Online merchant services giant PayPal is no stranger to controversial decisions, typically relating to the freezing or closing of its user’s accounts. Earlier this month, the company began freezing accounts owned by a variety of ASMR content creators based on what it deemed violations of its Acceptable Use Policy. The content creators, all of which happen to be women, feel that they are undeserving victims of organized online opposition and that PayPal has mis-labeled their content as sexual in nature. These maneuvers come just a few short months after YoutTube began limiting monetization on LGBT and other types of videos, leaving content creators concerned that they are being unjustly suppressed.
ASMR content first began to grow in popularity on Youtube a few years ago. ASMR is short for autonomous sensory meridian response and refers to a sensation that is often felt in the head and neck when a person is exposed to certain audible or visual stimuli. Some of the most popular types of trigger stimuli found in ASMR videos on Youtube are whispering, crinkling paper or plastic, brushing hair, turning the pages of a magazine, or eating fried chicken. There is no sexual response linked to ASMR, though platforms like YouTube and PayPal appear to be selectively designating it as sexual content.
There are loads of ASMR content creators who rely on the monetization of their videos for income, as well as through Patreon and other direct donation facilitators. In recent years, online payment processors have attempted to distance themselves from almost anything related to the sex industry. While ASMR content is not inherently sexual, like literally anything else you can find on the internet, encountering sexualized interpretations of it is not uncommon.
Like video games, cell phones, sports equipment, movies, or any other product you can buy, sexuality can be used to entice customers. There are some ASMR content channels that use sex to attract eyes and this has predictably drawn the attention of some of the worst corners of the internet. Organized online groups have been specifically targeting women ASMR creators for misogynistic reasons and have expressed praise towards PayPal for the crackdown. This is the same type of mob responsible for the online harassment seen during the “GamerGate” movement.
Being the target of a hate mob is especially concerning for the ASMR creator community because these videos provide a real benefit to the end users. Early studies have shown positive psychological benefits from consuming this type of content, including lowered anxiety and helping with insomnia. Some consumers of ASMR content use the videos exclusively as sleeping aids. Even if there were no measurable benefit to the content beyond the entertainment value, creators should still have the right to earn a living making these videos.
Just because a subset of the community chooses to sexualize the content does not make the subject matter sexual. Anyone who has been on the internet long enough understands that literally any subject can and will be sexualized. Allowing a group of trolls to dictate who can earn a living is a dangerous precedent for PayPal to set. For now, the ASMR community is urging its creators to avoid PayPal for now, though there is uncertainty that other payment processors may follow in PayPal’s footsteps.
PayPal has reportedly reinstated the accounts of two prominent ASMR content creators following the publishing of a scathing editorial over at Engadget, though they apparently offered little clarification as to why the original freezing happened in the first place. None of the reported account freezes affected male ASMR content creators.