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Sex workers blame Bella Thorne for changes at OnlyFans that harm their income

The content subscription platform said its new transaction rules were not due to one user and will "continue to review these limits" amid the backlash.
Image: Today - Season 67
Bella Thorne appears on NBC's "TODAY" show on March 23, 2018.Nathan Congleton / NBC

Sex workers and other content creators who use the OnlyFans platform to support their livelihoods are blaming actress Bella Thorne for changes in its terms of service that include caps and holds on payments.

The changes came after a number of people were reported to have asked for refunds, saying Thorne charged $200 for a "naked" photo in which she was not nude, according to the Los Angeles Times. Thorne, who posted on her own accounts that she did not offer nudity, told the Times that the screenshot of the supposed offer circulating on social media was falsified.

Content creators say OnlyFans subsequently imposed payment caps of $50 on pay-per-view posts and a hold on payments that would force some international creators to wait 30 days to receive their money.

Users who earn a significant part of their income on OnlyFans blame Thorne for the new policies, which they say limit their ability to make money.

Thorne, 22, a former Disney star, made $1 million in her first day on the service, according to Variety.

OnlyFans said in a statement that the changes were not based on one user and that it aims to provide the best platform possible for its community.

"Transaction limits are set to help prevent overspending and to allow our users to continue to use the site safely," the statement said. "We value all of the feedback received since this change was implemented and we will continue to review these limits."

Thorne posted a series of tweets Saturday saying she apologized if she had affected sex workers' ability to make money. She said she intended only to normalize sex work and intends to speak with OnlyFans about the new restrictions.

"I wanted to bring attention to the site, the more people on the site the more likely of a chance to normalize the stigmas, And in trying to do this I hurt you," Thorne said.

Thorne told PAPER magazine that she was making a documentary about her experience on OnlyFans with Sean Baker, writer and director of the critically acclaimed films "The Florida Project" and "Tangerine." Baker denied any involvement in a statement Friday, claiming that he had only discussed a "possible collaboration" with Thorne in the "far future" and had advised her to consult with sex workers first.

"I am an ally and have literally devoted my career to tell stories that remove stigma and normalize lifestyles that are under attack," Baker said. "I would never do anything that could possibly hurt the community."

OnlyFans is not only a platform for sex workers, giving a wide range of creators the opportunity to sell content to subscribers. It has also gained a reputation for offering a safe way for sex workers to earn money.

Critics who blame Thorne for the new policies have accused her of scamming her subscribers and hurting creators who use the platform as a primary source of income.

"I finally got caught up on Bella Thorne/ Only Fans, and a white Disney star and still *working* actress f------ up a platform that allowed sex workers to earn safely and with autonomy is basically THE snapshot of WW coopting spaces for the marginalized in the name of empowerment," a Twitter user wrote.

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Other users who have links to OnlyFans accounts and identify as sex workers also responded on Twitter, saying how frustrated they were with Thorne's joining the site and potentially inspiring massive changes when so many people in the community rely on it.

"The issue with Bella Thorne benefiting from OF is that she's not a sex worker and doesn't need to turn to this site to afford to live when so many of us rely on this money and she's totally f----- us for clout for her s----- new movie about sex work when she has no f----- idea," a user wrote.

Another user, who goes by the username missscarletthxo, asserted that thousands might suffer from what many see as the repercussions for Thorne's behavior.

"I'm sure she's a nice lady but that doesn't take away the fact MILLIONS of us now are screwed. MOTHERS who relied on that one week pay to feed their kids, DADS looking to make a little extra money for his family," missscarletthxo tweeted. "now due to her scam / "mistake".. THOUSANDS will suffer."

Rebecca Madison, a sex worker from Vancouver, British Columbia, who has worked in the industry for the past 15 years, said she earns all her income on OnlyFans during the coronavirus pandemic after she lost her "traditional" job. She has been able to live comfortably on her sole income from the site so far, but that might change soon.

"A lot of creators do only charge five or $10 or $20 to send out a whole bunch of videos to their fans and hope that some of them will buy it," Madison said. "But that really only works if you have thousands or hundreds of fans, and I personally do not have hundreds of fans. So I might only feel comfortable charging a higher amount."

For many in Madison's situation, it takes time to develop followings on OnlyFans after having worked in person for years. Madison said the website gave creators no notice about the changes, which hurt so many of them living from paycheck to paycheck.

"I think it's very important to note that it especially impacts sex workers who are already the most marginalized and having a harder time during the pandemic," Madison said. "So Black sex workers, Indigenous sex workers, queer sex workers, trans sex workers. Everyone that was already struggling."

Madison said Thorne's apology does little to correct the situation, and she wondered whether Thorne's foray into the OnlyFans platform was merely a publicity stunt.

"From my perspective, she has really made light of online sex work and made it into something of a joke and really not taken seriously the fact that this is how people are surviving, especially during a pandemic," Madison said.

Erika Heidewald, an OnlyFans creator, posted a thread on Twitter explaining the harm the reported changes created for sex workers. Heidewald detailed how the platform can lose money in processing fees for refunds, which are provided if users are scammed, and how the changes to protect the platform in turn hurt creators.

"Previously, the funds you made on OF were only pending for a week, so most creators got paid at least once a week," Heidewald wrote. "Imagine suddenly going from a weekly paycheck to a monthly paycheck. That's what's happening to 450,000 content creators."

The new $50 cap on posts comes out to about $30 for creators after platform fees and taxes, whereas workers used to be able to charge $150 to $200, Heidewald said. That results in a massive pay cut and only a monthly payday.

"Now a lot of people fundamentally do not care about this predicament bc you don't care about the lives and livelihoods of sex workers," Heidewald wrote. "And yet you still want to see porn, you just don't believe the people who create it deserve to survive."

Heidewald said in an interview that she moved to Los Angeles to work as an actress and musician but found that many in her personal networks were making good income from OnlyFans. She described her content on the website as lewd and sexy photos, and she found that the more she focused on OnlyFans rather than her other jobs, she was able to live more comfortably and worry less about rent.

She said the new changes, which creators got no warning about, had her panicked. In particular, she was worried about the 30-day hold on transfers.

"I was panicked, like definitely straight-up panicked and really upset, you know, really angry at someone for just, like, thoughtlessly coming in and harming my ability to make money like that," Heidewald said. "But yeah, I was also just scared, because, OK, I don't know when my money is going to be available before I have to pay rent."

Heidewald said that because so many OnlyFans creators have difficulty with the platform, they often withdraw their money as soon as possible in case their accounts are frozen or deleted.

Although OnlyFans has said the new policies were not implemented as a result of just one user, Heidewald is skeptical because of the timing. Even if the platform had been considering the changes, it seems likely that they were accelerated by the incident involving Thorne, Heidewald said.

"I'm sure she didn't come in, 'Yeah, I'm going to ruin things for sex workers,'" Heidewald said. "But you don't have to have that attitude to come in and ruin things for sex workers, because, really, she came in not personal, not thinking about the people who make their livelihood on this site and how she could affect them. But also, she never talked to people. She never did the research."

Heidewald hopes that if and when more celebrities decide to join OnlyFans, it happens in a way that does not push sex workers off the platform, as when Tumblr banned pornography years earlier.

"This is just a thing that happens. And so people see it happening with OnlyFans," Heidewald said. "And I think that's a real shame, because then it is also just adding to this idea that some entertainment is legitimate, other stuff isn't."

CORRECTION (Aug. 30, 2020, 4:50 p.m. ET):An earlier version of the article misstated when Rebecca Madison began using OnlyFans. She started using OnlyFans before the coronavirus pandemic, not after the pandemic began.