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Home » Should Twitter embrace porn and compete with OnlyFans? • TechCrunch

Should Twitter embrace porn and compete with OnlyFans? • TechCrunch


So let’s say hypothetically, you’re an extremely online billionaire who just bought a social media platform for $44 billion, a purchase you presumably regret given the fact that you spent months in legal limbo trying and failing to get out of the deal. You’re probably wondering how you can turn a company that operated at a $270 million loss last quarter into a business that is actually worth your vanity purchase.

What sells faster on the internet than porn?

Twitter is working on a feature that would allow creators to monetize paywalled videos, the Washington Post reported. Reverse engineer and app researcher Jane Wong also reported that Twitter is working on a paid DMs feature.

The mockups of these paid features look similar to OnlyFans, and Twitter has already demonstrated that it’s keeping an eye on OnlyFans’ business. Before Twitter implemented the Super Follows feature, Wong posted a leak showing that the feature was being built with adult content in mind.

Twitter already allows users to post adult content, but they haven’t been allowed to monetize it — what if with these new features, that became possible? That plan might seem like it comes out of left field, but it’s arguably a better idea than charging people for a blue check.

“Pre-Musk acquisition, I would have said it’s impossible,” said Ashley, a sex worker and peer organizer who works on cases involving content moderation.

Many creator platforms don’t even try to monetize adult content since it’s such a legal and regulatory minefield. But the wealthiest man in the world is going to get more leeway than your average tech founder, and we know that Musk doesn’t play by the same rules as everyone else. To secure his Twitter takeover, Musk leveraged relationships with banks like Morgan Stanley and Bank of America — banks that are now also on the hook if he can’t squeeze value out of Twitter.

“He’s in this social in-group that includes all the usual suspects that pressure companies to dump adult content,” Ashley explained. But she thinks that because he’s part of their world, they might be more willing to cooperate with him. “He’s entrenched in this entire ecosystem of venture. He’s their guy.”

Still, figuring out how to safely and securely monetize adult content is one of the trickiest questions on the internet, not to mention one that requires a lot of nuance, empathy and understanding for particularly vulnerable people — something Musk has proven he can’t handle. But if he can hire the right team to build out a product with safety and security at the forefront, adult content could be Musk’s best bet to recoup his investment.

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Twitter is uniquely positioned to undercut OnlyFans

Twitter is the only major social media site that allows users to post porn. So, for online sex workers, Twitter has historically functioned as an advertising tool for their OnlyFans accounts. But what if those creators could just monetize on-platform and bypass the friction of sending fans elsewhere?

“Sex sells” isn’t a cliche for nothing, and OnlyFans’ financials prove it. In 2021, the company earned $433 million in pre-tax profit, up from $61 million in 2020. The company makes its money by taking a 20% cut of all payments to creators — since 2016, the company has paid out $8 billion to creators, with $4 billion of that paid out in 2021 alone.

The market for online sex work is large enough that it could compensate for the fallout from advertisers.

For comparison, the more mainstream creator monetization platform Patreon has paid out $3.5 billion to creators since it was founded in 2013. Put it this way: OnlyFans paid more money to creators in 2021 than Patreon has paid out in its existence. That’s because there’s a fundamental difference between the two companies’ business models: One figured out how to monetize porn despite pressure from credit card companies, and one bowed out of the adult realm altogether.

This isn’t the first time Twitter has considered pivoting to porn. According to a report from The Verge, Twitter worked on an adult content monetization project this past spring, which would have built upon its not-very-lucrative creator products like Super Follows. But when a security team pressure-tested the product, they wrote in a report that “Twitter cannot accurately detect child sexual exploitation and non-consensual nudity at scale.” When Musk proposed his buyout weeks later and threw the entire company into disarray, the project was put on hold.

Twitter shouldn’t expand its adult offerings if it can’t adequately protect users from abusive material — plus, it will need to match the same security checks that OnlyFans has. OnlyFans is a completely 18+ platform, and in order for creators to upload their content, they must submit documentation to verify that all people depicted are 18+ and have provided written consent. 

Can Twitter safely monetize porn?

Here’s where the plan gets murky. Do we trust an Elon Musk-run Twitter — or any iteration of Twitter, really — to sell adult content in an ethical way? Is it possible for Twitter to moderate content well enough to make sure that only opted-in adults are seeing porn on the platform, and that the platform doesn’t inadvertently end up hosting or even monetizing child sexual abuse material (CSAM)?

“Twitter has so much work to do to ensure that it is following the same best practices to moderate their content that we hold women-owned adult platforms to,” said a team member at Amefist, a women’s digital security platform. “Before they pivot to adult content, it would be a more refreshing and impactful change to address the way they moderate currently and work to fight the distribution of CSAM before they make sensitive content a part of their business model.”

U.S. federal law requires that internet companies report each instance of CSAM they encounter on their platforms to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC). In 2020, NCMEC’s data showed that Twitter made about 65,000 reports — for comparison, Pornhub parent company MindGeek made 13,000 reports.

Musk doesn’t seem to care a ton about platform safety, so it’s hard to be optimistic. Even in a pre-Musk era, Twitter has proven insufficient at preventing the spread of harmful content. But if he wants to pay back his investors and make his $44 billion nightmare a dream, he might have no choice.

“The humor is not lost on me that the richest man in the world needs money fast and has turned to sex work, just like I have,” Ashley told TechCrunch. “If I were OnlyFans, I’d be terrified.”

Read more about Elon Musk's purchase of Twitter on TechCrunch





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