LBC Views: OnlyFans saga is another example of moralising capitalism

25 August 2021, 23:53 | Updated: 26 August 2021, 10:32

LBC Correspondent Matthew Thompson gave his LBC Views.
LBC Correspondent Matthew Thompson gave his LBC Views. Picture: LBC
Matthew Thompson

By Matthew Thompson

Matthew Thompson said OnlyFans' reversal on banning porn from its service is another example of moralising capitalism, as banking brands worried their reputation would be affected if they helped the company

In the annals of corporate hara-kiri, few decisions can have looked as misguided as soft-porn website OnlyFans’ recent announcement that it was banning… well, soft-porn. McDonald’s may as well have announced that it was banning burgers.

It perhaps wasn’t hugely surprising then to see the announcement on Wednesday afternoon that OnlyFans had decided, after a significant public backlash of course, that maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all.

On the surface, it may have looked like little more than a case of unsound business strategy. But an interview recently given by the company’s founder, Tim Stokely, to the Financial Times actually paints the affair in a more sinister light.

According to Mr Stokely, OnlyFans’ decision was based on pressure from its banking partners, including US giant BNY Mellon, but also the UK’s own Metro Bank, who were refusing the company’s business, citing “reputational risk”. A statement from OnlyFans on Wednesday said it was reversing its decision only after receiving "assurances" from banks.

But you read that right. Banks, in the 21st century, could not bear to be associated with a little bit of hanky panky. Now, of course, OnlyFans has recently been the subject of important media scrutiny about its vetting and safeguarding procedures, particularly as they concern underage girls.

Any of the company’s failings on that count are inexcusable, and must be rectified. But if we believe Mr Stokely’s account, the problems with banks long predated such concerns being aired. And there is rather a whiff of moral Puritanism about the attitude.

Speak to sex workers, and they will tell you this is not surprising. They routinely face discrimination from both traditional banks as well as more modern financial providers such as PayPal.

Call me old fashioned, but I’ve always rather been of the view that the job of a bank was to bank. Not be the moral arbiter of who was allowed to bank. It is surely the law that should set the criteria for who should be permitted to access financial services. It should not fall to the increasingly vast armies of PR gurus and reputational risk managers employed by city firms.

It strikes me as yet another version of the modern malaise of moralising capitalism. You know, the kind that makes tubs of sugary ice cream feel it’s their place to publicly attack the Home Secretary, rather than sticking to what they know: namely sugary ice cream.

Now you may say to me that the risk of reputational damage has always been a useful lever for the public to demand better of the companies that serve us. That is of course true, but where was the clamour to shut down one of the fastest growing, most popular, and again I stress legal, porn sites on the web?

You may also say to me that I’m naive. That we now live in a world of the more discerning consumer, who gets comfort from knowing their brands are explicitly endorsed by the Care Bears.

But am I so hopelessly dewy-eyed, to imagine a world where businesses provide services, absent the lecture? A world in which, as Voltaire almost said, I may disagree with what you say, but I’ll still take your money and just shut up about it?