The OnlyFans Sex Ban — And Then The Reversal — Was A Huge Slap In The Face To Its Creators
In this week's newsletter: OnlyFans missed two opportunities to acknowledge the damage it caused to creators who helped bring them to investors' tables. Plus, Taylor Swift is on TikTok and I am optimistic about it.
This is an excerpt from Please Like Me, BuzzFeed News’ newsletter about how influencers are battling for your attention. You can sign up here.
OnlyFans fucked up
Last week, OnlyFans announced that it would ban sexually explicit content, effective Oct. 1. After creators and the public reacted with anger and confusion, given that sex workers largely helped build the app to be worth over $1 billion, the company reversed the plan.
“Thank you to everyone for making your voices heard,” the company tweeted on Wednesday. “We have secured assurances necessary to support our diverse creator community and have suspended the planned October 1 policy change.
“OnlyFans stands for inclusion and we will continue to provide a home for all creators,” the tweet concluded.
This gaffe highlights how dismissive social media companies can be to the creators on their platforms, and how pearl-clutching corporate America still is about sex and sex work.
According to initial reports, OnlyFans had been struggling to find investors because of how popular sex and nudity are on its platform.
"These changes are to comply with the requests of our banking partners and payout providers," the company said last week.
The bureaucratic language made it clear. The company prioritized growing fiscally and did not consider the damage the move would have to its creators, monetarily and emotionally. It didn’t care, or consider, that many of its top-earning sex workers would probably flee the platform, jeopardizing the company’s reputation and, ironically, its financial future. OnlyFans also didn’t apologize for putting its creators through this stress.
“OnlyFans stands for inclusion and we will continue to provide a home for all creators” is a feeble attempt at taking accountability for how the company quickly dissolved trust between influencers, paying community members, and company executives.
“We’re sorry we didn’t consider the effect it would have on people who helped build value in our company, and we want to set an industry standard for safe and inclusive sex work online” would have been a sincere, decent response, but, hey, I’m no PR expert.
The corporate jargon was ultimately revealing. I interpreted OnlyFans’ actions and statements to mean that creators are great when we can use them to prove to investors that we’re solid as a company, but when it comes to understanding and protecting their careers and livelihoods, well, that’s on them to sort out.
I imagine sex workers on OnlyFans are ultimately pleased that the company walked back its decision, but I can also imagine how destabilizing it must now be to be running their accounts, unsure of when OnlyFans may suddenly pull the plug on their careers and incomes.
OnlyFans is in a bind. The company needs to raise a lot of capital to stay competitive and grow, but in that process, it has sidelined the people who helped get it a seat at the table with investors. Social media companies and creators are dependent on each other, and these companies must realize how much power they have over people’s lives.
I’m no economist, either, but here’s my advice for OnlyFans: If you slowly nurture the relationship you have with your creators, your company will grow more sustainably. It might be slower, the cash might have to come later, but it won’t cause this level of disruptive chaos that then tarnishes the trust of the community you built.
I am ready for TaylorTok
Taylor Swift is on TikTok! This is exciting for both fans and the platform. Like one commenter wrote, “Taylor’s TikTok feels so expensive to me and I don’t know why.”
As Taylor — and only a handful of other celebrities (OK, “other celebrities” is basically Beyoncé) — can do, her presence instantly elevated the app.
She’s posted twice this week: one video to promote her album Red going to vinyl, using a sound clip from London rapper Dave who references Taylor (what a flex), and another making fun of herself as a cat lady. In three days, she’s already acquired 2.1 million followers, and trust, reader, it will grow to a lot more by the time this newsletter gets to your inbox. Here’s a rare screenshot of when she had less than half a million followers for our historic archives:
Taylor is largely cagey on social media, but I am optimistic about her TikTok. Her Instagram is mostly promotional, and while her Twitter is a little more privy, she often uses it as a soapbox for a personal gripe, which then gets spun way out of control. (But, I mean, who doesn’t have that relationship with Twitter, am I right?)
The TikTok community is generally more positive and playful than those of Twitter or Instagram, so I hope she can shed a little bit of the industry pressure to always be hustling and lean into something fun like joining in on trends and guilelessly oversharing, the way the platform enables everyone to do.
I’ve noticed over the past year that her old pal Selena Gomez has used TikTok to give us a kind of access that we haven’t seen before. Selena has become a pseudo YouTuber by vlogging vignettes of her personal life. It’s nothing revolutionary, but it creates a more authentic parasocial relationship with her audience that is a big deal considering her star power. It’s the kind of relationship influencers have with their fans.
As someone who has not always liked Selena’s artistry and has been ambivalent about her personality, I’ve really grown to appreciate that she doesn’t feel too big to be posting random TikToks throughout her day. Stars! They’re just like us! I know it’s still highly curated and backed by money and support most of us will never have, but I’ve really enjoyed getting to “know” a celebrity of her caliber on a more personal level. It also shows why some influencers are so successful at what they do, through sharing the minutiae of their lives and not being too precious about optics, leading fans to think of them as genuine. Taylor could take a page from how Selena has approached the new platform.
Plus — once upon a pandemic having attempted to make TikToks — I can tell Taylor if she’s reading (lol), it’s fun.
LET YOURSELF GO, TAY TAY. I’ll be cheering and watching.
Until next time,