Most nude content is legal, and engaging with such material online provides individuals with a safe and open framework to explore their identities, build communities, and discover new interests. However, social networks and payment processors are intervening to become the arbiters of how people create and engage with nudity and sexuality—both offline and in the digital space. As a result of this flawed system, a crucial form of engagement for all kinds of users has been removed and the voices of people with less power have regularly been shut down.

One recent illustration is the censorship of True Naked Yoga—a platform providing online naked yoga videos. In August 2022, payment processor Stripe banned True Naked Yoga, calling it a “restricted business,” which contravened Stripe’s service agreement. Stripe gave True Naked Yoga just four days’ notice before the account was closed.

Stripe had reviewed the site in December 2021 and did not flag any problems, nor did it give True Naked Yoga any warning that the terms of service had changed. The abrupt ban forced True Naked Yoga to shut down for more than one month until it could find a new payment processor.  

Processors are entitled to enforce their terms of service, but this is a shameful way to do it, and a terrible precedent. Payment services provide vital financial pathways for companies and nonprofits. Websites—whether they accept online donations, sell goods online, or simply have a bank account—rely on their financial institutions to ensure they can continue to operate. We’ve seen many examples of pressure being exerted on a website’s wallet to try to shut down lawful speech. 

So even when material violates terms of service, it is crucial that payment processors give users ample notice so they can arrange for an alternative. They should also give users the right to appeal. 

Speaking to EFF, True Naked Yoga noted that: 

“These prudish tactics often do nothing to make the internet a safer place, but instead negatively affect sex workers, people of color, artists, and even naturist communities. Though these terms of service are in place to supposedly create a safer environment online, they consequently create a situation in which pornography has a monopoly over nudity on the internet. 

Allowing space for nonsexual nudity in society and online helps to combat stigma and other sociocultural harm, while also encouraging more nuanced conversations that have the power to shape our world in more positive ways.”

True Naked Yoga has also been banned from the marketing platform MailChimp for violating its Acceptable Use Policy, which forbids “services with a sexual emphasis or sexually explicit content—including images depicting nudity.” At the same time, it’s accounts on Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, and YouTube have been removed, as well as Instagram deleting the yoga platform’s original account four times before a permanent deletion—despite the content uploaded in accordance with community guidelines.

Nudity transcends pornographic content and sexually engaging material. Yet, the actions of social media platforms and payment intermediaries—like Stripe—are arbitrarily influencing what kind of speech and nudity can exist online. It’s time for payment processors to stop censoring legal content and grow up.