paypal, Visa and Mastercard discriminate against the online sex industry by either denying service or charging exorbitant transaction fees. Transactions on the blockchain are nearly free. Sex workers can accept crypto payments on their own websites, by email or in person with needing a bank or payment provider. International money transfers can be made without exorbitant fees. Crypto users can even obtain investment through the blockchain, staking their crypto, without the censorious eye of the bank manager.
In the US, right-wing and Christian-funded ‘anti-trafficking’ legislation basically conflates sex work with trafficking; this makes it impossible for sex workers to advertise their services. Neither google not facebook allow for advertisement of sex services…even benign sex toys can’t be advertised or sold easily using standard merchant facilities.
The decentralised web is censorship averse
A decentralised domain can’t be censored or taken down because it is stored, or hosted, on dozens or even thousands of servers around the world instead of one central place, or organisation. A truly decentralised internet is still a way off, but the idea of having an internet not affected by the political or social climate is the ultimate goal of the decentralised web.
Decentralised domains already exist and are growing in number every day. A time when users regain control of their data and content, when all transactions are secure, when content creators are not subject to censorship and when they own their own content, and where civil liberties are enhanced, is not far in the future.
Some major concerns related to the sex industry will still exist in the near future:
Young, poor and vulnerable women and men being drawn to sites to perform acts and take pictures that they wouldn’t ordinarily choose to do.
The potential for underage material to be sold, and underage users to access inappropriate material.
Screenshots, piracy, and leakage; content being leaked, shared, and sold without the creator’s knowledge or consent is almost inevitable from current sites.
These are issues related to the sex industry and not specific to digital transactions or decentralised platforms. The first problem we can’t easily address with technology; it is a socio-economic issue that goes far beyond the internet. However, the second and third might be possible to improve, if not solve altogether in the case of content theft, with NFTs.
It is already possible for content creators to sell videos, images and GIFs as NFTs on the blockchain. An NFT is a non-fungible token, meaning that it is unique and can’t be replaced or divided - like a piece of music or artwork, only digital. It is a unit of data stored on a blockchain that represents the product; it cryptographically assigns and proves ownership of digital goods. The artist, in this case the explicit content provider, can retain copyright and reproduction rights, but the buyer owns the original. NFTs can even be set up so that the original owner gets a percentage every time the product is sold or changes hands. Each NFT is either a unique token on the blockchain, or it can be like a trading card where there are numbered copies of the same product. If a video or an image was converted to an NFT then the original owner has vastly more control.
NFTs can be tracked and verified, yet the owner can also remain pseudonymous. You can see how this technology will make is safer for content providers while also offering a higher level of security and ownership over what they produce. Further, since NFTs are traceable, proliferation of underage content can be managed, if not reduced altogether. Screenshot sharing will continue to be a problem, but if sites only allow NFTs, then this problem is reduced.
The blockchain and the decentralised web are more than just crypto. Here we can see the example of sex work, in particular digital content in the form of videos and images, for how the decentralised web and its components solve real world problems. And it’s not in the far future; sex workers are already using the blockchain, we can build sites on the dWeb and NFT use is skyrocketing. We are looking at a future that is safer, more secure, less discriminatory and less censored. Technology can’t solve every problem – wouldn’t it be nice? – but we can make life better and easier.
For more on everything blockchain, take a look at our website: www.dwebguide.com.