Is the normalisation and commodification of OnlyFans ultimately hurting its own creators? – Liberal Article
In Late April when Beyoncé referred to OnlyFans in her remix of Savage with Meg Thee Stallion, the site received a 15% bump in traffic. More and more celebrities have since joined the site; Megan Barton, Cardi B, Bella Thorne, to name a few. The increase in publicity through celebrities has normalised sex work. This can only be a good thing, right?
The chasm between the creator and the site came to a head when Bella Thorne dropped her OnlyFans link to a “nude” photo of herself (for the price of $200) on Twitter.
This was a lie.
Thousands demanded refunds worth millions, breaking the site temporarily. Not only does this blatant lie further the stigma around sex workers being ‘scammers’, but OnlyFans reacted by putting a $100 limit on tips, $50 cap on pay-per-view content and all money made will be pending for 30 days. These price limits do not include the 20% cut OnlyFans takes on every transaction and the added income tax.
This is detrimental to the income of smaller creators whose main source of earnings is usually reliant on a small but dedicated fan base, with large tips from very few. Not only this, but it devalues the content made and cheapens the work they do. During a time when in-person sex work is virtually impossible, this has and continues to decimate those who rely on the site as their main source of income.
The abrupt policy change by OnlyFans is negligent. It undermines the users of the site, demonstrating how online platforms are not created by the demographic they serve. However, another problem is the intent behind Bella Thorne’s actions and the wider issue it represents.
But what is OnlyFans?
OnlyFans was created in 2016 as a subscription-based platform. Creators can sell photos and videos of themselves. They can receive tips from followers and create custom content for individuals, priced by the creators themselves.
However, OnlyFans is not just NSFW (Not Safe For Work) content. It is used by comedians, musicians, cooks, and anyone who wants to directly monetise their online content.
It enables its users to solely control every aspect of their own content; how it is accessed, how it is presented, the price of their content, and what work they choose to take on. In an industry that’s known for the exploitation of workers, OnlyFans revolutionised the online sex worker space and rebalanced the power to favour the workers themselves.
Since the pandemic, OnlyFans has seen a 75% rise in sign-ups, mainly by sex workers. Furlough schemes globally are inaccessible to sex workers due to the varying degrees of criminalisation, making OnlyFans a vital source of income.
Bella Thorne, on the other hand, earnt $2million dollars in less than a week; smashing the record for the most earnt on the website from a single post.
Thorne claimed she joined the site to research for an upcoming role as a sex worker (which has since been discredited by the director). But the lack of awareness of how different her experience will be on the site in comparison to its other users is laughable.
Frankly, ignorance isn’t a good enough excuse. Especially for a celebrity that size who has worked with sex worker charities in the past. But, Bella’s use of the site is just the beginning of the large scale digital gentrification of online spaces occupied by marginalised communities.
Every time a celebrity with an enviably large net worth and successful career joins a site like OnlyFans – usually, under the guise of ‘normalising sex work’ and ‘destigmatisation’ -they trivialise the years of hard work and real-life danger all sex workers experience.
Celebrities directly benefit from the fruits of their labour without giving any back anything except ‘exposure’ (which perpetuates this cycle). These celebrity ‘drop-ins’ are worthless. When they inevitably get bored with the site, they return to their normal life with no financial or societal repercussions.
Making OnlyFans mainstream, in the long run, will harm its creators and users alike. This is because it will have to cater to a far more mainstream audience than what it is was originally for.
OnlyFans screwing their own creators was inevitable; we’ve seen it countless times on other social media platforms.
Using an ignorant celebrity (who was acting with good intentions) as a catalyst during a global pandemic when millions are unemployed is cruel. Is Bella Thorne the problem? No. But she is part of the extensive glamourising of the sex industry by non-sex workers. This continues to push workers away from their own safe spaces.
Written by Guest Liberal Writer, Lucy Severn
Point of Information
Celebrities do more harm than good – A Labour Response
Lucy’s article is spot on! OnlyFans was a platform that handed complete control to the creator. The recent cap on pay per view material prices has, in essence, told the majority sex worker user base how much their body is worth. Morally, I don’t think that can be excused.
Sex work is a broad field. It should absolutely be normalised. But, celebrities who live extremely secure lives dropping into the field as a hobby do nothing to aid this. The stigma around sex work has been built up over the years. This is mainly due to misogynistic and harmful religious ideas about female modesty. Bella Thorne for all her creative output is very unlikely to reach the sorts of people who hold negative views about sex work.
The real path to normalisation is more education, especially at the youngest ages. Not about sex work specifically, but about equality and about the history of the female struggle for bodily autonomy.
A key issue that Lucy alludes to is the online gentrification of spaces that are occupied by marginalised communities. This equates to the idea of “… chic fashion” and it is hugely problematic. In this case, it is sex worker chic; the adoption of sex worker as a personality hugely misrepresents the seriousness of the profession. For some, it is a last resort. Moreover, this will undoubtedly apply to many more people as the era of the COVID economy continues. Trivialising this reality is inappropriate.
Bella Thorne in this case made a mistake. But, as Lucy says, celebrities on the whole need to think more carefully about how they use their social and economic power – and, whether they need to become centred in a conversation to advance it. The answer most of the time is they do not. Support from the wings or anonymous support is far better than monetising their support and becoming the headline.
Written by Senior Labour Writer, Henry Mckeever
The issue itself is a problem, but the example isn’t feasible – A Conservative Response
It’s very hard for me to feel sympathetic to OnlyFans creators. As plenty of people are currently unemployed, more and more young people flock to OnlyFans to show their body parts for money, expecting to be treated seriously. But putting my own judgments aside, I think that Lucy brings up a very important issue that isn’t limited to OnlyFans.
Political creators on YouTube compete with media giants such as the BBC, Channel 4, Sky News etcetera. Small businesses compete with multi-million-dollar companies. This is a worrying trend. When the large companies received bailouts, a lot of small creators suffered due to the nature of their work. This also meant that they moved online, trying to make money any way they could. Art, theatre, choir, orchestras were struggling too.
If we were to treat a platform such as OnlyFans as a legitimate source of income, we could certainly agree that setting caps would certainly harm the creators. This problem exists on YouTube to some extent too, as it has been routinely demonetising right-wing content. In a truly free market, these kinds of caps shouldn’t exist.
However, there is also a moral argument to be made for OnlyFans setting caps on the earnings of the ‘content creators’. Even though people feel like they can exploit gullible men for money, the limit means that mentally unstable men can be safeguarded from the trap of an illusion of human interaction. When looking at the moral argument for the caps, I would fully support it. When looking at the issue economically – I’m in a full agreement with Lucy.
Written by Junior Conservative Writer, Dinah Kolka