OnlyFans has a split identity – it needs to declare its support for adult content creators

An illustration. Photo: Getty Images
An illustration. Photo: Getty Images
  • On OnlyFans, only subscribers can view the photos and videos posted by content creators, which costs a monthly fee with tips as optional extras. 
  • For those unfamiliar with the platform, it may come as a surprise to learn the platform is overwhelmingly understood as a site for adult content. 
  • However, Emily van der Nagel's analysis finds that there are very different ideas about what OnlyFans is for, some seeing it as  a celebrity porn app and for others it's a place to post racy pictures.

Have you heard of OnlyFans? It’s a social media platform – like YouTube or Instagram.

Access isn’t open to everyone, however. Only subscribers (“fans”) can see the photos and videos posted by OnlyFans content creators. Most subscriptions cost around US$10 (about R146) a month, with tips as optional extras.

Visiting the OnlyFans homepage, you’re invited to “sign up to support your favourite creators”. The platform describes itself as a place where “creators can monetise their content and interact with their fanbase”.

So, if you’re new to OnlyFans, it may surprise you to learn it is overwhelmingly understood as a site for adult content. The phrase “to start an OnlyFans” is commonly understood to mean someone is selling access to erotic, or sexually explicit, photos and videos of themselves.

Why is there this disconnect? And why is this a problem?

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Studying OnlyFans

In a new article for journal Porn Studies I analysed 100 news articles (from February to December 2020), 100 OnlyFans memes (gathered January 2021), as well as 100 posts to the official OnlyFans blog (from mid-2018 to early 2021).

These sources represent different perspectives. News articles reflect mainstream understandings. Internet memes – remixed snippets of popular culture – reveal our shared norms and values. Meanwhile, official blog posts can tell us about the image Only Fans is attempting to cultivate.

My study drew on the work of social media scholars Karin van Es and Thomas Poell, who argue, what people think a platform is for matters – they call this the “platform imaginary”. It impacts how people use it: their expectations and experiences. Importantly, it also impacts who thinks the platform is for them.

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A ‘celebrity porn app’?

My analysis discovered very different ideas about what OnlyFans is for, or a contested “platform imaginary”.

News articles were most likely to call OnlyFans a “celebrity porn app”, an “X-rated subscription platform”, or “adult entertainment site” for “racy snaps”.

In a similar vein, memes about OnlyFans implied the platform was for adult content, with jokes about how easy it is for women to make money by showing off their bodies.

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