Well it’s certainly been an eventful week as far as kink on the internet has been concerned. First, we had the revelations surrounding Kink.com, ending video production, hauling gear to Las Vegas, and totally changing the functionality of the iconic Armoury building in San Francisco.
Then, on the 11th of January, the largest online kink community was sent into a flurry of speculation when groups started to disappear, literally in front of people’s eyes. It seemed that anything that showed needles and blood were being deleted. The removal of the groups came without warning, and understandably considerable chaos ensued, not least because what information was being released by FetLife was minimal and extremely vague.
John Baku wrote in a post on FetLife:
Apart from some vague reference regarding “political climate” no reason for this sudden change in policy was given.
Within a very short time, groups regarding other areas of kink were deleted, and various posts on FetLife named those that had disappeared, once again without any advance notice to the group owners. Anything from Rape to Erotic Hypnosis was targeted. Countless members described how they had been affected, from lists of group members that were now gone to years of background and educational information that was no longer available.
The reason for the great purge
The debate regarding why all this had happened flooded FetLife, with claims that it was due to the incoming Trump administration, Anti-porn activists or credit card companies. Any and all could be true. Suggestions that FetLife was going to move its servers to another country, the most popular location being the Netherlands, were rife. But still, nothing substantial was coming from the owners.
Finally, the silence was broken with a long statement released by John Baku on 18th January. The tone of the writing was apologetic, feeling that he had let everyone down with his actions and the fact that it had been done without warning.
Baku then went on to describe what had been happening during the past week, mentioning the various parties that he had been consulting in order to have a clearer view of what the situation was and could be.
Several areas of concern were described including financial, legal and community risk. As was intimated at in several posts during the silence the main problem has been concerning the merchant account which allows FetLife to process credit card payments. Obviously, it costs money to run a website such as FetLife. Not only do you have server costs to consider, but also employee costs, accountants and software to name a few. The initial problem came from one of the credit card companies, who have some power over the merchant bank, requested them to stop processing payments stating an issue with “blood, needles and vampirism”. It was at this point that Baku and his team took the rather dramatic action to delete some groups in order to comply with the requests. However, within three days the same company came back with another request for the merchant bank to stop processing for FetLife with “illegal or immoral” being stated as the new reason.
The decision was then made to close the merchant bank account even though only one credit card company had made any requests. Merchant banks share lists of closed accounts and together with the request from the credit card company it’s going to make it tough to get another account.
It’s possible to speculate why the credit card company made such requests, anything from political posturing to religious reasons could be argued for. Even credit card companies are owned by someone and have to answer to a board of directors. It only takes the slightest whiff of scandal for a vote to ban certain “immoral” activities.
The second area concerns the legal risks. Baku states several recent factors and events that are necessary to be taken account of. Unfortunately, recent news stories have linked court cases concerning rape to members of FetLife. There are political actions regarding obscenity and the threat of an anti-porn bill. Within the UK, the Digital Economy bill, currently being debated is certainly going to have a dramatic effect on how kink and porn will be accessed over the internet. The main reason behind this particular bill is targeted towards controlling access for minors, the easiest way for this to be actioned is once again through credit cards. There are also some changes to the laws in Germany which will also have an impact. Kink and porn have always been an easy target and all of the above reasons just make it easier.
The last area relates to the community. Basically, this comes across as a cleansing process for FetLife. I think what Baku is trying to do is to promote a stronger community, one where those not in the kink world have less of a reason to attack us. By removing groups that are deemed to be non-consensual to the vanilla world is just one way of satisfying that demand.
Baku is basically issuing a rallying call to try to help us all make informed decisions regarding the images and writing that we post on FetLife. Trying to conform to rules set by those outside the kink world is always going to be difficult, but there is certainly an optimistic tone in Baku’s writing. Working with the NCSF (National Coalition for Sexual Freedom), CFP (Coalition for Free Speech), lawyers and the merchant bank he certainly seems to think there is a future for FetLife. It may look different to what we had, but hopefully, by implementing new guidelines, FetLife can protect itself from future attacks.
As it stands the main areas of concern are: anything non-consensual, anything that impairs consent, permanent or lasting damage, hate speech, and obscenity. Unfortunately, even though we as kinksters are accepting of a wide spectrum of kinks, it’s how it’s considered in a legal context that is important. A new set of guidelines will be released shortly as well as the continued caretaking currently taking place.