There’s little debate over the identity of the fastest growing platform of the 2020s so far, with the title undoubtedly going to TikTok.
However, following behind in perhaps a close second is OnlyFans, a content sharing platform of a very different nature.
For those who have somehow never heard of it, OnlyFans is a service which allows creators to share exclusive content to paid monthly subscribers, with extra content available to subscribers who are willing to pay an additional one-time paywall charge. It’s a lot like Patreon, a similar subscription-only content sharing service popular with social media influencers – though there’s one big difference.
Unlike Patreon, OnlyFans doesn’t prohibit users from sharing sexual content, making the service incredibly popular amongst adult content creators.
The initial sharp rise of the platform’s popularity coincided, somewhat unsurprisingly, with the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, with many creators moving onto the platform in an attempt to maximise their earnings. Amidst its growing popularity, there was even concerns over the platform making sex work look like an ‘easy out’ for those who wanted to make a little extra cash. Many questioned whether or not some creators on the platform had joined expecting it to be something of a ‘get rich quick’ scheme (albeit, a rather extreme one) without fully considering the long-term downsides of being associated with such content – and what it means for creators’ collective futures.
This debate has been around since the site began its exponential rise to prominence, but it’s started to gather even more traction following the increasing number of high-profile users joining the site.
Unlike many other platforms associated with sexually explicit content, it has a surprisingly high number of celebrity names amongst its user base.
It’s true that not everything on OnlyFans is sexually explicit – the site is home to creators providing content across a variety of subjects, with lots of it entirely SFW. One celebrity who joined this side of the site in recent months was Cardi B, who opts to use the site so that fans can pay to see more in-depth, exclusive lifestyle content.
Announcing her arrival on the platform, she told fans not to expect any overtly sexual content, stating her plans to provide ‘just straight-up, real life content shit’.
“You guys be mad nosy when it comes to my life,” she said.
She’s not alone – Tyga, DJ Khaled and Drag Race star Shea Coulee are also amongst the big names who use the site to post non-explicit content giving fans a closer look at their lifestyle than is currently accessible through their public social media accounts.
However, this isn’t always the case. With the vast majority of the site’s content being sexual in nature, it’s unsurprising that there’s no shortage of celebrities getting on board in the same way.
Model Amber Rose joined the platform in September 2020, teasing via Instagram that fans would ‘see EVERYTHING’ if they chose to pay the $5 monthly subscription fee to her page, whilst musician Aaron Carter charges fans $11.25 per month for his own sexually charged content.
Whilst no doubt exciting – or, at the very least, intriguing – for fans of these celebrities, the rising number of high-profile figures on the platform has been incredibly controversial.
Part of the reason behind this is that celebrities are using the allure of the OnlyFans brand name in order to attract fans to the site under false pretences – not everybody is as clear with their intentions as Cardi B.
YouTube star Tana Mongeau, no stranger to a scandal in the past, found herself at the centre of yet another backlash after starting her own account. Having seemingly hinted towards posting explicit content on the site, she reportedly charged fans $200 to unlock the posts, only for users of the platform to find that they were the very same photographs she had been posting on Instagram and Snapchat.
The biggest scandal of this nature, however, came from Tana’s ex-girlfriend, Bella Thorne. The actress caused frustration amongst subscribers and fellow creators alike after allegedly scamming fans by charging $200 for misleading paywall content, leading to OnlyFans being hit with refund requests totalling around $1 million. Following the scandal, the platform imposed heavier restrictions on how much creators can charge their subscribers, as well as increasing the payout time for creators from 7 days to 30 days.
It’s instances like these that have led to those who use the site to earn a living to criticise celebrities who have attempted to ‘gentrify’ the site by misleading fans into subscribing or charging exponentially higher prices for content.
That’s not the only problem, either.
There have long been calls for OnlyFans to raise the minimum age for content creators on the site, with users as young as 18 currently allowed to join the platform, post and get paid. However, such debates have reached new heights following the platform’s latest celebrity addition.
Following her 18th birthday in April, rapper Bhad Bhabie (known better to many as the ‘Catch Me Outside’ girl) started her own account on the site. As millions of users flocked to her page after she promoted the profile via her social media, she posted a screenshot of her reported earnings, claiming to have made $1,030,703 on the site in just six hours.
Not only did this reignite the debate over the ‘celebrification’ of the platform and what it means for other content creators, but it yet again led to calls for the site to increase the minimum age for creators to 21. Those putting pressure on OnlyFans to make such changes cited that celebrities like Bhad Bhabie, whose fanbase is made up largely of teenagers, joining OnlyFans and boasting of high earnings will lead to a sharp increase in the number of regular teenagers joining the site with the same expectations – only to make little money and set them on the path to a career in sex work.
It’s unlikely that such trends are entirely a result of celebrities joining the platform, though it’s possible that this has certainly had some effect on the phenomenon – many feel that the ubiquity of the platform has contributed to sex work being ‘normalised’ online and amongst young people.
However, given just how lucrative the platform seems to be, it’s unlikely that celebrities will stop joining any time soon – it looks as though it’s down to the team behind OnlyFans to come up with a way to make it work.