For sex workers of colour, OnlyFans' reversal doesn't go far enough. Bias puts careers at risk
- Black sex workers told Insider they feel pressured to stay on tech platforms, despite racism.
- While white sex workers boycotted OnlyFans, sex workers of colour fear they'd lose their audience.
- Sex workers are calling out racism within tech platforms and demanding corporate policy changes.
- For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.
For Veronica Glasses, OnlyFans allowed her to work without jeopardising her safety at the strip club where she used to perform.
Veronica, a disabled Black sex worker, made the switch from dancing to creating digital content in 2017.
Though she endured racial and ableist harassment at the strip club and on Twitter, Veronica said paying customers on OnlyFans treat her kindly and with respect.
"It's a big misconception that people who pay for sex work are bad people," Veroncia told Insider. "The majority of people being unkind are those who don't think we need to be paid at all."
Despite the protection OnlyFans gave her, Veronica stressed the difficulty of working online as a sex worker of colour.
She couldn't remember the last time she took a day off, and told Insider she and other Black workers needed to post more and better videos and images to get noticed - in other words, work "twice as hard" for the same recognition as white creators.
"We literally can't get away with being mediocre," Veronica said.
Many sex workers switched to OnlyFans during the pandemic when clubs and other venues shut down. The subscription-based creation platform offered an accessible way for online creators, especially sex workers, to make money.
Unlike other platforms, OnlyFans takes 20% of earnings from content creators which CNN reports as a "reasonable revenue share."
But the platform's quick rise to acclaim was met with widespread backlash last month after announcing (and later reversing) a decision to ban porn.
Sex workers and their advocates criticised OnlyFans for betraying the adult content creators that made the company famous, with many vowing to boycott.
But Black sex workers and sex workers of colour say they can't easily leave OnlyFans. (Insider agreed to use performers' stage names throughout the story).
Sex workers of color said racism keeps limits their success online.
The work required to build an online following means users of colour are often tied down to platforms like OnlyFans, TikTok or YouTube - even when impacted by sweeping policy changes like the decision to ban porn.
Tech platforms have long censored users like Jaida, a plus-sized Black sex worker, by banning porn or sexual images, Insider's Julia Naftulin and Canela López reported.
Instagram had deleted Jaida's account four times while TikTok removed her once. Jaida's now nervous about losing her Twitter following of more than 40,000 people.
Still, she won't leave OnlyFans because she doesn't want to lose her momentum.
"I can go to another website that is for sex workers, but it doesn't have that same traction that OnlyFans does," said Jaida Violet. "And because of that you can capitalise and build your following there."
Plus-sized Black women and women of colour said their suggestive content gets taken down at a higher rate than thin white women, though data on this topic is limited.
Digital bias extends beyond sex work and OnlyFans.
Instagram chief Adam Mosseri apologised to plus-sized model Nyome Nicholas-Williams for removing a revealing photo from her account, but allowing the same image to stay on a white friend's platform.
A paper in the Association for Computational Linguistics Anthology found users who post with African American Vernacular English (AAVE) are twice as likely to get reported for "hate speech" compared to Standard English users.
"When you're a sex worker or a part of another kind of marginalised group, you can bet that others are more likely to report you as not fitting the mold of community standards," said Dr Raven Maragh-Lloyd, assistant professor of African and African American Studies at Washington University in St Louis.
But online platforms still have their advantages for many marginalized women.
Elexus Jionde, a sex worker and educator, wrote in her book "Angry Black Girl" that women of colour and trans people who enter sex work can achieve financial stability with "little start-up costs or skills necessary" - thus offering a viable career opportunity.
"Do [tech companies] need to show the top creators on their platforms? Do they need to amplify the top creators," Sinnamon Love, sex worker, content creator, and Black feminist pornographer told Insider.
"Or should they be amplifying the creators who are making the least amount of money, who are getting the least amount of traffic, the people who are most at risk, the people who are most vulnerable?"
Sex workers of colour hope platforms will become more inclusive
Sir Nik is an erotic artist and pornographer who identifies as Black-native and transmasculine. They started in the industry at the beginning of the pandemic through a virtual queer community performance.
They told Insider that platforms like OnlyFans make sex work more accessible to people like them who are new to the industry.
But even with the added accessibility, sex workers of colour may still need multiple streams of income to stay afloat. "It's very hard without a pre-established brand, or some other form of sex work to make your own footing," Sir Nik said.
Alex More, social work student and sex worker in New Mexico wasn't surprised by the platform's initial nudity ban.
She told Insider it was when OnlyFans "changed their minds" that was "surprising because that means that they're actually listening to someone.
"I don't know if it's us, if it's media outcry, or if it's their CEO's bank wallets realising that they're going to lose a bunch of money," she continued.
"But they did actually address sex workers themselves for the first time ever on social media or on any platform."
OnlyFans tweeted that it "stands for inclusion" and that it strives "to provide a home for all creators."
For some erotic artists, that acknowledgment could potentially be a step forward in combating the erasure of sex workers of colour - both on and off the platform.
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