Celebrities’ hijacking of OnlyFans: The real impact on sex workers

By Caitlin Thomson

Celebrities, YouTubers and influencers alike are flooding OnlyFans in hordes, seizing the opportunity to add to their millions, to the detriment of the hard-working sex workers who populate the site.

OnlyFans definitively entered mainstream discourse earlier this year, when Beyoncé name-dropped the site on her remix of Megan Thee Stallion’s ‘Savage’. Since then, celebrity hijacking of OnlyFans has led many to wonder about the repercussions. Will the site choose to pursue the mainstream route, actually purging the adult content creators (who made OF what it is today) from the site?

“Hips TikTok when I dance / on that Demon Time, she might start an OnlyFans”

Beyoncé

What is OnlyFans?

OnlyFans was launched in 2016, as a platform which allowed creators to sell content on their own terms for a monthly fee or one-off tips. Most famously, it has been used by strippers and sex workers as an additional source of income; Thomas Stokely (COO) estimates adult material makes up about 50% of the site’s content.

OnlyFans was revolutionary for sex workers; it allowed them to operate virtually whilst being totally autonomous — making sex work safer than ever. This is crucial in an occupation which increases danger within daily life. From the threats of violence or stolen earnings from managers, to exploitative or coerced porn scenes, to unpredictable physically-present sex work, like escorting or prostitution.

There is no way to promote OnlyFans accounts on the site itself, so creators must rely on gaining subscribers from their social media followings, like Twitter and Instagram. This is what makes OF so profitable for celebrities who already boast huge followings on social media.

Currently, celebrities and influencers are increasingly hijacking OnlyFans, greedily viewing it as another way to monetise their massive followings. To date this includes Rico Nasty, Blac Chyna, Tana Mongeau, Caroline Calloway, Tyga, Bella Thorne and Cardi B.

Bella Thorne: OnlyFans in the News

Bella Thorne broke OF records when she signed up and made $2 million in a week, mainly by charging $200 for “nude” photos. However, subscribers were scammed as the pictures contained lingerie and Thorne’s blatant lie directly prompted policy changes, after OF were hit with a surplus of refund demands. OF introduced a cap onto the prices content creators can charge per tip or post, from a quite significant $200 to $100.

This resulted in huge backlash for Thorne on Twitter:

Sure enough, a twitter apology ensued, with Thorne claiming she had wanted to “remove the stigma behind sex work”. Ironically, she achieved quite the opposite. Her actions reinforce distrust of sex workers, and outdated views of SW as selfish scammers.

Her other point of defense was alleged ‘research’ she was undertaking for a film with director Sean Baker, who has since denied any upcoming projects with Thorne. Even if this claim was substantiated, the excuse is poor — Thorne’s best method of research would be actually talking to sex workers and learning from their experience.

Thorne’s actions on OF limited sex workers money, as well as devaluing their profession and cheapening individually-produced content.

Respecting sex work in mainstream culture

Other celebrities are more transparent about their intentions in signing up to OnlyFans. Cardi B stated in an Instagram post: “I WONT BE SHOWING PUSSY, TITTIES AND ASS … It will be a place for only me and my fans”. Instead she charges $4.99 a month for ‘exclusive’ content, for example behind the scenes footage from the WAP music video.

Using the OF earning calculator, which estimates around one to five percent of social media followers will subscribe, Cardi stands to make about $3.6 to 18 million a month based on her Instagram following alone. This is standard income, which doesn’t take into account tips or her other social media stats.

The question is: will these celebrities advocate for and protect the community they have inevitably aligned themselves with (by joining OnlyFans) or will they exploit their success (made possible by sex workers) with no further thought?

Many celebrities like Tana Mongeau devalue the platform by disguising ‘Instagram’ level content as more NSFW than it is. These influencers are quick to embrace their ‘risqué’, X-rated reputation yet actually hold little respect for the sex work industry, merely viewing it as ‘easy’ money.

MelRose Michaels, one of the top earners on FanCentro (a site similar to OF) states “there’s an assumption that anyone can do what we do, and that it doesn’t take any skills or any experience to do it well, and I think that’s a huge misconception”.

Michaels is not just a sex worker, but also a director, producer, marketer and more. “Yeah, we’re … making porn, but at the end of the day we’re CEOs of our own company, we’re our own product, we’re our own service, we have to market ourselves, brand ourselves, do the sales, do everything”.

Final Thoughts

This isn’t about gatekeeping sex work or preventing celebrities from collecting ‘their bag’ (as if they needed more). The inescapable fact is that celebrity hijacking of OnlyFans harms sex workers.

Making OnlyFans mainstream could mean a purge-like gentrification of the site. It is common for platforms to initially welcome then later reject NSFW creators, for example Tumblr and Patreon.

The very idea of OnlyFans is jeopardised by celebrity hijacking — the authentic agency that creators have to manage themselves, not to mention the idea of profit being collected wholly by the hands of those whose bodies are on display. This is inevitably not the case with mainstream celebrity creators.

OnlyFans have responded to fears about their commitment to the sex work community. ‘Without question, OnlyFans is one of the most inclusive social platforms, and our progressive policies towards content creation enables the success of adult content creators without discrimination. That is not going to change.’ Yet, things are already changing, seen in the new, limiting policies prompted by the Bella Thorne fiasco.

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