Chat rooms aren’t necessarily any better at extracting money from subscribers than a creator running their own inbox; in fact, they can be worse. “You should really do your homework on who to hire,” a 29-year-old OnlyFans creator who goes by Sonia LeBeau told me. She has worked with agencies in the past and has had negative experiences with them. At one point, the chatters hired to impersonate her did such a lousy job that her most loyal subscribers realized they were being scammed. She apologized to all of her subscribers and continued to reply to her messages herself. Still, she said, agencies can provide significant benefits, especially for large accounts. Multiple chaters can work simultaneously and can clock in back-to-back shifts, ensuring that no message goes unanswered. Popular accounts often receive so many messages that responding to them all would be nearly impossible for one person; unanswered messages mean money is left on the table. Then there are all the other tasks required of an OnlyFans creator, like creating content and external social media marketing, all of which take time away from responding to direct messages. Chaters lighten the load.
Chatters also offer creators a buffer from their subscribers, who may be rude, stingy, or worse. “Are you constantly glued to your phone negotiating the price of custom videos with hundreds of lousy, penniless loners? Sounds like fun!” reads a post on the Think Expansion website, promoting their services to models. Dallas believes most OnlyFans models with a large following have some sort of team in their corner. “It gets overwhelming creating content constantly, promote and maintain 20, 30, 50+ conversations daily,” he wrote.
Yet around the world there are plenty of workers willing to have such conversations, often for wages lower than what Americans earn cooking burgers. In February, I spoke on Zoom with Andre, a chat in Manila who works for a Barcelona-based OnlyFans agency called KC Incorporation. He refused to provide his last name: although he finds the job satisfying, he doesn’t think his family approves. Many Western companies rely on outsourced labor in the Philippines for customer service and data entry; Prior to his current position, Andre worked in a T-Mobile call center. He now works a four-hour daily shift messaging a model’s subscribers. When he ends his shift, he logs out of the account and another user logs in, picking up the conversations where he left off.
During his stint as a chatterbox, Andre has become intimately familiar with the quirks and desires of subscribers. Over time, he’s learned something of a sex work cliché: More than sexual gratification, he said, a lot of guys just want to talk to someone. Facilitating those family conversations is good for business. “Seeing that ‘Oh, this person has been messaging me for a couple of weeks straight,'” he said, “we took note of those people.” Andre said most of the big spenders he talks to seem pretty normal, if a bit depressed and isolated. A small minority, he said, clearly suffer from mental health problems. He is understanding: “The world is a lonely place. And I guess these people are the loneliest.”
In fact, Andre sees a connection between his situation and that of the clients. Many people who do jobs like his, he said, are poor. They have “nowhere to go” and “there is nothing left to do”. They are desperate: “At the end of the day, if you have to eat, you have to do what you have to do.” The people he chats with, he said, show similar desperation, though for different reasons. “If you’re lonely, you don’t want to be stuck in loneliness, then you have to do what you have to do as well.” Several chaters in Asia I spoke to said they made quite a bit of money relative to other outsourced jobs. But his income is minuscule compared to the profits his work generates for the agencies, which have discovered a gold mine at the intersection of globalization and Western alienation.
Whether it is legal or not is a separate question. In November of last year, two former employees of a company called Unruly Agency sued, alleging wage theft and wrongful termination. The agency runs OnlyFans accounts for various Gen Z stars, including rapper Lil Pump and social media creators like Tana Mongeau. In the lawsuit, first reported by Insider, the plaintiffs said managers were instructed to “lie, mislead and mislead fans” via ghostwriting messages on behalf of popular models, in order to get them to pay for blocked content. or leave tips. Their bosses, they say, devised a system where account managers would keep track of the questions fans asked models most often. Managers then asked the models to record a video answering each question, encouraging them to change clothes between videos so the clips would appear to be shot on different days. Managers would send the videos to thousands of fans, each of whom would think he was getting a personalized answer to a question he had specifically asked. (Unruly has denied these claims.)
In the United States, fraud is generally defined as an instance in which one entity or individual knowingly deceives another to obtain something of value. In other words, lies alone are not actionable. Indeed, it could be argued that a subscriber who talks to a chatter is being induced to spend money that he or she would not otherwise spend, based on false information. But you could just as easily argue otherwise: The photos and videos subscribers receive are genuine depictions of nude women, even if the perceived intimacy surrounding the sale is false. This is online sex chat, after all: in a post-“Catfish” world, should anyone really expect Internet accounts to truthfully represent who’s running them?