The social networking site Fetlife has removed hundreds of groups & fetishes from it's platform in response to a credit card company shutting down a merchant account.
The social networking site that serves people interested in BDSM, fetishism, and kink made an announcement about the takedowns after community outcry.
"Last Tuesday we got a notice that one of our merchant accounts was shutting us down. One of the card companies contacted them directly and told the bank to stop processing for us. The bank asked for more information, but the only thing they could get from the card company was that part of it had to do with 'blood, needles, and vampirism.'" - a snippet from the Fetlife announcement.
Three days after the first notice, Fetlife received another notice, this time from another merchant account. They got a similar call from the same card company, and they were asked to close the Fetlife account. This time they were told it was for "Illegal or Immoral" reasons.
At this time Fetlife can no longer process credit cards. Without a merchant account, FetLife runs at a loss every month because all of it's advertisement revenue (50% of it's income according the annoucement) is processed by credit card companies.
In response Fetlife have scrambled to enforce new guidelines around what kind of content is allowed on their platform. Content that is now forbidden includes rape-play, race-play and kinks involving drugs or alcohol.
Many of the kinks that have been removed are very common. Multiple studies have found that forced-sex, in many different contexts, is a common fantasy among both women & men. Further the BDSM community have evolved strong models of consent to reduce, and in many cases, eliminate harm while acting out these kinds of fantasies.
[P]ressure applied by credit card companies in an aim to remove depictions of these fantasies amount to censorship.
Even for non-common fantasies, we must emphasis that they are just that, fantasies - and pressure applied by credit card companies in an aim to remove depictions of these fantasies amount to censorship.
What about Cryptocurrencies?
Many readers might now be asking why Fetlife does not move to a cryptocurrency like bitcoin? They tried:
We used to accept bitcoins through Coinbase. They dropped us a year ago because we are a kinky site. No joke.
If a Bitcoin site wants to accept credit cards, then they have to adhere to rules set forth by the credit card companies.
Yes, there are other options, and we are going to look into them, but options like Bitcoin are a nice to have and not currently a viable replacement for being able to accept credit and debit cards on FetLife, no matter how much one might want to believe otherwise.
As awesome as the ideal value of cryptocurrencies is in theory, Fetlife have found that it hasn't worked in practice.
According to the FAQ attached to the annoucement, when Fetlife offered Bitcoin as an option, it was responsible for less than 0.1% of their daily transactions.
This was no where near enough needed to reduce their dependency on credit card companies.
With anti-porn, pro-censorship laws & taskforces being debated in United Kingdom and other countries - the impact of financial censorship is likely to grow beyond niche kink communities.
For those who believe that banks & credit card companies shouldn't be the arbiter of moral behavior - Fetlife is the canary in the coalmine.
Sarah is a privacy & anonymity researcher working to make the world a fairer place. If you would like to support her research and development of tools like OnionScan you can become a patron at Patreon
Title image Source: Wikicommons