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[UPDATED] Patreon’s Discriminatory Porn Policy Hurts Creators Who Need the Most Protection

[UPDATED 10/25/17 5:43PMCLICK HERE to read Jack Conte’s statement on the updated guidelines. And while this does make things clearer, and I believe that fewer content creators than originally thought will have to worry for their pages or livelihoods, I still disagree with the no-porn stance Patreon has taken, yes, from the beginning. I wish that, rather than a blanket ban on porn, each piece of adult content were evaluated on its own terms for harmfulness. My original piece remains unchanged below]

For creators across all mediumsfrom video, to podcasts, to comics, to prose with an entrepreneurial spirit, Patreon the perfect place to do business. Well, not all creators, apparently.

Patreon is a platform through which content creators can be paid directly for their work by the fans who enjoy their creations, taking home a higher percentage of their own earnings than they would be able to anywhere else. In addition to the financial autonomy Patreon helps facilitate, they also seem very proud of the fact that they are open to “a diverse range of creators and their communities.” In fact, right at the top of their Community Guidelines page, it says:

The TLDR:

Be respectful of the people and communities on Patreon. People are different. That’s what’s beautiful about the internet and creativity: communities of varying types can assemble and flourish. We want Patreon to be an intimate and safe venue for a diverse range of creators and their communities.

Sounds great, right? Well, a couple of days ago, Patreon updated its terms and guidelines specifically targeting creators that work in the sex industry. These updates were added to an already-existing policy that “frowned upon” porn, but the new additions make a very clear statement about what they think of those who produce independent pornography or web-camming to make a living.

As reported by Endgadget, Patreon has always turned “a blind eye to the sort of content you’d find in an R-rated movie, but not porn.” However, they limited their disciplinary action to “otherwise-illegal material, such as depictions of incest, bestiality, and children.” This makes sense, as porn is not illegal, but certain types of porn are, with very good reason. So long as Patreon was thinking along those lines, their policy wasn’t a huge problem.

It’s also understandable that Patreon would ask creators of “Adult Content” to flag their content as such so that their pages won’t come up in public searches, and to make all explicit content patron-only. That still allows those creators to promote their pages and earn their income. Fine.

Now, however, they’ve added the following:

“Lastly, you cannot sell pornographic material or arrange sexual service(s) as a reward for your patrons. You can’t use Patreon to raise funds in order to produce pornographic material such as maintaining a website, funding the production of movies, or providing a private webcam session.”

So now, instead of just “frowning on” porn, they’re actively banning it from the site, which is interesting, because they host other, sex-positive content.

For example, Erika Moen’s page for her sex education web comic, Oh Joy Sex Toy, has been doing well on the platform for years. Sexplanations is a great sex education show worthy of all the dollars, and writer/activist Kitty Stryker writes about “topics like queer sexual freedom, protesting, self care, sex worker rights, anti-racism, body image, feminism, and so much more through a critical and intersectional lens (and a snarky sense of humour).”

So, Patreon clearly has space for talking about and explaining sex…just not anything depicting sex itself. Except sometimes. When we deem it not porn. Because porn is bad. Even though sex is good, and we totally celebrate it and all, but people watching sex for fun is bad. Again, sometimes. 

It allows sex workers who engage in the legal parts of the sex industry (strippers, dominatrices, cam girls, etc) to be open about what they do…so long as they can’t profit from it? But isn’t that the point of Patreon? To allow content creators to make money from the content they create, no matter what they create, so long as it doesn’t hurt others or isn’t illegal?

These “clarifications” to their guidelines go beyond banning the content on their site, they ban what a creator’s funds can be used to create. That’s huge. Sure, you have freedom as a creator…so long as you only make what we deem is appropriate, even if it’s totally legal and entirely owned by you and done by choice.

As reported by BBC News, a group of adult content creators have gotten together and signed a letter challenging the new policy. A portion of the letter reads:

“We know people who would be homeless if it wasn’t for making porn on Patreon – and it’s not a small number. Your fuzzy position on ‘adult content’ versus ‘porn’ gives you the freedom to discriminate at will. And it makes content creators live in fear of that discrimination, itself leading to self-censorship of important viewpoints.”

It goes on to say that, “Porn is a multi-billion dollar industry mostly in the hands of well-heeled men. You were helping us hold it in our own hands. We ask you to take a stand on behalf of the sex workers who use your platform, their fans, and everyone who supports freedom of expression.”

And that’s ultimately where the issue is for me, too. The entire point of Patreon is to provide a safe place for creators of content to connect directly with their supporters and earn a living. This policy threatens the lives of people who are already marginalized and exploited elsewhere, taking away one of the few places of refuge and support they had.

Meanwhile, Patreon CEO and Co-Founder Jack Conte tweeted the following yesterday:

As of this writing, we’re still awaiting that response.

What I hope happens is that, rather than make a blanket rule about pornography, that they focus on the specific illegal and harmful behaviors and activities they’re hoping to discourage. That is absolutely in line with their mission to create a safe environment for Patreon creators and patrons alike. Making a morality-based judgement call about when and how a creator offers sexual content is not.

(via BBC News, image: Patreon)

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