PayPal wages its years-long war on sex work, announcing yesterday that it has officially refused to process payments made through Pornhub to over 100,000 models. The reason, as per usual, is violation of its “sexually-oriented goods” clause in the terms of service agreement. The cumulative effect of financial discrimination, by banks and payment processors, is that people conducting totally legal business have to resort to less lucrative platforms or, in some cases, potentially more dangerous offline encounters.
Per the ToS on its site, PayPal “prohibits all account holders from buying or selling sexually oriented digital goods, including downloadable pictures or videos, subscriptions to websites, or other content delivered through a digital medium.” Violating the agreed-upon terms of service might seem like a fair enough reason to shutter an account, but payment processors and banks like JP Morgan Chase grant themselves expansive leeway in making personal judgment calls on what kind of work they deem socially-acceptable, which pressures websites to torch sex workers’ content. Last year, Patreon told VICE that they had been “ramping up the proactive review of content on Patreon due to requirements from our payment partners.” Users with profiles that with “implied nudity” reported mass suspensions, foreboding a universe in which PayPal burns the whole building down if you hint at sexuality.
In a statement to Motherboard, PayPal said that Pornhub had “made certain business payments...without seeking our permission.” (PayPal has clarified to Gizmodo that “business payments” apply to models.) In a statement to Gizmodo, Pornhub said that it is “devastated” and that PayPal was specifically targeting its sex-positive model program which was launched in order to help creators sell their content and earn a share of the ad revenue. On its website, Pornhub has provided links to its direct deposit settings. At a time when every platform and service is obsessed with limiting friction, the extra steps required to complete a payment are guaranteed to prompt a decline in paying customers. And the whole situation just adds more layers in the fight to deny people conducting, again, completely legal business a place in society.
PayPal and other payment processors have been performing this moral charade long before FOSTA/SESTA. One driver was Obama-era policy “Operation Chokepoint,” which allowed the Department of Justice to investigate banks for doing business with a swath of “high-risk” entities, lumping in Ponzi schemes and gun dealers with porn and escort services. Subsequently, JP Morgan Chase sent Dear John letters to prominent adult industry entertainers announcing that their accounts had been severed.
Pornhub tells Gizmodo that it will continue to add “more sex worker-friendly” payment methods and “explore cryptocurrency options in the near future.”
PayPal will continue dropping customers.