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Millions of paywalls obstruct scrutiny of child abuse on OnlyFans

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The true extent of child sexual abuse images and videos on OnlyFans, a site primarily known for adult content, remains challenging to determine, according to investigators and experts.

OnlyFans, based in the UK, is not legally required to report suspected child abuse to the U.S. National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), but it does so voluntarily.

The platform claims to have stringent safety controls, reporting 347 incidents to NCMEC’s CyberTipline in 2023. However, the company asserts that much of this material is not actual child sexual abuse material (CSAM) and may include duplicate images or videos.

Experts argue that verifying the presence of CSAM on OnlyFans is challenging due to the platform’s paywall structure. With 3.2 million creators, each account is protected by individual paywalls, complicating access for independent investigators. Trey Amick, director of forensic consultants at Magnet Forensics Inc, highlighted the difficulty, stating, “It’s a paywall for each and every contributor.”

Without subscribing to individual accounts or obtaining OnlyFans’ cooperation, law enforcement can only access limited information, such as a non-explicit photo and account description. OnlyFans asserts that it cooperates fully with police investigations, providing necessary account details and content when requested.

NCMEC gained limited access to OnlyFans content behind paywalls in late 2023, restricted to accounts reported to its CyberTipline or linked to missing child cases. However, NCMEC does not actively monitor or review content at scale on OnlyFans or other platforms.

In 2021, OnlyFans appointed Michael Ward, a former U.S. Justice Department prosecutor, as an independent third-party monitor to assess the platform’s safety controls. Despite these efforts, the overall transparency and effectiveness of OnlyFans’ measures in preventing and reporting CSAM remain under scrutiny.

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