from the content-moderation-at-the-financial-layer dept
For all the attention that OnlyFans got for its shortlived plan to ban sexually explicit content in response to “pressures” from financial partners, as we’ve discussed, it was hardly the only website to face such moderation pressures from financial intermediaries. You can easily find articles from years back highlighting how payment processors were getting deeply involved in forcing website to moderate content.
And the OnlyFans situation wasn’t entirely out of nowhere either. Back in April we noted that Mastercard had announced its new rules for streaming sites, and other sites, such as Patreon, have already adjusted their policies to comply with Mastercard’s somewhat prudish values.
However, as those new rules that were announced months ago are set to become official in a few days, the practical realities of what Mastercard requires are becoming clear, and it’s a total mess. Websites have received “compliance packages” in which they have to set up a page to allow reports for potential abuse. In theory, this sounds reasonable — if there really is dangerous or illegal activity happening on a site, making it easier for people to report it makes sense. But some of it is highly questionable:
The form features a checklist of clickable boxes that anyone visiting an adult site is encouraged to use to report what they believe to be “exposed personally identifiable information,” “impersonation,” “underage material,” “copyright/trademark infringement” and “spam” as well as “prostitution or trafficking,” “weapons,” “drugs” and “other.”
First off “prostitution” and “trafficking” are different things, and lumping them together is already somewhat problematic. As a webmaster explained to Xbiz, this seems to have come from “Morality in Media” — a horrifically repressed group of prudish busybodies who renamed themselves the “National Center on Sexual Exploitation” (NCOSE) and who were a major force behind FOSTA, which they admitted was part of their plan to outlaw all pornography. Last year, we noted that the group had put a major focus on demanding credit card companies stop working with porn sites, and some of Mastercard’s new rules are clearly designed to appease them.
“Groups like NCOSE are convinced that all adult content falls under ‘prostitution or trafficking,’” the webmaster noted. “This form is just encouraging them to bury us in paperwork that won’t accomplish anything.”
Not only that, but every such report is cc’d back to Mastercard, which seems bizarrely stupid. Of course, as we’ve seen with things like copyright takedowns, having the mechanism means that it will get abused. A lot. And then campaigners like NCOSE will try to use the number of “reports” (not proof of anything actually illegal) as proof of “illegal activity” and push for new regulations.
Also, the rules requiring the form to be linked from every page is likely to have much wider consequences as well:
The webmaster also noted that the form essentially forces all adult sites to add the words “underage material,” “prostitution or trafficking,” “weapons” and “drugs” to their metadata, which then puts them at risk of AI shadowbans or even state surveillance.
“I don’t want that metadata associated with my brands,” they protested.
As we’ve said in other situations, one of the big questions and concerns that comes about when infrastructure layer partners get into the content moderation game is that it matters how much competition there is the market. If websites could simply drop Mastercard maybe it wouldn’t be such a big deal. But, unfortunately, right now, it’s hard for a site that wants to accept payments to not work with Mastercard. Both it and Visa (and to a lesser extent, American Express) are basically required if you want to accept payments for anything. Perhaps that will change over time (and things like this might help drive that change). But in the meantime, it certainly appears that a disingenuous and dishonest campaign by a prudish group that hates pornography has convinced Mastercard to make life difficult on lots of websites.