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Bella Thorne is the first major actress to joins OnlyFans, is this the beginning of a new era?

The landscape of popular content-sharing platform OnlyFans has changed significantly over the past few months, but with the arrival of Bella Thorne, is it about to change even more?

Bella Thorne, former Disney star, actress, director, singer, and writer, made headlines last week when she became the first professional actress to join the London-based content subscription service, OnlyFans.

The platform has become increasingly popular since the start of COVID-19, as people around the world are forced to transition to digital measures in order to make money. But it’s also meant that OnlyFans, once a thriving space for sex workers, is facing a massive shift in culture. Now, with the arrival of Bella Thorne, it could be about change even more.

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In her spare time, Thorne is a best-selling poetry author and a director, as well as an actress who has starred in numerous films and tv shows, including 2018’s Midnight Sun, directed by Scott Speer. Now, she can add being a member of the platform long associated with the world of sex work – OnlyFans – to her resume.

But it’s certainly not her first foray into this world, with Thorne becoming an award-winning porn director after the release of her 2019 directorial debut, Her & Him.

In an interview with PAPER magazine, Thorne explained the decision to join OnlyFans as being fueled by the desire to “fully control” her image “without censorship, without judgement, and without being bullied online for being me.”

 

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ONLY FANS ^^^^

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Founded in 2016, OnlyFans was created as a subscription-based platform which allowed content creators to exclusively share material with fans. Perhaps somewhat unexpectedly, it became popular with the sex work industry. This was predominantly because it permitted people to share explicit content – also, OnlyFans happened to pop up right around the time that sex workers were being forced off the likes of Instagram, Patreon, and Tumblr due to SESTA/FOSTA laws in the US. At around 20%, the cut taken by OnlyFans is also considerably lower than alternatives like cam sites, which average about 40%.

In fact, sex work and OnlyFans became so intertwined that in 2019, The New York Times published an article titled How OnlyFans Changed Sex Work ForeverOnlyFans was a platform where sex workers could safely share explicit photos or videos of themselves, and customers could gain access by paying a monthly subscription. It was a framework which, for once, gave sex workers greater power.

Yet, of course, no one could predict COVID-19 and the shift that it would inevitably incite. With entertainers across the spectrum forced out of work, people turned to online platforms like OnlyFans in order to make money. What was good news for OnlyFans (in April the site reported a 75% increase in global sign-ups and upwards of 150,000 new users per day), was bad news for the users that had once been the lifeblood of the company.

Then, in May, reports began emerging of sex workers being kicked off the platform. In some instances, users were locked out of their accounts without even being able to collect their funds. When contacted, OnlyFans cited “fraudulent or suspicious activity” or violation of user guidelines; however, the lack of any such evidence, as well as the widespread occurrence of these account terminations, pointed to an entirely different reason: the increasingly mainstream direction of the site.

Around this time, Beyonce mentioned the platform in her remix of Megan Thee Stallion‘s Savage. Notorious influencer Caroline Calloway joined the platform. Model and ex-partner of Rob Kardashian, Blac Chyna, also joined. Then, Cardi B became the biggest name to create an account when she joined around the same time as the release of her history-making WAP. In fact, there’s a handful of celebrities who have accounts.

Whilst Cardi B clarified that she would not be “showing pussy, titties and ass”, there’s still some continuity in her joining the site, due to her well-publicised history as a sex worker. In the same way, you could argue that there’s continuity in an award-winning porn director, Bella Thorne, making an account. Yet, with each new arrival, it feels as though the platform teeters on the edge of becoming an entirely different beast.

Yesterday, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Thorne revealed that she had made a staggering $2 million on the platform in less than a week. Now, the actress has said that she intends to invest the money in her production company, as well as donating some of it to charity. Unexpectedly, Thorne also disclosed that she had joined the site as a method of research for a new film she is planning to make with Tangerine-director, Sean Baker.

Speaking on the idea for the film, Thorne described to LA Times: “What does a platform like this do to its users? What’s the connective material between your life and your life inside the world of OnlyFans?

“How can it change your life for the worse and the better?” she continued. “How far are you willing to go, and how far do you WANT to go? You can be me, or this talented girl from Montana, and OnlyFans could change your life — if you want it to, of course.”

However, this revelation has drawn a degree of criticism, with some arguing the endeavour is akin to the actress treating the site as a kind of science experiment.

Whilst some hope that the arrival of celebrities will help to normalise the world of sex work, many worry that this trend will simply further amplify celebrities, who need neither the exposure nor the finances, and continue to push out the people who need the platform most: everyday, normal people, just trying to get by. For many, it’s already too late.

Who will be next? Will we soon be subscribing $20 a month for Selena Gomez to whisper us goodnight? $15 for a wayward tweet from Elon Musk? What the future of OnlyFans will bring, only time will tell.

To find out more about sex work and why it should be decriminalised, head here.

Next Up: 18 months on from Tumblr’s infamous porn ban, where do NSFW communities belong?