Empowerment or exploitation? Young people have their say on the OnlyFans phenomenon
Parent Zone knows how important it is to listen to young people.
We do this to give parents a heads up on the emerging trends and issues that matter. We now have VoiceBox – an international content platform for 14-to-25 year-olds – working alongside us to make sure we stay ahead.
Far too often, conversations about young people are happening without allowing young people to have a say – let alone set the agenda.
It was VoiceBox that told us OnlyFans was a site that we should look at more closely and so we asked its team to tell us more about it.
This report is the result of that work – and we're sharing it because we think open-sourcing young people's insights make for a better discussion.
An online lockdown phenomenon with a darker side
OnlyFans is an online platform that – like Zoom and many others – has enjoyed a phenomenal lockdown growth (75% month-on-month) as people searched for new digital entertainment during social distancing restrictions.
But unlike most other platforms, OnlyFans seemingly carried a distinctly darker side.
OnlyFans is an 18+ online platform that allows users (currently 90m+ and counting) to subscribe to its 1 million+ content creators. Users can access video and images, as well as chat to creators and make specific requests. Creators can post as often as they like, within the site’s guidelines, and take an 80% cut of the profits. So far, so very similar to contemporary platforms like Patreon.
But among the celebrities, chefs and fitness gurus creating content for OnlyFans, many adult performers are also plying their trade.
In July 2020, it began to emerge that not only are under-18s finding ways to sidestep the OnlyFans age verification process to view unsuitable content, but also that – as the BBC investigated in its #NUDES4SALE documentary – underage users are being exploited to share naked images of themselves on the platform by adults.
Are children creating porn online? Listen to Parent Zone’s Tech Shock podcast exploring the rise of OnlyFans. First broadcast 18 October 2020
There were several questions we asked VoiceBox to consider. Was this problem as serious as reported? Even if age gating pornographic content online was no new problem, was the growth of OnlyFans perhaps indicitative of the insidious “rape culture” crisis pervading secondary schools? Was OnlyFans normalising pornographic content for a teenage generation?
But we also asked them to look into the other side of the argument. Was this a case of a platform being stigmatised by an alarmist media that didn’t understand what it was looking at? Was it, in fact, a space where young people could access tailored content to suit their interests? In being so, becoming an easy target for sceptics?
Exploitation or empowerment?
In its new report – ‘OnlyFans and young people: exploitation or empowerment’ – VoiceBox explores both the opportunities and harms of this subscription-based platform phenomenon.
It finds evidence that OnlyFans has, for some, offered financial opportunities and empowerment during the hardest days of the Covid-19 pandemic.
However, it also finds that for many – particularly young women – there are also major issues around addiction, loss of self-esteem, difficult or risky working conditions, and concerns around privacy and age-verifications.
Most worryingly, it also finds even more evidence of the grooming of minors by adults to share naked images and videos.
“For every woman funding her dream life on OnlyFans, there are thousands on the platform who struggle to make ends meet, who do it to cope with trauma, who dabble in it without recognizing the long-term consequences of having their intimate photos online forever.”
OnlyFans report: VoiceBox, March 2021
For the many answers its report offers, VoiceBox also asks many more questions.
These include conversations around how OnlyFans – and other adult content – will shape young people’s self-esteem, finances, relationships and future views on the opposite sex. They are important conversations that need to be ongoing.
And they are conversations that young people, VoiceBox hopes, will continue to lead in the future.
The VoiceBox team consists of members on both sides of the Atlantic, covering global topics by listening to young people's voices across the world. For more information, visit voicebox.site or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Illustration by Mary Flora Hart