Headlines about former Disney star Bella Thorne’s record-breaking tenure on the social media site OnlyFans have started to change course. After a few short weeks on the site, Thorne has released public apologies regarding the content that she has released. Why is this happening? It all stems from a radical shift in some platform policies.
OnlyFans, which started as a service for social media influencers to monetize their content, has become a work space for a lot of online sex workers. This influx started after rival creator platform Patreon started a steadily increasing ban on not safe for work (NSFW) content. Originally this ban was targeted at erotic accounts dedicated to hypnosis, with a theme of coercion and nonconsensual content. This ban was then expanded further to include “forced transformation and sexual slavery” and now officially forbids “content glorifying sexual violence” of any kind. Even content creators who publish content outside of that guideline have reported being taken down. Where other sites have bowed to pressure from payment providers, OnlyFans remained a relatively open platform for sex work. It still is, but recent changes to the site have a lot of sex workers worried. Officially, OnlyFans still allows for nude content on the platform but getting paid for that content has become a lot harder.
Recently, the site announced a sweeping change to its monetization model. Originally, content creators were free to charge any amount they chose for paid content and subscriptions. That policy has now changed. Any creator selling content on the platform can charge a maximum of $100 for a post, and viewers can only offer a maximum tip of $200. This change hurts small-time creators, especially due to reliance on loyal fans to generate more revenue for fewer releases. This change in pay limits was also followed by a change to the site’s payment rate. Instead of paying creators at the end of each week, OnlyFans now pays creators at the end of the month. Lacking the consistency of a weekly paycheck, many creators are now being forced off the site due to a lack of revenue. While the site has stated that these changes were inevitable, many creators on the site have pointed to the actions of Thorne as a probable cause.
Thorne first joined the platform in August with a subscription-based service of $20/month and a statement that she would not be showing nude content. Thorne claimed her entry to the platform was part of research she was conducting for a role in a film. This initial announcement started to draw criticism from users who claimed that her presence was gentrifying the platform by not acknowledging the plights of sex work. After 24 hours on the site, Thorne had amassed a site record of over $1 million in earnings but that was quickly unraveled by some new content she released. Thorne’s account later offered subscribers a supposedly nude photo set with a price tag of $200. Subscribers who paid for these photos quickly discovered that they did not contain nudity, which prompted a major wave of refunds. As this refund wave caused a rift between OnlyFans and its payment partners, Thorne’s deceptive act has been blamed for causing the platform to change its monetization guidelines. Whether or not this is true is still up for debate, but the impact Thorne has had on the sex work community is undeniable.
“Sex Workers face real and serious consequences every day” says Ariella Red, a sex worker and ProDom. “Sex workers are incarcerated for just doing their jobs. Sex workers are killed for doing their jobs.” Red’s comments on the grim realities of the industry stand out, given Thorne’s claims that she was joining OnlyFans to get “the full experience” of a sex worker. “I get that she probably didn’t mean any harm,” says Red, “but when you act without doing any research and other people have to deal with the backlash because of your incompetence and ignorance….that sucks.”
During our interview, Red also called out the lackluster support Thorne has shown to the community. Thorne has claimed that she wants to destigmatize sex work but Red points out she has not taken accountability for her actions and continues “to pretend” she joined OnlyFans “out of the goodness of her heart.” Red concluded her thoughts on Thorne by calling on her to listen to sex workers, amplify the voices of “more marginalized sex workers” and to donate to sex workers.
With sex workers facing more challenges due to OnlyFans monetization changes and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, I asked Red what other people can do to support sex workers. Many of Red’s suggestions involved seeking education on sex work. Red specifically recommended reaching out to active local chapters of the Sex Workers Outreach Program (SWOP); advocating for decriminalization legislation; learning about the problematic impact of laws like SESTA/FOSTA and the Earn It act; and paying for porn whenever possible.