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July 18, 2023

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At this point, you have probably heard about the subscription platform OnlyFans. You may have seen headlines about it on the news or laughed at it in a viral meme. Its name is often thrown around in popular culture – but what is OnlyFans? And how you can protect the children and young people in your care from accessing or engaging in the age-inappropriate content it has become associated with?

What is OnlyFans?

OnlyFans is an 18+ online platform that centres around users (fans) paying for content (photos, videos, livestreams) made by “creators” – usually influencers, fitness trainers, models, and other public figures. It describes itself as “social media that pays.” OnlyFans has been active since 2016 and has around 2.1 million creators, and over 100 million registered users.

Only Fans Logo

How does it work? 

All creator content on OnlyFans is uploaded behind a paywall, which is controlled by the developers. This ensures:

  • Subscribers pay a monthly membership fee, ranging from £3.90 to £39
  • Users can tip creators and pay for extra content and private messages
  • Reported average earnings of creators are around £130 per month, with creators often running discounts and promos on their account to encourage user subscriptions 

  • OnlyFans take 20% of a creator’s income

There is a wide variety of content available to membership users on OnlyFans. From cooking classes with celebrity chefs to sewing lessons with fantasy costumers – users can find anything and everything they are looking for on this platform. The company uses social media to present itself as a haven for creatives. A place where these content creators can be celebrated while generating an income.

In the wider media, however, OnlyFans has become known for selling nude images and, in some cases, “amateur (user-generated) pornography)” to make easy money. There are several stories of sex workers who claim to be making tens of thousands of pounds per month as content creators.

Did you know…

In 2021, OnlyFans announced they would be banning sexually explicit content from their platform. At the time, their CEO explained the change was down to banks refusing to work with them due to reputational risk. However, after receiving outcry from creators and supporters, OnlyFans quickly suspended the change in policy and have since continued to allow sexually explicit content.

Age Verification and Moderation on OnlyFans

OnlyFans has an age rating of 18+.

OnlyFans have previously come under scrutiny for poor age verification. In one case, a 16-year-old claimed she was able to create an OnlyFans account using the ID of an older friend who looked nothing like her.

In August 2021, OnlyFans introduced Yoti’s face estimation technology. The technology analyses selfie-style photographs to estimate the age of the subject.

A 2023 report by Yoti found that their accuracy rate “for female[s] and male[s] 13–17-year-olds are 99.90% and 99.94% respectively”.

OnlyFans says they have a zero-tolerance policy against content relating to trafficking, child sexual exploitation or child sexual abuse material (CSAM). This policy covers the detection and removal of such materials, and the reporting of illegal content to the relevant agencies, including police. OnlyFans say that any material reported to them as containing CSAM is immediately responded to.

The platform also say that content is inspected with hashed images databases and then manually reviewed by trained human moderators.

What are hashed images databases?

Images or videos that have previously been identified as criminal are given unique hashes, like fingerprints, which are then stored on a hash database, such as The Internet Watch Foundation’s Hash List. Companies like OnlyFans can then assess content to see if it has been previously identified as containing CSAM.

What are the risks?

OnlyFans saw a boost in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic and has become a popular subject of music and memes. It has also brought online sex work for young adults into mainstream culture.

This normalisation is a danger to vulnerable young people and adults who would otherwise be unlikely to engage in this behaviour. They may see OnlyFans or other subscription type apps as a safe way to make fast cash. Popular platform TikTok, widely used by underage children and young people, does not explicitly allow promotion of OnlyFans accounts. However, creators have attempted to bypass TikTok’s algorithms and have been found boasting about their earnings from OnlyFans. OnlyFans also have a referral program in place that creators use to grow their income, encouraging others to sign up through their referral code.

All of this remains surface level compared to the darker side of OnlyFans. There is an increased risk of young people becoming subscribers to access explicit material. In a report published by the BBC, they found subscription accounts made by children as young as 10.

For creators, a vulnerable young person or adult could easily be groomed into creating an account as a way to improve their income. Warnings about possible coercion (a subscriber saving images/videos that may be “private” and using them to elicit “free content” or to bribe or extort a creator) have started becoming more common. Many former OnlyFans performers have reported incidents of stalking, harassment, and blackmail by their subscribers. One UK based performer said an obsessed fan tracked her down and posted her personal information alongside an explicit image of her on a porn site after she refused to meet him in real life.

Such stories are not rare. The privatised format of OnlyFans can facilitate a person who has a sexual deviant interest in children and young people. It allows them to interact and “support” a creator who they have fantasies about, creating an environment that most sexualised content does not have. This ‘predator fan’ can then entice creators by offering more money. Once the predator has captured an intimate image, they may threaten to share it with the victim’s family or friends unless they do what they are told. This is often referred to as sextortion, which you can learn more about in our Guide to Protecting Young People from Sextortion. The platform has also previously come under fire for hosting child sexual abuse material (CSAM). te OnlyFans’ policies.

Other risks may include excessive screen use, obsession, or anxiety over building their following. A veteran of OnlyFans was quick to point out that “if no one is paying attention or knows what you’re doing, how are you going to sell [your] service?” Another claimed it took her “about a year” to make real money. As a result, young people may spend longer on their devices and take more risks in an attempt to generate an online following.

Case Study – Leah

Leah*, a 17-year-old from England, began selling photos of her feet over Snapchat. When she heard about OnlyFans, she used a fake driver’s license to create an account on their website. She only intended to continue taking photos of her feet. This escalated to more explicit content once her “fans” began to pressure her and offer her larger sums.

It wasn’t until Leah’s bank account was frozen for receiving a payment of over £5000 that her mother, Caitlyn, realised something else was going on. Leah then admitted her involvement with OnlyFans. She said she used most of her income to buy designer clothes and presents for her boyfriend, who had broken up with her anyway. Then she felt she could not stop. Her subscribers continued to barrage her with requests to meet up in person or to take photos of specific angles of her body.

Despite Leah’s account being reported multiple times, OnlyFans moderators checked her initial ID and decided it was legitimate. They did not deactivate the account until contacted by the BBC – four months after Leah stopped posting.

Now, there are explicit pictures and videos of Leah all over the internet. She feels her life has been derailed by this. She feels anxious about leaving the house because she is afraid of being recognised. “She does not want to be seen.”

*This case study was adapted from a 2021 BBC article ‘The Children selling explicit videos on OnlyFans“. 

Case Study – Sasha

At the age of 15, Sasha* began to send explicit images of herself to boys over social media apps like Snapchat. One of these images was saved and then leaked to Sasha’s family and friends. Her family didn’t support her and responded by kicking her out.

Now 20, Sasha uses OnlyFans to earn a living, though she feels constantly pushed to add more and more content to secure a steady income. It is taxing for her, especially as she suffers with her mental health. She says her followers ask her for all kinds of extreme content, including filming toilet-based videos. “It’s a rabbit hole. You can go further and further. Something that could’ve started as innocent fun can turn sour more quickly.”

She has been shocked by the number of underage girls who have reached out to her for advice on how to post explicit images and videos on OnlyFans. She tells them that they don’t see the whole picture, as they often only see her posing in “cute” photos that make her life seem fun and idyllic.

They don’t see the harsh reality, the fact that Sasha feels trapped in a cycle of performing for money and that she is exposed to serious risks linked to the coercive behaviour of some of her ‘fans’.

*This case study was adapted from various sources whose material was taken from the 2020 BBC documentary #Nudes4Sale

Top Tips for talking to the children in your care

  • Talk about a real negative OnlyFans experience, such as those mentioned above, and use them as a discussion topic. Ask if they have heard of the platform, or any similar ones, and if they know anyone who has been involved in a negative experience with it. You could also ask them how they would advise a friend who had become involved in a negative experience
  • Use this conversation as a case study to highlight the risks of engaging in any type of online sexual activity, both as a viewer and as an active participant

  • Remind them that they can speak to you without judgement, and if they ever felt they couldn’t, you’d be happy for them to speak to another trusted adult. Make sure you give them options of who that trusted adult may be 

  • If they have become involved in something inappropriate, actively listen to them and remain calm and supportive during any discussions
  • If the issue is about making money, discuss safe and age-appropriate options
  • Point out that social media influencers who claim to make their money in “easy ways” are not the rule, but rather the exception. If something seems too good to be true – it probably is

If you suspect a child or young person may be in danger of exploitation or blackmail because of an online image/video, it is crucial to know how to best help them. Below, you’ll find some helpful safeguarding resources to give you a better understanding of next steps:

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