Chatters aren’t necessarily better at getting money from subscribers than a creator who manages her own inbox; in fact they could be worse. “You have to do your homework really well about who you hire,” a 29-year-old creator of OnlyFans, who goes by Sonia LeBeau, told me. She has worked with agencies in the past and had negative experiences with them. At one point, chatters hired to impersonate her did such a bad job that her most loyal subscribers realized they were being fooled. She apologized to all of her subscribers and went on to reply to their messages herself. Still, she said, agencies can provide significant benefits, especially for large accounts. Multiple chatters can work simultaneously and they can clock in for sequential shifts so that no message goes unanswered. Popular accounts often receive so many messages that it would be nearly impossible for one person to reply to them all; unanswered messages mean money is left on the table. Then there are all the other tasks that an OnlyFans creator would need, such as actually creating content and external marketing on social media, all of which take time from answering DMs. Chatters lighten the load.
Chatters also provide creators with a buffer against their subscribers, who can be rude, stingy, or worse. “Constantly glued to your phone negotiating prices for custom videos featuring hundreds of broken-down, lonely creeps? Sounds fun!” reads a post on the Think Expansion website touting his services to models. Dallas believes that most OnlyFans models with large followings have some kind of team in their corner. “It gets overwhelming to consistently create content, promote and maintain 20, 30, 50+ conversations a day,” he wrote.
However, around the world, there is a huge pool of workers willing to make those calls, often for wages that are lower than what Americans make hamburgers. In February, I spoke on Zoom with Andre, a chatter in Manila who works for a Barcelona-based OnlyFans agency called KC Incorporation. He refused to give his last name: while he finds the job satisfying, he doesn’t think his family would like it. Many western companies rely on outsourced labor in the Philippines for customer service and data entry. Before his current position, Andre worked in a T-Mobile call center. Now he works a daily four-hour shift to message a model’s subscribers. When his shift is over, he logs out of the account and another chatter logs in to pick up the conversations where he left off.
During his stint as a chatter, Andre has become familiar with the idiosyncrasies and desires of the subscribers. Over time, he’s learned something of a sex work cliche: More than sexual gratification, he said, a lot of the guys just want someone to talk to. Facilitating those familiar conversations is good for business. “If we see that ‘Oh, this person has been sending me a few weeks in a row,'” he said, “we take note of those people.” Andre said most of the big spenders he talks to seem pretty normal, albeit a little depressed and isolated. A small minority, he said, clearly suffer from mental health problems. He is compassionate: “The world is a lonely place. And I think these people are the loneliest.”
Andre even sees a connection between his predicament and that of the customers. Many people who do work like his, he said, are poor. They have “nowhere else to go” and “nothing left to do”. They are desperate: “Ultimately, if you have to eat, you have to do what you have to do.” The people he talks to, he said, show a similar despair, albeit for different reasons. “If you’re lonely, you don’t want to be lonely, then you have to do what you have to do.” Several chatters in Asia I spoke to said they made pretty good money compared to other outsourced jobs. But their income is minuscule compared to the profits their work brings to the agencies, which have discovered a gold mine at the intersection of globalization and Western alienation.
Whether it’s legal or not is a separate question. In November last year, two ex-employees of a company called Unruly Agency filed a lawsuit for wage theft and wrongful termination. The agency manages OnlyFans accounts for a number of Gen-Z stars, including the rapper Lil Pump and social media creators like Tana Mongeau. In the lawsuit, first reported by Insider, the complainants said executives had been instructed to “lie, cheat and mislead fans” by ghostwriting messages on behalf of popular models, with the aim of charge for locked content or leave tips. Their bosses, they claim, devised a system in which account managers tracked the questions fans most often asked models. The managers then asked the models to record a video where they answered each question, and encouraged them to switch outfits between the videos so that the clips appear as if they were shot on different days. The managers sent the videos to thousands of fans, all of whom would think they were getting a personalized answer to a question they specifically asked. (Unruly has denied these claims.)
In the United States, fraud is generally defined as a case in which an entity or person knowingly defrauds another in order to obtain something of value. In other words, lies by themselves are not feasible. You could certainly argue that a subscriber talking to a chatter is being incentivized to spend money that he otherwise wouldn’t, based on false information. But you might as well argue the opposite: the photos and videos subscribers receive are real images of naked women, even if the perceived intimacy surrounding the sale is false. After all, this is online sex chatting – in a post-‘Catfish’ world, should anyone really expect internet accounts to truthfully represent who controls them?