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Kinky Social Network Fetlife Deletes Thousands Of Fetishes to Stay Online

Jan 25 2017 3:16 PM
Kinky Social Network Fetlife Deletes Thousands Of Fetishes to Stay Online

Photo by juan moyano via Stocksy

FetLife, the world’s leading fetish website, has deleted huge swathes of content overnight in order to stay operational. Kinksters respond to the news.

FetLife, the world's leading online kink community, has had its leather-booted fill of controversy. Its users argue that it provides a space for like-minded kinksters to explore their BDSM fantasies in a safe, consensual way. Critics, on the other hand, claim that the site has historically minimized the abusive behavior of its members.

Now FetLife has astonished its members by deleting huge swathes of content, seemingly overnight and without prior consultation. Entire online groups and fetishes have been canned: nothing involving alcohol or drug use, no race play or anything that might be construed as hate speech, nothing that would be categorized as obscene (such as incest) or as causing permanent or lasting bodily harm, and—most significantly of all—nothing depicting consensual non-consent, such as simulated rape or abduction.

Banning the latter from FetLife deals a body blow to the kink community who flock to the site. The BDSM scene is premised on consensual non-consent; it's one of their core beliefs, just like how modern-day Republicanism is based on a rabid hatred of female bodily autonomy. Strip either out, and there's not a whole lot left.

Read more: How to Get the Kind of Rough Sex You Want

The site has been invite-only since July 2016, but FetLife's new decision to self-censor has been motivated by financial necessity. Founder John Baku explained in an apologetic and occasionally rambling blog post that the site was forced to delete hundreds of groups and thousands of fetishes in order to maintain their merchant accounts.

On FetLife, members pay to access premium features on the website. Alongside ad sales, the website is dependent on the revenue from these credit card payments to stay operational—revenue that is processed using a merchant account. Baku said that FetLife received a notification that one of their merchant accounts was being shut down.

A kinky couple at the 14th annual Domination Convention. Photo by Natasha Vargas-Cooper

"One of the card companies contacted them directly and told the bank to stop processing for us," Baku wrote. "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.'" Baku alleges other merchant account subsequently received calls from the same credit card company requesting the closure of FetLife's account for "illegal or immoral" reasons. FetLife is currently unable to process credit card payments.

Recent months have seen a concerted attack on the global kink community. In the UK, the Digital Economy Bill criminalizes a range of consensual adult practices and puts small-scale feminist pornographers out of business. Trump's choice for attorney general, Jeff Sessions, wants to revive the defunct Obscenity Prosecution Task Force and attack adult pornographers with Orwellian verve and McCarthy-era vigor. It seems that FetLife has been caught up in a global anti-kink morality panic.

"Kink is usually the first target," Susan Wright of the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom writes in support of FetLife in a blog post. "Due to recent events, FetLife is being persecuted by people who don't understand us. They interpret our consensual kinks as non-consensual because of the words we use and the way the images look, and they've acted to keep us from talking and showing these things on FetLife."

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Undoubtedly, it's a rough time for aficionados of rough sex. But not everyone in the BDSM scene is a fan of the social network. The site has been accused by some of protecting abusers and shaming those who speak out. One of the first people to criticize FetLife publicly was kink activist Kitty Stryker.

"I'm amazed that I'm on the side of capitalism," Stryker writes over email to Broadly, "but enforced censorship by credit card processors has done more to clean up the garbage on Fetlife than years of activism has!"

"FetLife often protected people who egged on rapists, racists, and abusers, so I can't really find it in me to feel that sorry for them here," she adds. "Perhaps if they had done as I had suggested years ago and self-policed the hate speech and harassment, this wouldn't have happened."

FetLife did not respond to requests for comment.

Other kinksters are broadly supportive of FetLife's decision. "While I may not like losing groups or fetish list choices, I'd much rather have to lose some of the aspects of website that I am accustomed to then having to lose my community connection altogether," says BDSM blogger Autumn Lokerson. "For many kinksters, as we call ourselves, FetLife is one of the only modalities we have for staying in touch with like-minded individuals near and far.

"I do not believe that this should be viewed as a punishment for being kinky but as protection against tyranny and close minded individuals that refuse to see This Thing We Do as the beautiful and healthy thing that it can be."

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