OnlyFans drops sexually explicit content after censoring from MasterCard, VISA, and banks

Update: Tim Stokely, OnlyFan’s founder and CEO, clarified that the platform was going to bans sexual content because of their banking partners (and not MasterCard or VISA).

That said, MasterCard and VISA have “recently clamped down on the use of their cards to pay for sexual content… follow[ing] pressure from organizations that broadly oppose sex work and pornography.”

Now, though, OnlyFans has said they now won’t ban porn. Sploosh.

OnlyFans has built a successful platform on the back of one thing: porn. Sex workers of all stripes have found ways to make a living. It’s been “celebrated as an ethical business model that gives workers financial autonomy and safety” by some, a good side hustle for others, and a disappointment by yet more.

But, no longer:

Video sharing site OnlyFans, best known for its creators’ adult videos and photos, will prohibit sexually explicit content starting October 1st. First reported by Bloomberg, the company says it is making the changes because of pressure from its banking and payment provider partners, though a BBC investigation found that the company had been lenient on creators who had posted illegal content.

The BBC report is worth checking over but, in brief:

  • Accounts are moderated differently depending on how popular (and lucrative) they are
  • Moderators are told to give accounts multiple warnings for illegal content before they’re banned
  • OnlyFans are “failing to prevent under-18s from selling and appearing in explicit videos”
  • Mods have found illegal content including “bestiality involving dogs and the use of spy cams, guns, knives and drugs”

The article has more info and worth a read. OnlyFans seems to have real, undeniable structural issues.

Here’s the thing: every social media platform does. Facebook has a massive child porn problem, for example, and countless moderation issues. And yet payment outfits aren’t backing out of their business.

It speaks to the disproportionate power the likes of Visa and MasterCard have have over content (when they choose to exercise it, which, thankfully is rare).

Here’s Jim Waterson for The Guardian:

Payment processing companies increasingly control what material pornography sites are able to host. Last December, Visa and Mastercard briefly banned payments to websites owned by online pornography giant MindGeek, following reports it was hosting “revenge porn” uploaded without the consent of those involved. The financial businesses only backtracked when MindGeek deleted tens of millions of unverified videos from its sites such as PornHub.

“Payment processors as moral arbiters” isn’t quite a future I expected (and it may not get the attention it deserves – most articles refer to “pressure” from payment outfits rather than, say, censorship).

I’m not here to mount a defence against things like revenge porn and, all told, I think PornHub deleting unverified videos was a good thing. And, based on the BBC’s reporting, OnlyFans needs to improve their moderation practices a great deal.

But, the reality is, banks and finance groups are wiping out a platform that helped sex workers ply their trade in a relatively safe environment. This will push many of them into more fraught, more dangerous positions.

Meanwhile, the organisations that make their living drowning people in debt are acting as moral bell-weathers and censors. What a world.


How the media covers Afghanistan matters (and it’s not great)

How the media covers any given issue matters. The coverage helps shapes how people understand what’s happening and what the limits and bounds of what’s possible (or acceptable).

That’s especially true of long-running issues. The coverage, over time, not only shapes how people understand it now – it informs all the assumptions that underlie the “now”. All those things you’ve now forgotten.

That applies to Afghanistan (and the War on Terror writ large). And the media coverage of the US’s “work” in Afghanistan right now isn’t great.

As Judd Legum explains in Popular Information, a lot of the people who justified the US (failed) intervention over the past 20 years are now trotting themselves out to score political points against Biden.

Here’s Legum on a piece from The Washington Post:

The lead quote comes from former CIA Director and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta who said Biden’s decision to withdraw reflects the fact that Biden “didn’t really spend much time on the issue” and the Biden administration was simply “crossing their fingers and hoping chaos would not result.”

But is Panetta a credible voice on how policies will play out in Afghanistan? In a November 2011 interview with Charlie Rose, Panetta said that the military campaign in Afghanistan had “seriously weakened the Taliban” and now the Afghan people were “able to control their own fate.” He said that the development of the Afghan army and police force was “on target” and they were “doing the job.”

This was a consistent refrain during Panetta’s tenure as Secretary of Defense. “[W]e are moving in the right direction, and we are winning this very tough conflict here in Afghanistan,” Panetta said in December 2011.

Legum is an example of a journalist doing it right: he explains Panetta’s history and the context in which his present comments sit. The Washington Post didn’t. They just let him state his case and that’s it. They failed their readers.1

But Panetta’s comments, and those from people like him, aren’t so much about Biden as they are an attempt to exonerate himself from the multitude of failures they oversaw. Because the situation in Afghanistan right now, and many of the horrors that will likely occur, are (in part) the result of those failures and those of the US’s allies. And if the media lets the likes of Panetta pull walk themselves out of the narrative, that’s how people will remember it.2

Of course, it’s the Afghan people who are caught up in all this political posturing. They’re suffering because this occupation, this war has never been about them. Successive governments failed them and now, as the US leaves the country and the Taliban takes over, the Biden Government is failing them all over again.

Derek Davidson covers it well:

But you shouldn’t for a second suppose that the people who cheer-led endless war and occupation in Afghanistan ever did so out of concern for the Afghan people. If the United States were really concerned for the Afghan people it wouldn’t have spent well over a decade ignoring the evidence that its nation building efforts were failing. If the United States were really concerned for the Afghan people it wouldn’t have at best tolerated and at worst indulged Afghanistan’s lawless regional warlords, often looking the other way as many of them committed unspeakable atrocities. If the United States were really concerned for the Afghan people it would have spent the past few years evacuating those Afghan nationals who worked for the US military and other Western organizations and are at risk of Taliban reprisal, instead of using legalese about visas and vetting to mask a fundamentally racist national view of refugees and then racing to slap together a half-assed evacuation program at the last minute. Even now the Biden administration is looking for third countries to save these people instead of dropping the immigration artifice and just letting them come here. So let’s not pretend now that it was All About The Afghan people.

Media outlets the world over helped governments sell the war in Afghanistan in the first place and, now, they’re helping those same governments wash their hands of everything they did. They need to do better.

  1. This isn’t to say the Biden Administration is faultless or that they’ve handled things well. Far from it. 

  2. That’s a sweeping statement and countless people will remember that successive governments failed miserably here. But, for so many issues, it’s the general vibe that counts. That’s why political actors spend so much time trying to set the terms of reference for public debates: it let’s them set the tone of things. And media coverage is one part of that. That’s why so many politicians bang out about “tax relief”, for example. If the media always frames tax cuts as “tax relief”, you start assuming that taxation is something you need relief from, so it’s bad, without quite realising it. 


Does Uber charge you more if your phone battery is low?

Another one for the “genius but absolutely get outta here” category if it’s true:

What I learned is that if you’re battery level is below 20% Uber and Lyft will purposely hike up the prices because they believe you’ll be desperate enough to take it since you’re battery levels are low

That’s from Sarah on Twitter. They followed up with a screenshot.

This classic “hard to verify, company will always deny it, but it feels likely” situation. Comes down to your vibe on Uber, Lyft, and the like.

Personally, it wouldn’t surprise me if ride-sharing apps do charge you more if your battery is low. Back in 2016, Keith Chen – Uber’s Head of Economic Research at the time – told NPR that users were more likely to pay surge pricing if their phone’s battery was low.

Chen “promises the company doesn’t use that information to set prices,” of course. But that was 2016.

Maybe Uber has since changed their policies to exploit this quirk of human behaviour. They’ve got to make a profit somehow. Or it could be confirmation bias: use Uber enough and you might collect enough instances where prices seem higher and your battery is low.

Wouldn’t surprise me though. It’s just the vibe of the thing.


The Taliban has seized US biometric and face recognition tech

We haven’t had to wait long to get a worse-case scenario for facial recognition and biometrics:

The Taliban has seized US biometric databases and equipment in Afghanistan. This comes after a push to digitise whole swathes of Afghan life.

Rina Chandran, Reuters:

After years of a push to digitise databases in the country, and introduce digital identity cards and biometrics for voting, activists warn these technologies can be used to target and attack vulnerable groups.

“We understand that the Taliban is now likely to have access to various biometric databases and equipment in Afghanistan,” the Human Rights First group wrote on Twitter on Monday.

“This technology is likely to include access to a database with fingerprints and iris scans, and include facial recognition technology,” the group added.

The Taliban, famously pro-violent-reparisal, now have access to high-tech identification systems.

This is a nightmare scenario for people in Afghanistan. And for all the people who have been worried about this exact thing happening.

Damien P Williams summed it up well on Twitter:

I mean jesus fucking CHRIST people, how many times did we warn about the security & privacy vulnerabilities of facial recognition & biometrics as a paradigm in itself & of its storage in the long term?



Apple’s developer relations woes

Apple has a developer relations issue. Here’s Marco Arment diagnosing the problem in a single sentence:

Without our apps, the iPhone has little value to most of its customers today.

Apple doesn’t act like it. Nor do they acknowledge that developers work to find audiences for their apps.

Apples need more than a core

To state the obvious: both the iPhone and iOS are great by themselves and as a platform upon which you can do great things. But platforms need to be built upon.

To Apple, the iPhone/iOS combo is the draw and people only use the App Store to find apps, through a combination of the Store’s recommendations and people browsing. Apple controls all the ins, all the outs.

Arment begs to differ. I’d say he’s right. So let’s look at my phone.1

An orchard of others

Of the 57 apps on my phone, only two are App Store recommendations (one of which I’ll delete after writing this sentence). Then there’s Apple’s preinstalled apps, services like Music, four games from Apple Arcade, and Shortcuts (which is basically my Reddit client at this point).

All of the others came from websites like MacStories, podcasters like Merlin Mann, talkative developers like Arment. That’s how I found my favourite games and all the apps I use every day. They’re ingrained in my life and they define my experience of iOS.2

Sure, Apple make the iPhone. But a collection of small developers, all of whom I discovered though the Apple blog and pod community, helped make my iPhone.

I mightn’t have returned to and then stayed in the Apple ecosystem where it not for them.

Devoid Android

I’ve bounced around Android phones for a while but never stuck with one as my main phone for long. I struggle to find apps I like using.3 Meanwhile, it’s apps that brought me to iPhones and apps that keep me there.

I got my first iPhone in large part because Flight Control looked cool. I left Android because I couldn’t find a Twitter client as good as Tweetbot or a calendar app as nice as Fantastical on Android and I won’t go back because there isn’t a RSS app like Reeder, a podcast app like Castro, or a to-do app like OmniFocus.

Take those apps away and, all of a sudden, my iPhone becomes a lot more disposable. It’s a good phone by itself, but developers add the spark that makes it’s hard to leave.4

This isn’t Apple’s party

Apple supplied a nice venue for a party and now they want credit for everyone having a great time – even though other people provided the food, drinks, music, dance floor, conversation, and decor.

Apple didn’t even hang the bunting. But they still act like its their party and theirs alone. And it’s not like they’re particularly gracious hosts, even if they do have great taste in venues.

  1. n=1, yadda yadda yadda. 

  2. To be fair, I’m probably in the minority of iPhone users here. But I’m guessing it’s also a minority of people who use the App Store as their main way to discover apps. My reckon: most people have a couple of apps they use all the time and they’re likely social media apps, utilities, or things they were recommended by friends. The App Store is just where they go to download them. 

  3. I also try and limit my exposure to Google but that’s a newer objection compared to my persnickety taste in apps. 

  4. Part of it isn’t their fault. No matter how many great new features they announce at WWDC, sooner or later, they all become normal. They’ll be the background hum of iOS and background hums are never cool. 


“Music Is About to Change Forever”

The music times are a-changing. Eric Slivka, writing for MacRumors:

The Browse tab in the Music app across Apple’s platforms has started displaying a prominent teaser hinting at an upcoming major announcement for Apple Music. Under the heading “Coming soon,” the headline says “Get ready – music is about to change forever.” An accompanying “Tune-In Video” simply shows an animated Apple Music logo.

There has been talk of lossless audio for a minute now (which seems like more of a box to tick, rather than a real worthwhile feature, to me, given how few people can hear the difference between lossless and lossy audio).

Who knows? Maybe Apple will be the first music streaming service to pay artists well.


Google could do more to prevent men killing women

Update: The research about increases in the number of Google searches re: domestic abuse had flaws in its methodology. The researcher addressed it on Twitter.

While good to know, that doesn’t change the overall argument of this article: that search engines could do more to break the cycle of abuse and that there’s precedence for their doing so. As such, I’m leaving the article as-is. Just know that the numbers reference below, in regards to search numbers, are’t accurate.

Domestic abuse has spiked over the past year. Both its perpetrators and its victims are turning to search engines like Google for advice. And Google isn’t doing enough to address the problem.

Liz Plank, writing for MSNBC puts it bluntly:

Men on a global scale are increasingly killing the women they purport to love.

As Plank explains, this violence is “usually premeditated”. The Google searches back it up. A recent study tracked searches about domestic abuse made in the US between March and August 2020 to the amount made in 2019.

A few searches, and how often they happened:

  • “How to hit a woman so no one knows” – 163 million (up 31%)
  • “I am going to kill her when she gets home” – 178 million (up 39%)
  • “How to control your woman” – 165 million (up 67%)

They’re all upsetting but the phrasing of the third one – “control your woman” – is insidious. It feels innocuous compared to the imminent threat of violence but the desire for for control is often the first step towards that violence. It reveals a sense of ownership and entitlement, for one, but it also shows someone reaching out a way to dominate someone’s life. People are looking ways to coerce someone else, be it subtly or not, and they’re finding it. To see people reaching for that power over someone gets under my skin (and the fact that they’re getting advice on how to achieve it is even worse).

Here’s the other half of the story:

  • “He will kill me” – 107 million (up 84%)
  • “Help me, he won’t leave” – 222 million (up 95%)
  • “He beats me up all the time” – 320 million (up 36%)

These aren’t just numbers. They’re people looking for help because their partners, their communities, and society as a whole has failed them. And Google isn’t helping.

According to Plank, “none of the aforementioned searches appear to return any domestic violence resources or hotlines.” This stands in contrast with Google’s approach to suicide prevention: since 2010, people have been presented with resources to help and phone numbers to reach out to when they enter search for certain terms.

Meanwhile, searching for “how to control your woman” brings you tips on coercive control, one of the most insidious and vile forms of domestic abuse. (See Jess Hill’s book See what you made me do for some must-read reporting on the subject.)

I searched for “He beats me up all the time” and I got a list of posts on Quora, a few advice columnists, a few opinion pieces, and a helpful list of things “people also search for” that includes things like “My man beats me” and “Is it my fault he hit me”.

No-one expects Google to single-handedly solve this problem. But the information we receive shapes our behaviour, our norms, and, thus, our society. As a facilitator for the info – not to mention, a stop on people’s path to both perpetuate and escape violence – Google and all other search engines have a responsibility to do better.


No, Bitcoin doesn’t incentivise renewable energy

People who are super into Bitcoin are really into recasting it as more than just another speculative asset. It’s incredible. This pursuit, like Bitcoin itself, is also a waste of energy.

In among artists making NFT artworks to fight climate change (a real head scratcher) Jack Dorsey has put in some work on Twitter:

#bitcoin  incentivizes renewable energy

Elon Musk, of course, agreed.

This is, of course, incorrect. Thankfully Maciej Cegłowski has done all the important work of blithely dismissing it for us:

This is like when I drank all your beer and told you I was incentivizing home brewing

Bitcoin is notable for how astonishingly not-good it is for the environment due to energy use. It’d be great if it ran exclusively on renewable energy. But that doesn’t mean Bitcoin “incentivises” renewable energy anymore than, say, coal mining does.

This is another attempt to recast Bitcoin in a positive light, as if it contributes anything productive to society beyond being another asset for people to speculate on.

That’s not to say that Bitcoin (or the tech that powers it) can’t become a positive part of life. It can and I hope it does. But it’s not right now. And it certainly isn’t doing anything for renewables.


Misinformation and the missing piece

Everyone is vulnerable to misinformation. We’ve all, at some point, believed something untrue. And it can be surprisingly hard to shake that belief.

Elitsa Dermendzhiyska explored why for Aeon. Part of the problem is “the continued influence effect”. Basically, it helps explain why people can keep on believing a falsehood after it’s been debunked. The misinformation lingers and shapes our decisions long into the future.

The issue, Dermendzhiyska explains, is that we tend to take other people on face value. We act in good faith and assume others will do the same. Then there’s the fact that life is hard: there’s too much going on to interrogate everything.

That helps explain why we can believe something that isn’t true in the first place. But the difficulty in debunking that mistruth goes beyond that:

One of the most common explanations for the continued influence effect puts it down to a gap in our mental model, or the story we tell ourselves about what happened. If the myth fits the ‘logic’ of events, its retraction leaves a hole, and the cogs of the story no longer click into place… If we aren’t to lose coherence, it makes sense to hold on to both the actual fact and the fitting falsehood – but keep them separate, compartmentalised, so that they don’t clash. This might be why, as studies show, we could be well aware of the truth, yet still allow the myth to creep in elsewhere and corrupt tangential judgments.

Our minds are impressive things but they can often latch onto simplicity. We love stories; stories are how we understand the world. So it can be hard to give up a story that, on the surface, makes sense to you. (It’s also why a series of facts can’t compete with a well-told mistruth.)

This idea – that people will reject a correction or a retraction of a falsehood if it leaves a whole in your understanding – becomes even more complex when you look at the way information is shared online.

Context collapse strikes again

A post on Facebook or a message in a WhatsApp group can totally decontextualise a story, emphasising the “hole” in a stories logic left by a correction. A headline explaining why something was wrong just tells you that it’s wrong – it doesn’t explain why and, really, a whole lot of people won’t bother finding out.

Information is shared in drips and drabs and highlights and grabs. That doesn’t fill the context gap so someone who believes a mistruth is left trying to reconcile a story that no longer makes sense to them. And that’s if they’re prepared to change their mind at all. If not, they can just say “pfft” and move on.

Combine this with the other explanations for misinformation explored by Dermendzhiyska, chief among them repetition (wherein a mistruth is repeated so often it feels true because it’s familiar), and you have a pernicious problem. And that’s without people who actively want you to believe something that isn’t true.

Get a bell and start yelling “shame”

It’s a lot. But trying to understand the psychology behind the problem can help. But there are alternatives.

Here’s Dermendzhiyska again:

Perhaps we ought to worry less about fixing people’s false beliefs and focus more on shifting those social norms that make it OK to create, spread, share and tolerate misinformation.

Social norms are a powerful thing. They shape our lives on a fundamental level. It also highlights our role, as individuals, in fixing this problem. Dermendzhiyska quotes biologist D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson in her piece and it’s apt:

Everything is what it is because it got that way.

That means we can change it too.


Missing blogs is missing people in the machine

There’s a great line in Bojack Horseman where Wanda Pierce looks back at her relationship with the toxic Bojack and the warning signs she missed:

When you look at someone through rose-coloured glasses, all the red flags just look like flags.

The same thing applies to nostalgia. People have been waxing lyrical about Web 2.0 and blogging, casting both in a golden light befitting a “Golden Age”. The wonderful Tressie McMillan Cottom spoke about it with Ezra Klein on his show:

There was a humanity there for good or for bad. Humanity is messy, but there was a sense that those ideas were attached to people, and there were things driving those people, there’s a reason they had chosen to be in that space before it all became about chasing an audience in a platform and turning that into influencer and translating that into that — before all that happened, the professionalization of it all. And that’s what I think we’re missing when we become nostalgic for that web 2.0. I think it’s the people in the machine.

But that nostalgia, McMillan Cottom points out, misses a lot. She explains that it was a horrible time for young queer people, for example, and that the more narrow spaces of the web – which certainly describes a series of disconnected blogs, written by people sharing and quoting each other’s work – created “little safe pockets of space… where it was still very okay to be homophobic” (among other things).

And so what we were usually really nostalgic for is a time when we didn’t have to think so much about who was missing in the room, who wasn’t at the table.

The table is busier than ever and that can be overwhelming or confronting. But the discussion is wider and, really, that can be a great way to learn.

The benefits of quiet

That scale, however, helps drive nostalgia for a place that’s a bit quieter. Here’s how McMillan Cottom puts it:

At the same time, I’m like, yeah. I also laugh and go, I really miss having a blog… It’s me being nostalgic for having a place where I could put thoughts that didn’t fit into any other discourse or genre, and I wanted a space where I could talk to people who were actually interacting like real people. They weren’t acting like bots, or trolls, or whatever your internet persona is.

As a reader, that’s what I miss. I wasn’t writing in the Web 2.0 age of the internet and I only started reading in the tail end. I got the survivors.

But I’ve been reading those survivors for a while now and, you know, that’s something I value. I only know about McMillan Cottom’s chat with Klein because of a post on Jason Kottke’s blog. Not only did I only learn about it because I follow Kottke’s site, my understanding and interpretation of it is mediated through my relationship with his site. It’s context.

You don’t get that with social media platforms (not as well, at least). The feed itself is the context. Things like blogs are a context unto themselves and they can lead to a richer relationship, both with the work and the person behind it.

That’s a preference thing, really. You can undoubtedly get the same thing elsewhere – people have built friendships on Twitter, people feel immensely close to their favourite creators on YouTube – but Web 3.0 hasn’t recreated the same something that reading a blog can create over time. Podcasts come close but it’s still not the same. It’s the reading that’s the thing for me.

Blogs, at their best, have a similar effect as a memoir. They differ in content, sure, but both are a mediated, curated slice of someone’s life or interests. They’re both a sustained glimpse into someone’s world – a few hundred pages for a memoir, potentially years for a blog – that make you feel as though you know someone. Why they’ve chosen the headline they have, how they describe something, the people and places they’ve chosen to link away too. That’s something particular.

I want people to read my blog, is what I’m saying

It doesn’t deserve romanticising, of course. McMillan Cottom points out some real flaws. The spaces made by blogs can be destructive. But they can be made well.1

I agree with McMillan Cottom – the nostalgia for blogs and Web 2.0 is about “the people in the machine”. Now that there are more people at the table then ever before, it’d be great to get to know those people better.

Because that’s what blogs are about, for me. The act of seeing people and the potential, in turn, to be seen. Not through rose-coloured glasses or golden light. Just seeing.

  1. I’d argue that fan fiction communities have a lot of the benefits of Web 2.0 and have generally been much more open to marginalised people. The big ones have also evolved well and figured out how to moderate their platforms.