Age-Verification Laws in Europe Are An Attack on Creators
Updated: Apr 25, 2022
Blog Post Written By: Mike Stabile
Over the past few months, Germany, France, and the UK have advanced stringent age-verification laws for fans of adult content. While the specific rules in each country vary, their overall goal is to prevent minors from seeing adult content online. The goal might be laudable, but the methods they use to achieve it — including targeting individual sex workers for prosecution — are not.
In each scheme, access to new audiences and traffic is cut off from creators. From tube sites to social media, age-verification processes (which range from credit card validation to ID uploads and biometric scans) would effectively separate adult accounts from the general population.
Here’s how these laws affect creators:
Loss of Adult Platforms
Looking to build or grow your audience? Tube sites, a major traffic generator for many creators, are the top target for the regulators. Earlier this month, under the guise of protecting children, regulators in Germany blocked access to the tube site xHamster, the most popular adult site in Germany. France is seeking to block Pornhub, xHamster and others at the ISP level.
While creators have traditionally had a complicated relationship with free sites, most now use them for traffic generation (xHamster’s Creator Program, for example, directs free traffic directly to a creator’s website or fan site profile). When Pornhub was denied access to Visa and Mastercard in late 2020, it was primarily creators on the sites Modelhub who suffered.
Loss of Social Media
It’s not just adult platforms. The UK’s new Online Safety Bill targets social media companies — particularly Twitter and Reddit. Under the proposed legislation, social media companies with significant amounts of adult content would either have to institute meaningful age verification or remove adult content creators entirely.
Twitter, under pressure from German regulators, has already begun blocking access in Germany to accounts that share adult content. And similar approaches are being proposed in places like Canada and Australia. (Thanks to the First Amendment, proposals in the United States are mostly censor fanfic.)
While most of the attention has so far focused on bigger platforms, the age-verification regulations would apply to all adult sites. So if you own a website with your own content, you’d be responsible for blocking access to under 18s. That likely means paying third-parties to verify age and ID, at a cost of around $3 per visitor — regardless of whether they buy anything.
For many small creators and producers, that would quickly make their business unprofitable. Most consumers have privacy concerns, and don’t want to submit IDs or have their faces scanned at a random website — especially when they haven’t even decided to purchase.
This puts more power in the hands of bigger platforms, and perversely encourages consumers to visit illegal pirate sites that don’t perform age-verification.
Fines and Imprisonment
In Germany, individual creators, not just platforms, are being targeted. Employing laws against exposing adult content to minors, owners of Twitter accounts in Germany that share adult content are facing fines and, potentially, imprisonment.
Going up against major governments and entrenched anti-porn interests is tough, but the battle isn’t unwinnable. The louder creators are about their rights, the greater chance of getting bad legislation and regulation stopped, changed or repealed. FSC Europe has sent a letter to the German regulator protesting the censorship. To keep in touch with them, follow them on Twitter at @FSCEurope or join as a member (it’s free).
If you’re in the United States, you can do the same. Follow them at @FSCArmy or join at FreeSpeechCoalition.com.
If you have questions about the laws, about what you can do, or want to share stories about how antiporn, anti-sex regulation is affecting you, you can always reach out to me directly.
Mike Stabile is documentary filmmaker, journalist and media strategist. In 2014, he founded Polari Media to help sex workers and sex-related business communicate more effectively with mainstream media. He currently serves as Director of Public Affairs at Free Speech Coalition. You can follow him on Twitter at @mikestabile
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