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The rise and fall of OnlyFans

By Shannon Flynn

Aug 29, 2021

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Due to its recent growth in popularity, many people are aware of the content subscription service known as OnlyFans. The platform is a hub for content creators to share videos and images, typically of the pornographic variety, to their ‘fans’ or subscribers. It currently has around 12 million registered users, with over 70,000 content creators. The organisation has continued to grow and reach new audiences.

Due to the overwhelming amount of content that contains explicit or pornographic material, the platform has received its fair share of backlash from religious organisations and parents concerned that their children may be exposed to explicit content. Sex workers use the platform to help promote their likeness instead of common social media platforms that typically ban any explicit content from being posted.

Let’s discuss the OnlyFans site some more, how it became a household name and its recent policy change that sparked outrage.

Early days of OnlyFans

OnlyFans was created in 2016 by Timothy Stokely and is based in London. Stokely already had a hand in the adult media industry when he founded GlamWorship.com in 2011 and Customs4U in 2013. After spending time with those ventures, Stokely realised the opportunity to launch a website that accommodates adult content creators.

Stokely understood that traditional social media platforms, such as Instagram and Twitter, don’t allow explicit content to be posted. He saw this as a chance to create OnlyFans to solve this issue for those interested in sharing pornographic, explicit content for cash. Thus, the creation of OnlyFans. So, how does it work?

Subscribers need to pay either a monthly subscription fee, which ranges from $5 to $50. OnlyFans takes 20 per cent of the profit content creators make off the app, while the creators themselves take 80 per cent. The site appeals to subscribers because of the exclusive content they have access to once they pay their fees.

Fans can interact with the creator they subscribe to and even make special requests, asking creators to customise their content for them. Surprisingly, most of the special requests are not explicit in nature. One creator mentioned that more subscribers simply wanted more time to talk to her—creators feel that they’re offering more than just explicit content to their subscribers. 

While the platform has helped sex workers break into new audiences and grow their online persona, there are concerns regarding minors on the site.

Issues of child trafficking, exploitation and pornography

With any online platform, parents and child trafficking advocates worry that there are risks associated with their access to OnlyFans content. Girls as young as 13 are posting personal content on their pages and making money from subscriptions. While OnlyFans does have an age verification policy, the system can experience issues. In some cases, children will use older relatives’ information to set up an account. Still, OnlyFans believes that their age verification process goes “over and above” the regulatory requirements. 

Schools have shared cases with the UK police, saying that they know students use the platform to share explicit content. One student even reported being blackmailed.

OnlyFans enlists moderators to check on content daily, using keywords to search for illegal content in bios. Moderators can give multiple warnings to anyone posting content that breaches their policies. If enough notices are given, OnlyFans will terminate the account.

While these issues are still prevalent, OnlyFans recently dealt with a murky situation regarding possible policy changes in the coming months.

Policy change issues surrounding OnlyFans

OnlyFans planned to ban sexually explicit content, which helped the platform grow in popularity and gain thousands of subscribers and content creators. The platform claims that pressures from investors, banks and payment processors contributed to this monumental change.

After announcing that sexually explicit content would be banned, OnlyFans received a ton of backlash. Many sex workers who rely on the platform as a source of income are upset—their content contributed to the platform’s growth. Some creators even deleted their OnlyFans accounts and transitioned to other platforms, like Fansly, where they could still share whatever content they’d like.

As a result of this widespread outrage, OnlyFans decided to retract its statement and hold off on making the policy change. The official OnlyFans account sent out a tweet explaining its decision. The company received assurances from investors that it would continue to receive their support regardless of distributed content.

Sex workers have noted that this ban will endanger lives, according to The Guardian. Many believe OnlyFans to be a safe space for employees in the industry, and by taking it away from sex workers, this change may force them on the street. In addition, activists say this riskier job could endanger more lives through unsafe conditions.

Is OnlyFans safe?

When we discuss the exploitation of sex workers, the topic gets a little tricky. Though sex work can be dangerous, like all work, some wonder if the app is safe enough for sex workers to use. Many critics even perpetuate the idea that some OnlyFans users prey on sex workers through the app.

Though sex trafficking is a serious global issue with thousands of victims, there are many activist groups that debunk the connection between sex work and sex trafficking. Additionally, OnlyFans released a statement of commitment to proactively monitor and take action against any fraud or security threats against its users and creators:

“OnlyFans is strictly an 18 and over social media platform. OnlyFans does not tolerate any violations of our policies and we immediately take action to uphold the safety and security of our users. The platform’s Trust & Safety division has grown alongside the business and OnlyFans continues to commit top resources to this area. OnlyFans hosts over 1.25 million creators. The site has in-depth policies and procedures in place to proactively monitor any attempt to fraudulently access the platform, including access by minors, and should there be any contravention of these terms, the account is immediately closed. OnlyFans continues to increase monitoring measures to prevent any fraudulent breaches.”

The uncertain future of OnlyFans

While the policy is suspended right now, the situation is evolving. The policy may be reinstated, while some believe that creators will still release sexually explicit content and continue using the site for financial security.

While street-based sex work is a popular and legitimate trade, we could very well see an increase in sex work activisim and street-based work if OnlyFans were to move forward with this change.