The crowdfunding platform Patreon got itself into a self-created crisis as hundreds of its adult content creators protest in an open letter against the new community guidelines the company recently published. Patreon hurried to answer hinting that the stricter guidelines were only targeting illegal porn but the community is still worried about their future. A sign that Patreon quickly became an important revenue stream for many performers in adult entertainment.
Nearly 800 people signed the open letter protesting Patreon’s new community guidelines about adult content. They see their revenue stream in danger as the new rules seem to threaten producers porn and cam services.
The Open Letter
Venus Adult News documents the back and forth in full. Here is the open letter by the creators and their supporters:
»We’re writing you today both as adult creators and concerned individuals about free, legal, expression. We’re deeply disappointed in your handling of clarity with regards to adult content on your platform, and the mixed messages we have been receiving. Not only that, the most vulnerable among us – disproportionately queer, trans, disabled, people of color and those whose first language is not English – are literally scared for our lives. After hard-won fandoms finally supporting us on Patreon, just one missed payment can mean homelessness.
Over the last couple years, we have been courted by you, worked closely with you on promotion, creation, and even website features, and have been assured by you that Patreon was a home for all types of creators – including those that make adult content. And it’s been well reported that you were ending “payments discrimination against adult content” – something you proudly confirmed to us behind the scenes in one on one messages with your employees.
However, there has always been an issue with your stance on “porn” versus “adult content.” This stance has never been clear and is reminiscent of the phrase “I know it when I see it”, most infamously used in 1964 by Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart to describe his threshold test for obscenity. This is an outdated, legally unclear, and importantly, extremely problematic view of adult media.
This problem has only been brought further to the forefront in recent days, where you have long had a checkbox on your site that says “Content contains sexual imagery or nudity.”
Which now exists alongside new language in your October 17th update, to the Adult Content section, which says this:
“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.”
Which is exactly, as you well know, how many of your most popular creators operate. We send our patrons signed prints. We let them pick what kind of movie to make. It’s even how you’ve recommended we operate – using Patreon to fund a movie, or creating a website to reliably deliver rewards to our patrons! We’ve got the support conversations to back it up.«
Those who signed the letter were asked to reveal their associations. These data can be found in a document on the site OpenLetterToPatreon.com.
Patreon was quick to deliver a response to the open letter. Jack Conte, CEO of Patreon, published a reply to the company’s website that reads as follows:
»Hey folks — there have been a few articles, some talk on social, and even an open letter about Patreon’s recent content policy updates. Last week, the Trust and Safety team explained in a blog post the updates we made to the Community Guidelines.
I really, really hope you take the time to read the blog and Community Guidelines for yourself. Most of all, I hope you understand that nothing has changed except our stance on four areas of content: bestiality, incest, sexual depiction of minors, and suggestive sexual violence.
It breaks my heart that folks who contributed to OpenLetterToPatreon.com expressed fear for their pages. Patreon is not that kind of company. I want you to disagree with us. I want you to make your voices heard. I want you to request features and policy changes. I want you to rally the community. That kind of pushing is not only good for the community, but my opinion is that it’s ultimately good for Patreon, too, because it helps our team viscerally feel the voice of our creators. I want Patreon to be the most creator-first company in the world, and that requires you to speak up and tell us what’s on your mind. Patreon will not always be able to do what you want — but at the very least we can make sure we hear you.
As a creator, it’s always bugged me when tech companies and CEOs stay quiet as changes are rolled out in the background and the community feels left in the dark. It really bugs me, because content policy is one of the most important and tough problems that modern tech platforms face. It’s complicated and nuanced and critical to get right. So, I’d like to personally clarify our update — and I realize that this doesn’t mean everyone will agree with it — but again at the very least I don’t want to be silent. So here we go:
- The way that the Trust and Safety team is evaluating content has not changed. Yes, the public guidelines got longer because our creators asked for extra specificity. So in response, we’re sharing more detail with you about how we evaluate content. It does not represent a change to our content policy — it’s added detail to educate the community.
- We did update four (and only four) areas of our actual content policy: incest, bestiality, sexual depiction of minors, and suggestive sexual violence. If you’re just reading the headlines, you’ll be under the impression that we’re “cracking down on adult content.” Again, this is not what’s actually happening. We only updated the above four areas of our policy.
- Patreon’s stance on pornography has not changed. We have never allowed pornography or sexual services on Patreon and that stance has been clear in our guidelines since they were first published a few years ago. We used to say we allowed “R-rated” content, but that description was ineffective at clearly explaining our policy to the community. It didn’t give you the specificity you needed to understand what’s allowed, and what isn’t. Our updated Community Guidelines explain in way more detail what we mean when it comes to adult content. I also realize that “pornography” is difficult to define, and “you know it when you see it” is a totally inadequate policy. So we’ve added additional detail to the pornography section of our content policy, and the team will be spending even more time clarifying our guidelines in the future. As of this morning, the guidelines state that we don’t allow “real people engaging in sexual acts, such as masturbation or sexual intercourse on camera.”
- Very few creators are affected by any of these updates. Again, the only actual changes to our policy were around bestiality, incest, sexual depiction of minors, and suggestive sexual violence. Most folks — literally *most* creators by multiple factors of ten — even in the adult communities — have nothing to be concerned about.
- Patreon won’t pull the rug out from a creator’s income, even in the case of a policy violation. The team actually built a new system, a suspension tool, over the last few weeks, to avoid sudden removals. Suspension may still seem harsh — I totally understand that perspective — but in the case of a policy violation, it gives the creator a chance to talk with a team member and get their page back up and running. Creators now have time, personal connections with an advocate inside Patreon, and a team of Trust and Safety reps to help them update their pages instead of simply being removed from the platform.
- Every creator is unique, and every content evaluation is unique. We don’t believe in making sweeping generalizations or decisions about creators’ livelihoods. We avoid broad questions like “Is this OK, or is that ok?” A rep will look at each case and its context one-by-one. For anyone who has any questions or concerns about their page, you can speak to a human being (literally, you can always talk to a human) who will work with you to figure out how to update your page so it works with the guidelines.
- The team made these updates now as a follow-up to the Trust and Safety commitments I made this past summer. We’ve spent the past few months operationalizing the commitments, and several updates were ready (we were especially relieved to launch the suspension tool as an alternative to removing pages). We’ve heard a bit of speculation about whether these updates are related to the recent Series C fundraising and that is not true.
This update to our Community Guidelines is part of a broader effort to educate our community and give folks more clarity about what specifically we allow, or what we don’t. Our previous external-facing community guidelines were 795 words. The new guidelines are 2,802 words. Hopefully, the added detail offers you more clarity, makes for less guessing, and gives you the specificity you need.
I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again — I personally take content policy issues with the utmost seriousness. My personal belief is that online content policy is in its infancy right now — most of tech doesn’t do content policy well. In fact, I think tech on the whole under-invests in content policy. Especially for payments products. We’re talking about a person’s income here — we’re talking about a person’s livelihood. We have to be clear, rigorous, and caring. It’s what’s best for Patreon, it’s what’s best for our creators, and it’s also just the right thing to do.«
The reaction to Patreon’s Answer
Conte’s answer does little to calm down the worried content creators. They already replied:
»We’ve read the email from Jack Conte. It continues to exemplify the exact problems we are writing about in our open letter and, in fact, makes them worse. He both moves to come out strongly against specific forms of expression, such as “real people engaging in sexual acts”, while going on at length about how good a home Patreon is to creators. And if we don’t agree it’s a good home, it’s ok because it only affects “very few creators”.
We will continue to stand in solidarity with any creator on the platform creating legal content and continue to demand that Patreon revise its stance to allow any legal adult content within a safe space on their site. We are sorry to hear that the way his company has handled our community “bugs” him, but it’s hard for us to have empathy for those in power while we are fighting simply to be heard, create, and survive.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that Patreon’s move today is the exact opposite of what we asked for. Patreon is saying that they believe sex workers unable to change or censor their work to fit new requirements should lose their income and that legal expressions of sexual creativity do not have a home on their platform.
This email exemplifies the mentality of Patreon and other tech companies that their image, perhaps to investors or banking partners, is more important than the wellbeing of the legal content creators who rely on Patreon as a source of income and one of the only “safe” spaces for us.
We will continue collecting support and will think about our next steps as unified creators.«
By now one of the initial organizers of the open letter Liara Roux saw her Patreon account shut down. Is the company trying to silence and punish critics? The saga continues, we keep you posted.
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