Fan subscription platform OnlyFans has long since had a rocky relationship with sex workers, who feel that they were used to make the site popular and dropped as soon as it began to make an impact in the mainstream. This problem was exacerbated when actress Bella Thorne set up an account on the site, promptly breaking records by pulling in a million dollars overnight. Angry sex workers using OnlyFans immediately hit out, furious that a celebrity was cashing in while many of them are having their accounts deleted because of the nature of their work.
Thorne then catfished her subscribers by sending out a pay-per-view message promising a nude picture and charging them $200 for the privilege. It turned out to be nothing more than a bikini shot, leading to angry members issuing chargebacks. There also followed rumours of changes being made to the platform as a result, including a 30-day payout and lower limits on how much models can charge for content or receive in tips. OnlyFans have denied that any changes being made are related to Thorne’s activities.
So why did Thorne sign up on OnlyFans?
Thorne claimed that she signed up to do research for a movie project, completely ignoring the fact that she could have talked to some actual sex workers. However, director Sean Baker, named by Thorne as associated with the project, then refuted her claims. Baker stated that he had gone no further than discussing a “possible collaboration” in a phone call and that he had advised her to handle the project with care, so as not to cause any harm to sex workers.
Why are sex workers angry?
So why has Thorne’s behaviour provoked so much controversy among sex workers? Money is a major factor. Many sex workers depend on OnlyFans for a large part of their income, especially during coronavirus, and fear any threat to their income. When in-person activities are limited or ruled out altogether, moving their business online has offered a lifeline for dominatrices or full-service sex workers. Now along comes a celebrity with a huge platform to leverage, making a seven-figure sum that she doesn’t need, while a lot of models without her privileges struggle to pay their bills.
Another issue for sex workers is that Thorne appears to be getting preferential treatment. Many feel that she is doing nothing more than role playing a sex worker, without having to deal with the prejudice that genuine sex workers face. They also resent having their work used as inspiration, while getting nothing back.
It remains to be seen whether Thorne’s OnlyFans success turns out to be a flash in the pan, or indeed whether she soon loses interest. Certainly, actual sex workers put a great deal of effort into producing content to attract and keep subscribers; it should be no surprise that a celebrity playing at sex work and content producing feels like a slap in the face. Whatever Thorne claims to have learned from her time on OnlyFans, it’s hardly going to be representative of any experience but that of a tiny, privileged minority.
What do you think about the Bella Thorne controversy? Should she be able to use OnlyFans however she wants? Or should she tread lightly out of respect for the sex workers who built the prominence of the platform? Let us know in the comments!