How OnlyFans steals from sex workers and fans

Well, that was fast.

On July 30, OnlyFans deleted my account with no warning and no recourse. I’d been on the platform for about two months — producing, editing and posting content 4-5 days a week, plus interacting with fans daily and making custom videos. Like everything I do, I was throwing my heart into it. (If you’re not familiar, OnlyFans is kind of like a clone of Twitter where fans can “subscribe” to a given performer’s posts, as well as tip, DM them, or commission a custom video. It’s a popular way for sex workers to monetize their photos and videos.)

During the signup process, I sensed that OnlyFans despised escorts, and had some inconsistencies around whether escorts could be OnlyFans performers. 

At first, they rejected me outright for being an escort. I pressed for an explanation by emailing their generic “Support@onlyfans“ email address. Some nameless, barely interested support person told me I was in the clear as long as I didn’t overtly promote or advertise escort services. No problem; I could live with that. And I proceeded with posting content and interacting with fans. OnlyFans helped themselves to a 20% cut of all my earnings and tips, despite offering nothing outside of infrastructure. No help with promotion, nothing. 

I conceived of my channel as largely personality-driven, as a fun (and sometimes funny) preview of what it’s like to spend time with me in person. I was having fun, receiving generous tips, and slowly building an audience. 

And then, out of the blue, came this message:


Ben (OnlyFans)

Jul 30, 20:13 EEST

Hello,


We regret to inform you that your account has been deactivated due to violation of our Acceptable Use policy:

"10.2.9(c): You may not create, upload, post, display, publish or distribute User Content that promotes or advertises escort services;"

Sorry that it's not possible to recover the account as this decision is final and we can't influence that outcome.

Kind regards,

Ben
OnlyFans


***

Well. Okayyyy then.

OnlyFans owes me a four-figure payout — money I earned through my own blood, sweat and cute butt.

Instead of paying me, though, they are refunding all fees to my fans. If you are a fan, you should have received your refund. (Per Update #3 at the bottom of this post: OnlyFans has pocketed, e.g. stolen, my tips.)

My fans got to enjoy my content (including custom videos) for free for two months.

I worked for free. For two months.

Two. Months.

I was scammed.

***

As scams go, this is a nearly perfect one. Build a service that appeals to sex workers, take us on as as customers, take our money (or make money off of us), then kick us off the platform. Sex workers helped build Instagram into the juggernaut it is today; Instagram has now turned on sex workers, deleting our accounts (including mine) with no warning. OnlyFans is only following in their footsteps. (FYI: OnlyFans’ backstory is horrifying.)

Eros, which has a stranglehold on adult ads in many markets, including NYC where I live, runs a similar scam as OnlyFans: Eros requires all advertisers to pay upfront for ads, as well as demanding numerous incriminating identity documents form us; they routinely deny the ads and ban advertisers while keeping our money. (They also out its advertisers to the Department of Homeland Security and other U.S. government agencies, leading performers from outside the U.S. to be denied entry to the country.)

Demanding fees upfront and failing to deliver services as promised — that’s fraud, but what are providers going to do? Call the cops? Please. Criminalization leaves us with few options, and fearful of accessing the ones we do have (e.g. connecting with other victims and lawyering up). Not to mention that victims of scams naturally feel ashamed, and shame is a powerful silencer.

“Fuck them hos” is a ridiculously successful business model, it seems.

***

Like all businesses, sex workers need services: everything from cloud storage for our files, to photographers, to web designers, to mailing list providers, to VPNs and other IT security services, to social media accounts for marketing, to ads, and on and on and on. 

And yet: there are very, very few things for us.

PayPal? Not for us. Square? Not for us. Facebook, YouTube, Google Drive? Not for us. We are banned outright from most of the most widely used services. We can even be banned from dating apps for being sex workers; apparently, sex workers aren’t allowed to find love like normal people.

Sex workers may be the only group to actually read, in detail, the Terms and Conditions for all services we are considering using. I pored over a lot of fine print as I began my career as Shae. The normal path to starting a business simply doesn’t apply when that business is adult-oriented. You need to carefully shop around and know that few services want you as a customer.

Most services strongly forbid adult content or adult performers to use them; others have softer language, leading us to use the service anyway and hope for the best, knowing we can be kicked off at any time. Others, like Twitter, seem to tolerate sex workers as long as we follow constantly changing and poorly articulated rules, like “no nudity in header images” and censoring NSFW photos.

Other services or professional service providers (e.g. photographers and assistants) overtly cater to sex workers, and are generally a good bet — though, due to relative lack of competition and being extremely in-demand, they tend to charge more — sometimes much more — than the equivalent “vanilla” service.

It takes a lot of money, mental energy, and time to find sex worker-friendly services — and to continually shore up your stable of vendors as you are inevitably kicked off some of them. (Just like OnlyFans, Vimeo and Instagram have nuked my accounts with no warning. I’m back on Instagram, in case you’d like to follow me and enjoy my truly unhinged Instagram Stories.)

I continue to be shocked by the lousy quality and high prices of services for sex workers. Reliability is low; glitches are frequent; customer service is horrible or nonexistent; prices are ten times higher than the equivalent vanilla service. Meanwhile, nothing is guaranteed. The service may kick you off, or be seized, or simply decide to cease operations and abscond with everyone’s money. For example: here’s a whole thread of sex workers getting screwed by payment processing services. Eros — that expensive ad site with a near monopoly in NYC — has had outages, sometimes lasting for several days, and have not refunded or credited advertisers’ fees during the outage.

I wake up every day and check if any dominoes have fallen. Has an ad site kicked me off with no warning? What about my social media? Web host? Bank? Have any of my digital payment services decided to freeze my account and hold my money hostage? Are my ads up?

Imagine putting your heart and soul into something — and, every bright morning (or bleary afternoon), waking up and wondering if your business still exists.

So, that is the backdrop for my foray into OnlyFans in the first place. Diversifying income streams is just smart business sense, especially when the industry is more risky and competitive than ever. Maintaining an OnlyFans seemed like the perfect way to add an income stream and appeal to my admirers around the world. 

***

In the end, I can read the Terms of Service until I’m blue in the face; I can carefully abide by the rules, or try to fly under the radar while technically breaking rules; and it doesn’t matter, because it’s not about the rules as they are written, but how they are applied. 

Who gets the break the rules with impunity, and who gets kicked off. Who’s an undesirable. Sex workers — especially escorts, who are at the bottom of the heap — are undesirables. We are easy targets.

There is little outcry when platforms and services kick us off. And we have no recourse. We were technically breaking rules, after all. We were too cute or too sexual or too female. Our work is criminalized and therefore, everything we do is suspect.

***

I am a proud and stubborn person, and before my foray into OnlyFans, I had the moral high ground of saying: As a sex worker, I have never worked for anyone else. I have kept every penny I’ve earned. 

Of course, I cede a little high ground by advertising on Eros, a site that openly price gouges and steals from providers. (What can I say? Eros is where the quality clients are.)

Maybe I didn’t have moral high ground at all. I’m “fiercely independent,” but am I really? To simply make a living as a sex worker, to keep the lights on, I have to do business with entities that openly exploit sex workers. Even before this OnlyFans mess, I realized that to be a sex worker who advertises online, you need to do business with the Devil. There’s simply no other choice, especially in a crowded market like NYC. The big players in this arena are motivated by profit only and couldn’t care less about their customers.

Under the cover of FOSTA/SESTA, which conflates all sex work with human trafficking (yikes) and makes sites liable for the content they host, they can — and do — fuck over sex workers. Repeatedly. Systematically.

Where are the services by and for sex workers? The profit motive is definitely there: Sex workers are insanely profitable. We are content creation machines, curators of passionate, devoted, and moneyed fan bases, willing to cede large cuts (20% or more) of our earnings for reliable, decent services.

Where are they? 

Where are the tools and services by and for sex workers?

They are few and far between. 

Really, I can only think of two: Switter and Tryst.link, both built by Assembly Four out of Australia. (This is outside the many individuals who work as industry bookers, assistants, photographers, copywriters and the like.)

Sex workers are the ultimate models of self-determination, and yet, sex workers have barely any say in our own industry. We are pawns.

We are seen as victims, or as exploitable and disposable — not as business leaders or visionaries that deserve VC money and the the power to exact real change. 

So, we are free to launch small businesses, but nothing that can scale. Nothing that can have a mass impact on the industry, the way OnlyFans or Eros have.

I don’t know what the next OnlyFans or Eros is, but most likely, it is a buggy, poorly conceived service built by cynical, profit-obsessed technocrats or entrepreneur that have absolutely no experience working in the industry, or any interest at all in improving the working conditions of sex workers. Probably they actively hate sex workers. (OnlyFans was founded out of revenge, after all.)

It’s sad but totally predictable. Sex workers are not seen as fully human. Resources to be exploited? Sure. Fully human, full of ideas, with dignity and the right to help set the tone for our own industry? Nah.

***

Anyway, I’ve moved my videos over to ManyVids, which seems to have a more performer-friendly tone. Hope to see you over there.

***

Update 1:

OnlyFans confirmed that my sin was simply to link my website in my OnlyFans bio.

“Apparently your profile had a link to the website promoting escort services and thus has been flagged and deleted due to violation of our Acceptable Use policy: "10.2.9(c): You may not create, upload, post, display, publish or distribute User Content that promotes or advertises escort services.”

If you are a sex worker, I recommend not using OnlyFans at all. There are better options out there, such as ManyVids, Is My Girl, I Want Clips, Clips4Sale, and Just For Fans.

If you must use OnlyFans, know that 1) you should not link your website in your bio and 2) OnlyFans may deactivate your account at any time, deprive you of your earnings, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

***

Update 2:

Clip seller and online performer Bardot Smith shared some key info about OnlyFans’ conception on Twitter: “Only Fans was started by a developer who stole the code from a sex worker and Threatened to dox all her original services users. It also has adult content technically banned in its TOS. It is hostile to sex workers and the owner cannot be trusted.

Delightful.

***

Update 3:

The hits keep coming. One of my fans reports that while OnlyFans has refunded his base subscription fee, they refuse to refund the tips he paid to me while I was on the platform. In other words, OnlyFans has pocketed my tips — hundreds of dollars’ worth.

The scam runs deep.

Meanwhile, OnlyFans has stopped responding to my emails, including a direct question about why they are not refunding fans’ tips. I asked them for comment on this blog post; they have not replied.

Accordingly, my warning to avoid Onlyfans now extends to fans and anyone who seeks to support their favorite performers. Don’t give you credit card info to OnlyFans! Work with your favorite performers to support them directly or through a more ethical platform.

Update 4:

I am far from the only victim of OnlyFans’ thieving. Two other providers have let me know they have been preyed upon in a similar manner, with their accounts closed without warning and earnings withheld.

In addition, a Virginia-based photographer wrote me with his experience:

“I found your blog post about your experience with Onlyfans... and I just wanted to share that they are true scumbags that prey on everyone, not just sexworkers. I'm a photographer that has used the platform for about a year... I started off with a small following for the last 10 months or so, maybe only making a couple hundred dollars. My page recently got some good SEO and I saw a flood of subscribers that went past 100... and not too long after that I was contacted by support that my account was locked and I would have to provide ID shots and model releases for every model on my page.... over 700+ images, over 50 models, and finding some releases that are from shoots almost 10 years ago. There's also no form on the site to do this... I have to send each manually to their support email for the "compliance team" to inspect.

I'm basically in the same situation as you were where my account will be deactivated and they keep the money.”

Shae Ashbury