A coalition of sex workers and advocacy organizations are calling on federal authorities to probe Mastercard’s screening policies for adult content, which they argue jeopardize the income of online adult entertainers and content creators while also resulting in censorship of protected and legal speech.
The American Civil Liberties Union, along with several advocates for sex workers’ rights, lodged a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission on Wednesday, August 30th. They argue that a policy enacted by the credit card behemoth nearly two years ago infringes on the rights of adult content creators and harms sex workers without any proven advantage that offsets the harm. According to their complaint, “Mastercard leverages its outsized market power to censor lawful sexual content.”
The Mastercard policy, put into effect on October 15, 2021, governs adult content and complicates the ability of sex workers to conduct business online by imposing strict registration, monitoring, and reporting requirements on adult content hosted by sites that use Mastercard’s payment processing services.
For almost two years, this policy has compelled online sex workers to undergo a burdensome and unnecessary process of identity verification and regulation, which has significantly impacted the income of many in the adult industry — an industry that contributes more than a billion annually to the U.S. economy.
The ACLU argues that in spite of the economic contributions of the adult industry and its workers, they “continuously face targeted censorship by private corporations, particularly financial institutions,” and notes that in a survey of sex workers, “more than half of respondents had had a negative experience with a financial institution.”
The coalition points out that the Mastercard requirements are difficult to follow, and platforms hosting content online often choose to over-comply rather than risk losing their ability to accept Mastercard, resulting in the censorship of otherwise legal and protected speech. As such, the policy’s implementation has led to the deletion of content, the flagging or shutting down of performers’ online accounts, and ultimately, a decrease in sales and income.
According to LaLa Zannell, the trans justice campaign manager for the ACLU, the policy does nothing to safeguard the vulnerable, but instead leaves sex workers vulnerable while chilling protected adult speech.
The complaint was filed by the ACLU, a group of sex workers and survivors known as Hacking//Hustling, and over a dozen other organizations, including Black Trans Nation, the Center for HIV Law and Policy, and the European Sex Workers Rights Alliance.
Zannell is asking the FTC listen to the stories and voices of sex workers, and to end a policy that results in harmful discrimination.
A spokesperson for Mastercard had no comment.