'They know that the fans of OnlyFans are only fans of one thing, right?' Stephen Colbert riffed with his signature sarcasm, as he spoke about OnlyFans’ decision to ban pornographic content, during his Late Night Show.
OnlyFans was launched in 2016 and is owned by Timothy Stokely, who is known as the 'king of homemade porn,' and Leonid Radinsky, who holds a 75% share of the company. Stokley started the platform after discovering the prevalence of under-the-table services on other social media platforms, especially among adult entertainers. He aimed at creating a platform that offered the creators a way to make money through a subscription model, which is evident from the company’s tagline- Make Your Influence Pay. Even though OnlyFans started its journey as a platform that offers solidarity and support to sex workers, a lot has changed.
On August 19, 2021, OnlyFans announced they would no longer allow the uploading of sexually explicit content starting October 1, 2021. As per the reports, the platform would allow nudity in the form of videos and images that aren’t sexually explicit. Walking the tightrope between art and pornography is not a new challenge, and we’ll have to see if the creators can, or are even interested in, navigating it to stay on the platform.
In the first few months of the pandemic, OnlyFans saw a 500% increase in paying customers. Currently, the platform has over 130 million users and 2 million subscribers and has earned $2 billion in sales the previous financial year, a majority of which undoubtedly stems from ‘sexually explicit content.
With this massive surge in popularity and profit, why is OnlyFans killing the golden goose? The company offers two reasons. First and foremost is to relieve pressure from banks and payment portals who are threatening to block payments to the service after several instances of underage and non-consensual content surfaced. The question is, why does the company want to remove its highest-income channel instead of making changes to its payment methods? With the increase in popularity and accessibility to cryptocurrencies and crypto platforms, it could be a viable alternative to traditional credit card payments.
The second stated reason behind this is the inability of OnlyFans to raise funds from venture capitalists. OnlyFans has been trying to procure $1 billion from investors, who have historically decided to stay away from these types of platforms. Even though the sexual wellness industry would touch $125.1 billion in 2026, with an expected CAGR of 12.4%, OnlyFans was well aware of this hurdle, and in its pitch deck to investors, did not mention pornography at all.
In a March 2020 report from Rolling Stone, Allie Awesome, an OnlyFans adult content creator, got banned from the platform. When she contacted their customer support, they stated credit card chargebacks as the reason for removing her account, and that her customers would be reimbursed from her account balance. Incidentally, her customers didn’t receive any form of reimbursement, as promised by the platform.
Unlike other creators who remained silent, Awesome brought the issue to the Adult Performers Actor’s Guild. Thus, the problem started gaining notice on different social media platforms. In no time, OnlyFans approached Awesome and reinstated her profile, stating the issue as a technical glitch. But, it wasn’t just one sex worker who was facing this issue. Awesome told Rolling Stone that several sex workers connected with her stating they also lost their accounts on OnlyFans, even when they didn’t violate any form of terms of service.
This takes us back to the question, does this mean OnlyFans has been attempting to remove or hide adult creators on the platform?
As we browsed through the platform, no adult content was present explicitly, and it looked similar to any other social media platform like Instagram. However, the engagement rates on the official page of OnlyFans on the platform are low and focus more on promoting a lifestyle, fitness influencers, and celebrities. The latter shows OnlyFans giving importance to the so-called not-so-sexually-explicit-content. When we look at the engagement rates, it shows that the platform lacks scope when it comes to generic content. It could also be a sign of the platform trying to increase the gap between sexual and non-sexual content for quite some time.
The gap became evident during the Bella Thorne controversy, which happened in August 2020. Bella Thorne made $1 million in a single day as she joined the platform. She set her price at $ 20 for a per-month subscription and charged $200 for her pay-per-view nude images. But, she failed to fulfill her promise to the people who bought her images, as she didn’t provide those images as described.
Besides that, Thorne didn’t have to create an OnlyFans account for financial reasons. When Thorne created the page, it created a cap on pay-per-view and tips. It was a factor that hurt the income stream of several sex works on OnlyFans, who considered it as a primary source of income. This was an issue that affected the morale of several sex workers, who are creators on the platform.
However, the gap and concerns regarding the platform continue further. It is clear from the money-centric approach adopted by the platform when it comes to moderating content. On OnlyFans, the platform offers three warnings to a creator for violating their terms of service. The terms of service focus on avoiding bestiality, human trafficking, child abuse, publishing of non-consensual content. OnlyFans has different criteria for various levels of creators when it comes to terms of violation.
For instance, if a creator belonging to the top 10 creators violates the terms of service, how the platform approaches is different. Here, the higher the number of followers, the creators can avail more warnings. Even though the warning system prevails and there is discrimination between different levels of creators, the platform contains several content pieces that depict terms of service violations.
A report by BBC published in May 2021 shows how OnlyFans has failed to prevent the selling and appearance of under-18 content. When it comes to creating an account as a creator on OnlyFans, anyone could lie about their age and create an account, as there isn't any proper filtration or cross-checking process. It could be a reason why investors find it challenging to invest in OnlyFans.
As per another BBC report, they found adult-centric accounts run by teenagers. BBC also created two accounts by mentioning the age as less than 18, and the platform didn’t remove their account. It was when the BBC brought this issue in front of the website that they deleted the account.
Other than that, BBC stated there are several human trafficking and bestiality centric content on the platform. Hence, the decision to remove porn-centric content by the platform could either be a method to get into the good books of venture capitalists or a way to remove the repercussions they might have to face due to these violations.
As per the US Homeland Security, around 20 to 30 child abuse images surface regularly. They are often from OnlyFans' content and live streaming. Besides that, the Department of Culture, Media, and Sports (DCMS) has stated that OnlyFans would have to pay a huge fine for the usage of illegal content as per the Online Safety Bill.
Hence, there could be different reasons why the platform has decided to remove pornographic content. Instead of this, the platform could have taken initiatives to remove child-centric, human trafficking, and related consentless content. However, the decision to throw Belle Delphine out with the bathwater can affect thousands of creators who rely on the platform for paying their bills.
The decision by OnlyFans would have to do way more than building sustainable relationships with the banking partners. The assumptions and allegations continue without any clarity on what would happen next. But, the solution to a problem is solving it. It is not removing anything and everything that could have a relation to it.
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