Why Mastercard’s New Porn Rules Should Scare Everyone

·5 min read
Photo Illustration by Kelly Caminero/The Daily Beast/Getty
Photo Illustration by Kelly Caminero/The Daily Beast/Getty

Since OnlyFans reversed its decision to ban adult content, the public has quieted about where they can watch porn. But here in Porn Valley, where we live and die by tech giants’ content restrictions, we remain very concerned.

Last month, Mastercard announced new rules for performers, production companies, and distributors. If Mastercard finds a party violated the terms, it could stop processing payments. Since Mastercard is one of two credit card giants, they will decide what porn Americans buy. On the surface, the rules sound great. Mastercard requires companies to verify performs’ ages. Who doesn’t want that? But they have previously banned pornographers for selling legal content they considered inappropriate, and the new rules are vague. Adult professionals are unsure how to follow them, and many are concerned about potential privacy violations. Most of all, we’re worried about the precedent these rules set for the general public.

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To be clear: Adult professionals support age verification. The government has required us to maintain proof of age for years via 2257 forms, including two forms of ID, name, address, and Social Security number. We meticulously follow the law because a) we support the law, and b) the public scrutinizes us. We protect our asses. We also have standards and practices to ensure our records remain private. If a company didn’t keep records safe, our age, legal name, and other risky personal information could be at risk.

Mastercard puts us in danger because, for the first time, it requires Pornhub, OnlyFans, and other distribution companies to obtain copies of age-verification records instead of only the owner of the content having and maintaining them. If our records were not kept securely and someone infiltrated one of these platforms, they could blast performers’ info across the dark web, making us vulnerable to fraudsters, blackmail artists, and worst of all, people who want to harm us physically. A decade or so ago, criminals hacked AIM, our then testing site, and retrieved performers’ confidential health records, including their HIV statuses. Porn stars walk around with targets on their backs.

The new rules also set dangerous precedents. OnlyFans hosts fan-uploaded material, but it doesn’t produce content. OnlyFans is more like a cable company, offering users access to channels. Forcing OnlyFans to maintain these records is like punishing Comcast because a reality-television network failed to maintain model release forms.

Even more frightening is that producers I speak to are unsure how to follow Mastercard’s decrees. For instance, Mastercard states adult performers, production companies, and distributors must, “Have effective policies in place that prohibit the merchant’s website from being used to promote or facilitate human trafficking, sex trafficking, or physical abuse.” How do you define an adequate policy? The rule is so vague that people are unsure what to do. Essentially, Mastercard can enforce them however it wants.

Mastercard is already issuing an editorial judgment, maintaining that everyone “ensure[s] merchant marketing and search terms do not give the impression that its content contains… depiction of non-consensual activities.” When we perform consensual non-consent scenes, we are conducting a fantasy. It’s no different than two Hollywood actors acting out rape on camera. You may not like it, but freedom of speech means you put up with speech you don’t like—and that includes my right to perform a fake rape on camera, then sell the footage.

True, I can still make these videos—but I cannot sell them. Yet Amazon can sell Last Tango in Paris, which depicts Marlon Brando assaulting Maria Schneider, who described the filming as “humiliating.” I have never felt humiliated during filming, yet I’m the one Mastercard barred from selling forced fantasy scenes.

The general public should freak out that Mastercard now controls what they can and cannot watch. Today, they’re regulating porn, but what if they start deeming what cinema and books we consume? What if tomorrow they stop processing payments of booksellers that sell Lolita?

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Of course, that would fall into the financial giant’s current fears around sexual content, but Mastercard implemented their porn rules because of a targeted campaign spearheaded by bad-faith actors like Exodus Cry. In the future, they could quickly stop processing payments of controversial political material due to public pressure. Last month, conservative Virginia parents demanded school libraries strip Toni Morrison’s Beloved from their shelves. (And yes, Beloved and legal porn are both protected free speech.) It may seem hysterical to believe financial companies would stop processing sales of a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. Still, if activists could scream loud enough so Mastercard could regulate porn, it’s easy to imagine the company coming after other forms of speech. One day, something isn’t controversial; the next day, it is. America flip-flops on which artists we hate daily.

We shouldn’t want Mastercard bowing to public demand because the company could easily interfere in other sectors. After all, many people still oppose legalizing weed, and legal marijuana businesses often run into banking problems just like porn stars. Could Mastercard stop processing payments for legal weed purchases? Anything is possible when you have so much power.

It’s un-American and undemocratic for a financial giant to yield so much control over us, yet Mastercard is one of two companies dictating credit card purchases. They control what people buy and sell. This is not American. This is not Freedom of Speech. It’s capitalism gone way fucking wrong, and everyone should freak out.

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