[Crossposted to Red Garter Club 3.2 as well]
Since I broke the news (also here) of the unfolding controversy involving cam model/porn director/sex worker Eden Alexander and the actions of payment provider WePay and crowdfundraising site GiveForward.com, events have been breaking early and often. So, here's an update on what has happened and what may happen next.
First, some wonderful news: Eden Alexander did tweet on Saturday that she is out of surgery and now recovering in her hospital bed; she is getting the treatment and the rest that she needs, and she is, from every indication, in good spirits (albeit ovewhelmed and exhausted from all the physical and emotional strain of the past few days).
Secondly, some more wonderful and pretty heartening news: The porn/sex work disapora has, to say the least, responded to Eden's plight the way the Allies responded in Normandy in World War II. Since the alternate fundraising site was set up over at Cloudtilt.com, it has raised more than $8,500 in all of nearly 48 hours...and is currently about to hit $9K. Not too shabby, if I may say so. Those wanting to give their contribution can still access Eden's page here if they choose.
Amazingly enough, one of the more significant contributions came from the head of GiveForward, the crowdraising site which operated Alexander's original fundraiser. Attached to it was a message from GiveForward representative Michael Powell, apologizing to Eden for their role in the disaster and contributing the equivalent of their and WePay's donation fees as an atonement. (Screenshot of Powell's donation statement courtesy of Chris Lowrance's Twitter page)
Unfortunately, no such atonement has as of yet come from the actual instigators of the whole controversy, the payment processor WePay. As of right now, they are still sticking to their story that they were simply forced by their regulations and rules to axe Eden's account because she allegedly violated their Terms of Service involving using their account for "pornographic services". They did clarify, though, that they have released all of the funds collected from the fundraiser; funds raised before May 14th were processed and transferred to Eden's account; while funds raised after that were returned to their respective donors.
A bit more clarity has now been opened on WePay's processes since this first broke. Vice.com's Motherboard blog on yesterday posted their perspective on the whole controversy, which opened up some new revelations about the controversy.
We now know that WePay's backdoor processor for all its financial dealings is a company called Vantiv, which was described as one of the largest processers of bank card payments in the United States; as well as the owner of nearly 12,000 ATM's (Automated Teller Machines) nationwide. No one as of yet has asked their spokespersons whether those who take out money at those ATM's are screened for their outside activities the same way that Eden Alexander was screened for hers, or whether they even care that the money pulled from ATM's or other transactions could be used for porn or other illicit or even illegal purposes.
And that's kind of a relevant question, because, according to the Vice.com article....
On Twitter, WePay's cofounder Bill Clerico explained a bit more. Many of things banned in the service's terms (like porn anything) are required by processors because "they are prone to fraud and abuse." WePay is required by its partners (financial partners, presumably) to actively monitor (surveill) its users for policy violations, which includes combing through Twitter accounts, a task done by actual humans. "We must enforce these policies or we face hefty fines or the risk of shutdown for the many hundreds of thousands of merchants on our service," said Rassa.This begs some huge questions: How can private firms and banks and other financial institutions retain the power to sanction and fine or even shut down payment processors for the mere "crime" of association with certain types of transactions...even if such transactions are perfectly legal and above board? Does the mere suspicion of abuse or fraud warrant dropping the hammer, the anvil, the Rock of Gibraltar, and a million gallons of genuine Niagara Falls on a woman raising funds for her medical bills?? And, more importantly, are these rules being enforced equally, or are they selectively enforced based on mere personal bias or selective prejudice against.....oh, I don't know....sex workers and porn performers?
This also brings us back to that "Operation ChokePoint" thing that the US Department of Justice is now doing to target banks and financial institutions to combat all sorts of shady activities. The initial educational material that the DoJ pushed out to Big Finance did label "pornography" as one of the subset activities warranting suspicion and further investigation, alongside other, more traditional activities such as subprime lending, online payday loansharking, telemarketing, and other sources of possible chargeback/usury abuse. There is still plenty of furious debate whether the real responsibility lies with the government for "overzealous" regulation (the theory of the Libertarian Right and the traditional conservatives who oppose all regulation on general principle); or Big Finance for misinterpreting and twisting the regulations around for their own purpose, and using sex workers and porn folk as human shields and stepping stones to get back at the regulators (the more liberal/progressive view).
And then, you wonder whether even WePay understand their own Terms of Service. The alleged acts that triggered Eden Alexander's account to get pulled were two retweets that she did of a couple of porn sites which attempted to give some...ummm, incentives to donate to her fund....namely, some free pics and reduced prices on some porn videos that Eden had starred in. Forget the basic fact that retweets are not necessarily endorsements of what is tweeted, and that nowhere in Alexander's initial funding pitch or any of her own tweets does she offer anything in quid pro quo for donating to her fund. And, never mind the basic fact that the whole point of the fundraiser was to pay her medical bills and help her through a potential life threatening situation. You could make the case that she really did not violate their ToS at all..and yet WePay (perhaps under pressure from Vantiv or maybe OCP) simply decided they had to pull the trigger and nuke Eden's account for "consistency's sake".
The fact that WePay is induced (by their contracts with their financial partners, they say) to essentially spy on their paying customers' personal social media accounts in order to detect even the smallest excuse for dismissal...errrrrrrr, the slightest indication of "fraud and abuse", does not induce much comfort for those who care about privacy or free expression, either.
More likely, it looks like WePay/Vantiv is engaging in the same old tired bullshit act of slut shaming, sex shaming, and porn shaming that other financial institutions like PayPal, Amazon, JPMorganChase, and a few others have mastered. Considering that a major antiporn summit just concluded this weekend, alongside of a just as major confab of "movement conservatives" bent on imposing similar moral values on the rest of America. Between that and the ongoing "sex trafficking" panic that is scaring plenty of liberals into compliance with antisex legislation, that's more than enough to keep Big Finance and the politicians they buy to keep holding the line against "those dirty sluts and whores" using "their money" to "corrupt" fair patriotic American society.
It may be that Eden Alexander is simply a small victim in this major war of financial wits. Thankfully, due to the generosity of her fans and those who actually think that sex workers are as human as everyone else, she will survive and recover.
WePay, for its part, has backslid a bit since getting absolutely singed by the social media firestorm. They did offer to provide Eden a new fundraiser page, but by then her followers had already moved over to Cloudtilt. They also promised a review of their ToS and procedures for shutting down accounts, though they didn't say whether or not they would change their procedures for reviewing accounts or even their surveillance of customer's social media accounts.
It should also be noted that while Cloudtilt's ToS does not mention porn at all; their own payment processing company, Balanced.com, does have a Sellers Agreement with their clients that does ban "sexually-oriented or pornographic products or services". (Raising the question of whether a company like, say, Lovability Condoms could use their services.)
The main issue in all this remains that sex workers who practice a legal profession (and in California and New Hampshire, porn is fully protected as constitutional free speech) should not face any Scarlet Letters when they attempt to raise funds for whatever reason they choose for legal purposes....and especially NOT for the purpose of paying their medical bills. Why they should have to resort to crowdfunding for essential healthcare in one of the richest countries in the world is an issue in and of itself....but that's another issue to tackle.
It all comes back to the basic ideas:
Sex workers and porn performers/cam girls are human beings; "sluts" are people, too; and if you exchange money for sex in any way, then you might be as much a "whore" as an actual sex worker....they just only are open and out and honest about it.