The last TikTok Ally Hardesty posted on her page was a video of her and her friend doing a dance to the KaMillion remix of “Twerk For Me.” Although she is a sex worker who posts NSFW content on her OnlyFans, a subscription-based platform that allows influencers to monetize personal interactions with fans, she was sure to keep the video PG, dressing in her videos only in sweats or pajamas. “I’m always really intentional about keeping lingerie or little outfits or anything I wear on OF separate from TikTok,” she tells me. “I just liked to do dances with my friends and stuff.”
About a month later, she logged into her account to find it had been totally deleted without warning. Hardesty was shocked: she had just hit 40,000 followers, and she had never had any of her videos permanently deleted from the platform before, which is notoriously stringent about enforcing its guidelines against nudity and sexual content. (One video of her dancing in her pajamas had been pulled, but she had successfully appealed it.) Emailing TikTok didn’t elucidate the matter further. “They didn’t give much explanation. They basically just said I couldn’t get my account back because I’d violated the terms,” she says.
When she pressed them on what guideline she’d violated, TikTok said it was their policy banning nudity and sexual activities — even though she had neither appeared nude nor referred to sexual activities on her account. “I had spent the last year building up that account and learning the dances and stuff,” she says. Getting deleted “was really discouraging.”
Hardesty was booted off TikTok in November, during part of what sex worker Rebekka Blue later referred to as the “TikTok purge,” a massive scrubbing of their accounts from the platform. Rolling Stone spoke to half a dozen who said they were kicked off en masse in mid-November, all for the same reason: violating TikTok’s sex and nudity policy. All of them said they had not violated TikTok’s policy, but had linked to either their OnlyFans or their websites linking to their OnlyFans in their bios, which they believe led to them getting removed from the platform.
The purge appears to have been in advance of TikTok’s new community guidelines, which were recently updated and expanded. According to the new guidelines, users are forbidden from posting, streaming, or sharing nude or sexually explicit content as well as “content that depicts, promotes, or glorifies sexual solicitation, including offering or asking for sexual partners, sexual chats or imagery, sexual services, premium sexual content, or sexcamming.” These guidelines, for what it’s worth, fall under the category of “sexual exploitation,” regardless of whether any of the above activities are consensual or not.
A TikTok representative confirmed that “we do not allow content that commits, promotes, or glorifies sexual solicitation or allow accounts that attempt to redirect traffic,” including to OnlyFans. (It did not comment on why it allows links to, say, Twitter or YouTube, which are featured on influencers like Tana Mongeau and Jordyn Woods’ TikTok pages and would also ostensibly qualify as an “attempt to redirect traffic.”) But not everyone who has an OnlyFans uses it to post sexual content, and most of the creators Rolling Stone spoke with said they didn’t even directly link to their OnlyFans in their bios, instead posting their Linktree, a third-party app that allows creators to post links to all of their social platforms. Further, many mainstream creators on TikTok post links to their OnlyFans in their bios, including Bella Thorne, who caused tremendous uproar when she joined the platform last fall and was accused of misleading her customers and adding to sex-worker stigma.
TikTok declined to comment on why the sex workers Rolling Stone spoke with were removed from the app, nor would it provide comment as to why Bella Thorne is allowed to post a link to her OnlyFans in her bio, while other content creators are not. But TikTok confirmed that users are prohibited from posting even third-party links to their OnlyFans — even if their guidelines do not explicitly say so, and even if the user’s OnlyFans is not used to post sexually explicit content.
It is well-known on the platform that TikTok, which has a large user base under the age of 18, will remove videos that contain references to sex work or OnlyFans, leading to creators coming up with clever ways to circumvent their content moderation policies. (“Accountant” TikTok, or sex workers sardonically claiming they are “accountants” while showing off their OnlyFans earnings, is a prime example of this.) Amberly Rothfield, an adult content creator and adult marketing educator, says that in the wake of the TikTok purge, it is becoming common knowledge that TikTok is “very anti-adult” and that the platform will delete your account if adult sites are linked to on your bio, even through third-party apps like Linktree. “They are really going HAM on not allowing mention of OnlyFans,” she says.
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Lydia Love, who was also removed from TikTok on November 18th, says she “was super careful” to avoid TikTok censorship. “I wouldn’t even type the word ‘sugar daddy,’ I would type ‘sugar daddi’ and things like that lol. And I never used the word OnlyFans on my page.” She did, however, have a Linktree in her bio, which contained a link to her OnlyFans. At the time she was deleted, she had almost 100,000 followers. “TONS of girls I know got deleted. It was like a huge sweep with no explanation,” she says.
Goddess Ambrosia, a financial dominatrix, was another content creator who had her account removed without warning or explanation three weeks ago. She had 185,000 followers at the time. “I primarily used [TikTok] to educate the public about sex work in an attempt to destigmatize the industry, as well as giving tips to newer sex workers, and posting my own variations of trends happening on the app,” she says via Twitter DM. Her account was deleted for “multiple community guideline violations,” even though she says TikTok rarely removed her videos from the app. She also had a link to her OnlyFans in her bio, and is feeling the effects of TikTok removing her from the app already. “The way the algorithm works really helped push my content to the right demographics and resulted in gaining many new customers and OnlyFans subscribers,” she says. Since her account was deleted, she estimates she’s lost about 100 OnlyFans subscribers.
This is in spite of the fact that many of the biggest creators on TikTok, such as Rebekka Blue, a content creator on OnlyFans who was permanently deleted from TikTok, have garnered hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of followers on the platform. At the time of her deletion, Blue had also been approved as a TikTok creator, allowing her to monetize her content. “I post with no makeup and baggy clothes. I do not show skin because I don’t want to risk my account getting taken down,” she tells Rolling Stone. Regardless, her account was deleted at 950,000 followers until, with the help of a lawyer, she appealed TikTok to get it back. She believes her large following, combined with the fact that she was a verified creator, helped her successfully get her account back on the platform.
Like the other models Rolling Stone spoke with, Blue linked to her OnlyFans on her profile, and had gone from making $2,000 a month to $10,000 a month simply by promoting her account on TikTok. It is a fairly common tactic to promote your OnlyFans account on TikTok, says Hardesty, even if you don’t directly refer to it in your videos. “Even if you’re not directly promoting yourself, if people see you on TikTok and see oh she’s cute, she has a nice body, or even just for your personality or whatever, naturally they might go over to your Instagram and over time — multiple levels of exposure — they find out you have an OnlyFans and they may want to subscribe,” she says.
Blue also believes that TikTok removed her because she was using it to promote her OnlyFans. She considers it a serious double standard on TikTok’s part that they are so quick to remove sex workers for their legal activities on other platforms. “The problem is, on TikTok you see so many of these girls under 18 with little to no clothing, but because they’re not making money on their OnlyFans links their content gets to stay up,” she says. She is also quick to point out that other verified TikTok users with even more followers have linked to OnlyFans in their bios, and have not been removed from the platform.
Sex workers on the app are concerned that the platform’s censorship could bode poorly for them in the future, particularly in the context of other platforms like Instagram cracking down on even the faintest whispers of sex-positive content. Having been deplatformed on other previously sex positivity-friendly apps like Tumblr, sex workers are concerned that TikTok’s mass removals are a sign of a future in which the platform is hostile to them as well. “It’s really discouraging that TikTok could just delete our accounts without warning because of what we do on another site that’s unrelated to TikTok,” says Hardesty.
From Rolling Stone US