A nonprofit blockchain developer sued Meta Platforms Inc in California federal court Friday, alleging a new logo adopted by the company formerly known as Facebook will cause consumer confusion with its own infinity-symbol logo.
Switzerland-based Dfinity said being associated with Meta’s “sordid” history with user privacy could hurt the non-profit’s efforts to attract people to its blockchain platform, which it wants to use to “take on Big Tech and its growing control over user data.”
Dfinity was founded in 2016. Its Internet Computer is an “infinite” public blockchain network designed to host authenticated smart contracts. It registered a federal trademark for its infinity-symbol logo in 2018.
Meta, Dfinity, and Dfinity’s attorney did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Facebook Inc rebranded as Meta last October to reflect its plans to focus on the virtual-reality “metaverse.” Meta has described its new logo as a “continuous loop” that resembles both the letter ‘M’ and an infinity sign, “symbolizing infinite horizons in the metaverse.”
Dfinity’s lawsuit said Meta’s logo is confusingly similar to its logo. It also said that a Meta executive outlined plans to adopt blockchain technologies in an internal memo, which would add to the likelihood of confusion between the companies.
Dfinity asked the court to stop Meta from using the logo and for an unspecified amount of money damages.
The case is Dfinity Foundation v. Meta Platforms Inc, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, No. 3:22-cv-02632.
She’s the latest breakout star on TikTok, and she’s got an extraordinary personal history. Jordan Turpin and her 12 siblings escaped the unthinkable house of horrors in California, where her parents David and Louise Turpin imprisoned, beat, and tortured their children. Now, Jordan has made a name for herself on TikTok, amassing 500,000 followers. Fox Business host Cheryl Casone says that Turpin is well-positioned to potentially make millions on social media.
Ava Majury downloaded TikTok when she was 13, and at the height of the pandemic lockdowns a year later had more than a million followers. Her fans, nearly three-quarters of them male, watched her lip-sync and dance to trending music on an account with the profile message, “Hey, I love you!!”
In early 2020 Ava noticed that one fan, EricJustin111, was trying to get her attention in comments on TikTok. He messaged her in Snapchat and on Instagram, and turned up in online games she played with her brothers. Ava responded to him a few times at first, she said, “because I used to reply to my fans, like ‘Hey, how was your day?’’’
Early on July 10, the fan — Eric Rohan Justin, 18, of Ellicott City, Md. — arrived with a shotgun at the Majury family home in Naples and blew open the front door. His weapon jammed; Ava’s father, Rob Majury, a retired police lieutenant, chased him off but fell. Mr. Majury told Collier County sheriff’s officers that he returned to the house, retrieved his handgun and stood guard at the front door, only to see the gunman return a short time later. By sunrise Mr. Justin lay dying, shot by Mr. Majury.
What began as an enterprising teenager’s lockdown venture has awakened the family of five to how online fame can fuel real-world violence. In interviews with The New York Times, they spoke for the first time about an ordeal that illuminates the dark side of a social media platform favored by millions of children.
TikTok’s owner, Beijing-based ByteDance Ltd., and many of its users emphasize the friendships, innovative content and creative collaboration enabled by the platform, but its enormous popularity among vulnerable, underage people has also been linked to mental health problems, injuries and deaths.
Today Ava Majury remains on TikTok, where she is netting thousands of dollars in sponsorship deals and has attracted interest from Hollywood, including from reality TV producers. Her TikTok fame has brought sponsorship opportunities on Instagram and Snapchat, too. Instagram, owned by Meta, formerly known as Facebook, has also been accused of causing mental and emotional health problems among teenage female users.
“Her creations, her contacts, her videos became such a big part of her that to take it away would have been hard,” her father said.
“We chose what’s best for our family,” Ava’s mother, Kim Majury, added. “We know there are going to be two sides, and some people won’t understand.”
The Majurys moved to Florida in 2019 from Manalapan, N.J., lured by its warm climate, low taxes and a quieter lifestyle. They settled in Naples, a staid, safe community of affluent retirees and growing families in Collier County, on the state’s Gulf Coast. Mr. Majury, 51, is a former Jersey City police lieutenant, and Mrs. Majury, 45, is an ultrasound technologist. The family rented a home in Raffia Preserve, a subdivision of tidy homes on curving streets.
Ava is “a go-getter,” her father said. When classmates in New Jersey admired a sticker she had designed for her laptop, she started selling them, eventually earning nearly $700. On TikTok, she has promoted a tooth-whitening product, emerging recording artists and N.F.L. games.
“I have three TikTok accounts, so I could have one brand come to me and be like, ‘Oh, I’ll do $1,000 for one video on your main account,’ and I’ll be like, ‘Oh great, I have two other accounts that are different types of people on there,’” Ava said in an interview. “So altogether, I’m making $1,700 off just my name, because I opened up three accounts rather than just building off one.”
Her venture surprised and intrigued her parents. “Honestly, we had no idea the extent of what she was able to earn,” Mr. Majury said. He has appeared in a couple of her videos, including one she made in the car while he was driving.
“We both pointed at the camera at the same time and the music stopped and she starts laughing. You know, so innocent, it was sweet for me. It’s me and her having a moment,” Mr. Majury recalled. The moment drew hundreds of thousands of views.
Downloads of TikTok grew by 75 percent in 2020, making it the world’s most-downloaded app that year, according to Hootsuite. Today the platform has more than one billion average monthly users. It welcomes account holders as young as 13, and in 2021 outflanked both Instagram and Snapchat in weekly usage by youth ages 12 to 17. While teens like Ava have used it to entertain and spread positive messages, viral “TikTok Challenges” have been cited as inspiring children to vandalize and threaten their schools, follow starvation “Corpse Bride” diets and asphyxiate themselves. Teen girls have been repeatedly targeted by child predators.
A TikTok spokeswoman, Mahsau Cullinane, emailed a statement saying that TikTok is “deeply invested in the safety and well-being of our community’’ and added that the platform uses tools to protect users under the age of 16. In 2020, TikTok classified more than a third of its 49 million daily users in the United States as 14 or younger, according to internal company data and documents reviewed by The Times.
Ava has two brothers, Evan and Logan, ages 17 and 11. She and Evan attend a sprawling public high school where much of student life revolves around social media.
In early 2020, after Ava noticed Mr. Justin angling for her attention on TikTok, she learned that friends in New Jersey and Florida were selling him photos of her as well as her personal information, including her cellphone number, which Mr. Justin used to call and text her. In another instance, Mr. Justin logged onto a classmate’s school account and did math homework in exchange for information about Ava, her family said.
“I had to unfollow all my local friends and Jersey friends,” Ava said. “And everyone around me was like, ‘Oh you’re going Hollywood on all of us, you don’t want to talk to us anymore.’ And I’m like, ‘You’re selling my stuff.’”
But Ava’s parents allowed her to sell Mr. Justin a couple of selfies that she had already posted to Snapchat.
“I wasn’t sending anything of my body,’’ Ava said. “It was just pictures of my face, which is what I assume that he was paying for. My whole thing is my pretty smile — that’s my content.” She said Mr. Justin paid about $300 for two photos, via the Venmo digital wallet app.
After that, Mr. Justin messaged Ava on Venmo with a breakdown of what he would pay for “booty pics” and photos of her feet, “stuff that a 14-year-old shouldn’t be sending,” she said. She blocked him on all her accounts. In Venmo messages viewed by The Times, Mr. Justin pleaded with her to unblock him, sending $159.18, then $100, and finally $368.50 with the message, “sorry this is all I have left i’m broke.”
Mr. Majury said he texted Mr. Justin’s cellphone, told him that Ava was a minor, and demanded that he stop contacting her.
At that point Mr. Justin’s efforts turned sinister. In a series of text messages that made their way to Ava, and which the Majury family showed The Times, he asked one of Ava’s male classmates whether he had access to a “strap,” or gun, shared plans to assault her, and wrote, “i could just breach the door with a shotgun i think.” The classmate’s mother declined an interview request.
When Ava learned of the threatening messages, she called the classmate who had received them. He confirmed that he had gotten them, and forwarded others to her. Fearful, she showed her parents. They researched Mr. Justin’s identity, saw that he lived hundreds of miles away, and reassured her that “he was one of these keyboard cowboys,” Mr. Majury said.
“I sort of discredited what could have been a threat.”
Ava’s bedroom was just inside the door Mr. Justin blasted open.
“All I remember was, I heard it, I felt it in my chest, and I looked up, and there was a hole in my door from the fragments,” she said. She ran through a connecting bathroom to her brothers’ room, clutching a blanket, water bottle and her cellphone.
Mr. Majury bolted from bed and ran shouting to the foyer, where he said debris still floated in the air. Mrs. Majury followed, dialing 911 on her phone. Outside a gangly teenager wearing what looked like a blue Walmart worker’s vest, protective earplugs and safety glasses stood on the front lawn. He turned to escape and Mr. Majury sprinted forward but fell, gashing his knee. The gunman paused, struggling to clear his jammed weapon, then ran away. Mr. Majury retrieved his handgun, and was standing at the front door awaiting the police when Mr. Justin returned. Mr. Majury said he ordered the teenager to drop the shotgun, and when he instead pointed it at him, Mr. Majury fired.
The three Majury children had retreated to their parents’ bedroom in the rear of the house. Ava’s older brother, Evan, turned to her in panic and fury.
“This is all your fault,” he said.
“The subject was most likely a stalker that resulted from her daughter’s extensive social media involvement,” the Collier County Sheriff’s Office report read, citing statements to them from Mrs. Majury. “Since her daughter’s involvement with social media, multiple subjects have attempted to ascertain her family’s address in the past.” Mrs. Majury provided them with contact information for Mr. Justin, the report said.
The Collier County Sheriff’s Office told local media at the time that a man had been shot and killed by the resident of a home in Raffia Preserve after firing a gun into the home, in an attempted home invasion robbery. The office did not name the gunman.
The Majurys said police told them that Mr. Justin was carrying two cellphones that contained thousands of photographs of Ava and hundreds of hours of her videos.
Collier County Sheriff Kevin Rambosk and investigators from his office did not respond to requests for interviews. “This remains an active investigation and there are no updates,” Karie Partington, a sheriff’s office spokeswoman, said in an email.
The gunman’s identity was confirmed by his father, Justin Dominic. Mr. Dominic, a software engineer who is divorced from Mr. Justin’s mother, said that before the divorce the family had lived in the United States and then had moved to Mr. Dominic’s native India. When his parents split up, Mr. Justin chose to move back to the U.S. with his mother, his father said, recalling their move as around 2015.
Mr. Dominic, who said he had spoken with investigators, recalled his son as a good student who did well in math at Mount Hebron High School in Ellicott City. “He was a nice kid. I’m at a loss for words,” he said in an interview. “I don’t know what went bad with him. He made a bad choice.”
After the shooting the Majurys, reeling, moved in with friends. A few days later Mrs. Majury received an invitation from a would-be agent for Ava to visit Los Angeles, meet other influencers, and attend a couple of red carpet events. One was for “Glo-Up Girls,” a line of makeover-ready dolls advertised on a YouTube channel featuring six teenage influencers “living in a mansion and taking on sensational Glo-Up challenges.”
“It was a nice distraction, absolutely,” Mrs. Majury said.
After the Majurys returned home, their homeowners’ association sent a letter to their landlord demanding their eviction because, among other reasons, Ava’s social media venture had attracted an intruder to the property.
In early August, Ava received messages on Venmo from a man calling her “baby girl,” offering to pay $1,000 a month for her phone number. Her parents discovered that the man’s name matches that of a registered sex offender, arrested previously for soliciting a 14-year-old girl.
Mrs. Majury remembers thinking, “We can’t live like this.”
Mr. Majury said he was advised by the police that under Florida’s “stand your ground” law governing justifiable use of deadly force, he was not subject to prosecution. But just to be safe, he contacted a lawyer, James Scarmozzino, to represent him. Mr. Scarmozzino connected the family to other lawyers who organized a business centered on Ava’s potential earnings.
Michael Marino, an entertainment lawyer in New York, created an enterprise, AGM Creations, for Ava, and signed an agreement with the Majurys for a percentage of future revenues. Mr. Marino turned to a friend, Lanny Davis, a Washington lawyer and crisis manager whose public relations firm is now representing Ava.
The shooting continues to reverberate.
The boy who received Mr. Justin’s messages about his plans to attack Ava still attends high school with her. In December, Ava told her parents that he was following and watching her. The family visited the high school to report the matter. Last month, another classmate sent her a video the boy had made of himself firing a gun at a shooting range, her mother said.
Unnerved, Ava withdrew from school this month and now attends class from home. Mr. Scarmozzino filed a petition in Collier County Circuit Court seeking an injunction for protection against stalking. A hearing is set for Feb. 28, and Ava will testify.
Ava is still on social media, with her parents’ support. Mrs. Majury said she did not want “sick individuals” to force Ava off the platforms. “Why should we allow them to stop her? Maybe she’s meant to bring awareness to all this,” Mrs. Majury said.
Ava has not told her followers what happened. “I don’t want it to go out negatively and people think I attracted him,” she said.
Her greater worry is that other troubled people will “make it a contest to see who can get here first,’’ and she acknowledged that sometimes at night, trying to fall asleep after the shooting, “I’d think, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore.’” But by morning, “I thought of all the benefits.’’
“Most people would say the money. And yeah, it’s a huge benefit. But it’s the experience. I got to go to L.A., the people that I met,” she said. “Just being able to make other people smile is what I like, the enjoyment of seeing the impact I made on some people’s lives.
“I’d post a video at night, close my eyes, and in the morning it was exciting to see how many views I got.”
Her father interjected: “It’s like Christmas every day, because then you see it build.”
“I think we just had to allow her to make a decision and sort of support her. I think it’s going to help her heal. It sounds corny, but I don’t know what else you would do it for.”
Social media users are criticizing American-born Eileen Gu – who won a gold medal in skiing competing for China – for taking advantage of posting on Instagram, which is banned in the country.
Instagram is blocked in China, as are other global social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp.
The block first started in 2014 amid the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong as a means for the Chinese government to control how its citizens use western social media
Gu, 18, who was born in California to an American father and a Chinese mother (who is also her coach) and took home gold in the women’s big freeski, was taken to task for her use of the photo app.
‘Why can you use Instagram and millions of Chinese people from mainland cannot,’ one user fired off at Gu in a screenshot that made the rounds on Chinese social app Weibo.
‘[A]nyone can download a vpn its literally free on the App Store,’ said Gu, referring to virtual private networks (VPN), which are designed to get around the web restrictions of various countries.
Some were irate in response.
‘Literally, I’m not ‘anyone.’ Literally, it’s illegal for me to use a VPN. Literally, it’s not fxxking free at all,’ one user replied.
China has blocked several VPN services in recent years, even going as far as to criminalize those who use them to get around the ‘Great Firewall.’
In November, Beijing introduced rules that would seek to ban VPN providers.
The screenshot was eventually censored on Weibo after it had been shared over 3,000 times.
The original post still exists, but the screenshot of her VPN comment went blank.
‘What is there to brag about a country where [that screenshot] can’t see the light of day?’ another Weibo user asked.
The IOC declined to comment on the situation. Rule 50 of the IOC handbook permits athletes to speak freely on matters of their choosing outside the confines of competition.
Gu, nicknamed the ‘Snow Princess’, amassed an army of cynics when she spurned Team USA to represent China at the Beijing Games – but she told critics after her win: ‘I’m just as American as I am Chinese’.
As Gu won her gold medal, praise for the San Franciscan quite literally overwhelmed the Chinese internet.
Of the top 10 trending topics on the platform on Weibo at the time, five were dedicated to adoration for the 18-year-old champion.
‘Gu Ailing is a genius young woman right?’ was one trending topic referencing her Chinese name.
‘Dad was Harvard, Mom was Peking University, Stanford, Grandmother was an athlete. She’s beautiful and classy,’ said one post recirculated 86,000 times.
The teenager, who is undoubtedly the Winter Olympics poster girl after her Vogue magazine and Paris fashion appearances, did not allow her glittering lifestyle to overshadow her sporting prowess.
However, Gu has remained evasive about her attempts to toe the line between the United States and China.
China does not allow dual nationality, and state media have previously reported that the 18-year-old renounced her U.S. citizenship after she became a Chinese national at the age of 15.
Gu would not confirm that on Tuesday.
‘So I grew up spending 25-30% (of my time) in China. I’m fluent in Mandarin and English and fluent culturally in both,’ she answered, when asked if she was still an American citizen.
‘So coming here, I really feel there was a sense of coming home. I feel just as American as Chinese. I don’t feel I’m taking advantage of one or another. They understand that my mission is to foster a connection between countries and not a divisive force.’
When the reporter asked again, the news conference moderator interjected: ‘Next question, please.’
The fashion model and incoming Stanford University student whose Weibo following has ballooned to almost three million from just under two million on Monday, says she feels at home in China.
‘There’s like a tower here you can see from the top of the course. And I’m also seeing it from my house in Beijing,’ she explained, where her face is ubiquitous in advertising.
Gu told her critics: ‘I am not trying to keep anyone happy. I am an 18 year old girl living my life and trying to have a great time.’
She added: ‘It doesn’t really matter if other people are happy or not because I feel as though I am doing my best.
‘I’m enjoying the entire process, and I’m using my voice to create as much positive change as I can for the voices who will listen to me in an area that is personal and relevant to myself.
‘I know that I have a good heart and I know my reasons for making the decisions I do are based on a greater common interest and something I feel is for the greater good.
‘If other people don’t really believe that that’s where I’m coming from, then that just reflects that they do not have the empathy to empathize with a good heart, perhaps because they don’t share the same kind of morals that I do and, in that sense, I’m not going to waste my time trying to placate people who are, one, uneducated and, two, probably never going to experience the kind of joy and gratitude and love that I have the great fortune to experience on a daily basis.’
She said her critics did not share the empathy she had and that she refused to bow down to them.
Gu is not the only American competing for China in Beijing. Two members of the Chinese men’s hockey team – including Jake Chelios, son of Hockey Hall of Famer Chris Chelios – are also born and raised in the US.
Like many people during the early months of the pandemic, Ari, 21, lost her job in the summer of 2020. She’d been working at a casino in the U.K., but government shutdowns forced her employer to lay her off. “I had to get money somehow,” she says.
Ari, whose full name has been withheld to protect her privacy, had an account on OnlyFans, a direct-to-consumer content platform popularized by online sex workers that exploded in popularity during the pandemic. But she’d never really worked to promote her account, until after she was laid off. She’d started to grow a minor following, raking in about $3,000 per month. Then another creator on OnlyFans, a woman we’ll call Cora, messaged her. She’d just gotten a new manager, Nathan Johnson, who’d promised her she could one day earn nearly $100,000 per month; he’d just lost a model, and he needed a new one to take over her Instagram account.
Ari was intrigued. She was somewhat familiar with Johnson, a 21-year-old social media advertising wunderkind of sorts who on his website touts press coverage from the New York Times (in which he was quoted in a piece on spammy Instagram cash giveaway accounts), Business Insider, and Yahoo Finance. Johnson owned a model management company, NJAC LLC, and he was recruiting Ari via his Instagram account Enhancement, which has more than half a million followers on Instagram; in its bio, Enhancement promises to help earn creators $100,00 per month. Ari says Johnson also claimed to be partnered with Baddie, a popular Instagram page promoting OnlyFans creators. (When reached by Rolling Stone, Johnson declined to comment whether NJAC has any relationship with Baddie, though he said the two management companies shared employees at the time.)
Ari thought there were a few red flags — Johnson’s company didn’t have its own website, and she didn’t speak with him on the phone. But Cora, who’d been with Johnson for a month, seemed to be making a lot of money, and Ari was lured by Johnson’s promises of helping her grow her Instagram and OnlyFans following. “[Cora] said you really want to be famous,” Johnson wrote in WhatsApp messages provided to Rolling Stone. “And that’s perfect cause that’s what we make people.”
“Yessss I wanna be rich,” Ari responded.
“Well perfect cause I want to be rich too lol,” Johnson responded.
Ari signed with Johnson, and for a few months, she says, he appeared to deliver on his word, with Ari making $75,000 in the first month. Then she realized he wasn’t actually giving her insight on how to grow her page or what type of content to post; according to Ari, he was just advertising her content on Instagram meme pages. (In a conversation with Rolling Stone, Johnson disputed this: “of course we advised on strategy,” he says.) Plus, her earnings were dropping; one month, she says, she only made $10-$15,000 out of $50,000 of earnings. When she confronted Johnson about this, he said he was spending much of that money on ads, but when Ari asked for proof of how much he was spending, he refused to show her any invoices or documentation, citing company secrets. And according to texts provided to Rolling Stone, he also publicly posted sexually explicit content that she had intended to only sell privately, though he apologized promptly after doing so. Ari says Johnson also pressured her to produce more content, though Johnson denies this, providing text messages to Rolling Stone that he did give her time off when she requested it.
After Ari says she heard from another model that Johnson was not, in fact, partnered with Baddie, she’d had enough. “I realized he was taking too much from me and i felt it wasn’t worth it to continue carrying on,” she says. In February, she sent Johnson a WhatsApp message saying she wanted to terminate their contract. He responded by threatening to take legal action against her if she continued to post content on social media, referring to a sunset clause in the contract she’d signed. “All no competes and clauses of early termination will be applied, and appropriate action will be taken if they are not! Thanks for your time with NJAC,” he wrote in response, adding that Ari would also have to forfeit the previous 30 days’ worth of income.
Johnson tells Rolling Stone he only made such threats under pressure of a lawyer, and had no intention to enforce them. “I’m a reasonable person. I was like, ‘This is what the contract says,’ not, ‘this is what I want to do,’” he says. “She was being very emotional and not very respectful during that conversation.” He also says NJAC’s contracts no longer include sunset clauses or non-competes, though he declined to provide Rolling Stone with a copy of the updated contract.
After Ari left Johnson, she says, he continued to post as her under her Instagram and OnlyFans accounts and reselling explicit content she had already sold to her followers at a vastly reduced rate, leading to subscribers complaining about her scamming them. It was at this point that she hired attorney Anibal Luque to send a cease-and-desist to Johnson. When Johnson kept posting, Luque sent another one. (Johnson says he had agreed with Ari beforehand that he could post on the account for 30 days afterward, and stopped immediately after receiving the initial letter from her lawyer. He says he did not receive a follow-up letter because he was out of town at the time.)
In the months since she left Johnson, Ari says she’s heard from nearly half a dozen models who had similar experiences with him, including Cora, who also left after she alleges Johnson took 60-70 percent of her income. “Nathan was a very nice guy, until you didn’t comply with his agenda,” Cora says.
Another model who worked with Johnson, who we’ll call Natasha, also signed up with Johnson after losing her job in May of 2020 due to Covid (it was, in fact, Ari who inherited her Instagram account when she left NJAC). When she signed with him, she agreed to give him a whopping 66 percent of her earnings. But like Ari, she alleges she saw far less than 33 percent of her total earnings. “When I asked him about it he told me that all the money spent on ads came off the top,” she says. “I thought that was pretty normal being new to the industry and everything. I didn’t really question it.” She asked him to show her a spreadsheet showing the ad costs, which Johnson provided, but says that something didn’t add up. Natasha posted a video on her OnlyFans saying she was creating a new account. Johnson continued posting as Natasha to her OnlyFans and Instagram using some of her old content, which Johnson says was also written into her contract, and sent her a cease-and-desist for violating the non-compete.
When reached for comment, Johnson says the majority of his models (NJAC now has 30) have had positive experiences with his agency. He attributes his spats with former models to a combination of miscommunication and youth and inexperience with the adult industry. “It’s sad they feel I did them so wrong when, compared to what other people would do, i did what a good person would do, which is only do what was agreed on and that’s it,” he says. He attributes Ari’s negative experience with NJAC to her producing less content and being dissatisfied about her income, having inherited her Instagram account from a model who made almost twice as much as her. “When you put a dollar sign essentially on your body, it’s kinda fucked up,” he says. “Her seeing her income [plummet], that can discourage you a lot.” He also noted that Ari reached out to Johnson shortly after threatening him with legal action, asking if she could pay him to retweet her OnlyFans link onto one of his Twitter pages.
But Ari says Johnson is an example of a manager exploiting those who wish to enter the fledgling creator industry, who overpromises to his models and then blames them when he fails to deliver. “We just feel like we’ve almost been scammed by this man,” she says, referring to herself and other models who’ve come forward. “He seemed to be taking far too much and when we wanted to quit he made it really hard for every model.”
Ari is one of hundreds of thousands of content creators who have joined OnlyFans, a custom content platform popularized by sex workers that has more recently been embraced by more mainstream influencers and creators, many of whom are posting more vanilla content. Though OnlyFans launched in 2016, after the Covid-19 pandemic hit, newly unemployed people started flocking to OnlyFans in droves, with the platform reporting a 75-percent increase in new sign-ups in April 2020 alone; by December 2020, it had gone up to 85 million users. (As of January 2022, that number is 170 million.) A shoutout by Beyoncé in her “Savage” remix, as well as mainstream celebrities like Bella Thorne joining the platform, helped to lend OnlyFans mainstream visibility; it has also arguably contributed to the platform starting to push sex workers out, with OnlyFans announcing in Aug. 2021 that the website would start prohibiting sexually explicit content due to pressure from payment processors. (It later reversed this decision following outcry from creators on the site.)
OnlyFans’ increased popularity has translated into an emerging cottage industry of third parties, such as agencies, consultants, and managers, looking to show newcomers the ropes and make a few bucks in the process. Prior to the pandemic, only major stars (primarily, adult performers with huge followings) would hire someone to manage their OnlyFans by sending fans DMs or posting content for them, says Amberly Rothfield, a marketing and business consultant for online content creators. “Before the pandemic it was just major stars and their boyfriends who ran their accounts,” Rothfield, who uses “xie” and “xir” pronouns, says. “Then a girl would be like ‘Hey, your boyfriend is running your account, would he like to run mine, I’ll give him a percentage.’ More and more people started getting into it.”
Yet as the platform has exploded, OnlyFans managers have since become “little mom-and-pop businesses” taking a small cut of a creator’s earnings in exchange for managing their content. “The pandemic happened and I skyrocketed,” says Dominique Bradley, owner of Bad Bunny Agency, which manages OnlyFans content creators. In addition to managing about 15 models directly, Bradley makes YouTube videos advising creators and managers on how to make money on OnlyFans. “The coronavirus increased the amount of people at home, increased the amount of people who have money able to spend, and the number of people who need to pay their bills. And that created a huge opening in the marketplace.”
But as modeling agencies pop up, bad actors are increasingly flooding the space as well. Last December, for instance, a number of models came forward to allege that the firm Unruly Agency, which manages prominent creators and OnlyFans influencers, as well as an affiliated firm called Behave, used deceptive recruiting practices to entice creators and, in some cases, posted nude or sexually explicit content without their consent. One model filed suit against the agency for alleged financial blackmail and inappropriate behavior, such as posting an illicit video of her to her OnlyFans page without her consent and rerouting her payment information to the agency’s own bank accounts. And nearly half a dozen OnlyFans creators Rolling Stone spoke with shared similar stories about other managers and agencies. (Referring to this and another lawsuit against the agency, Buzzfeed quoted a representative for Unruly saying that the claimsin the lawsuits “are broadly stated and not supported by any evidence.”)
Some of these supposed managers flooding the OnlyFans space use model recruitment as an opportunity to try to get free sexually explicit content. In August 2020, for instance, an OnlyFans creator named Josie, then 23, saysshe was contacted by another OnlyFans creator on a “like-for-like” Twitter DM thread, a common method for creators to encourage each other to follow each other and promote their content. The woman told Josie she had an opportunity for her with the modeling agency Infinite Possibilities, which was setting up a 3D holographic magazine, and set her up with a man who identified himself via text as CEO Russel Andrey. They got in touch on WhatsApp to set up a phone call. “Very quickly, before we started the interview, he said, ‘You’re not wearing too many clothes, right?’” Josie says.
According to screengrabs of WhatsApp messages Josie shared with Rolling Stone, Andrey encouraged her to send one-minute videos of herself wearing “minimal clothing.” Josie says he then asked her to write a positive review of his portfolio on Google Reviews, which she did, and then suggested they set up a FaceTime “training.” “He wanted me to show off my skills, my talent, over the phone with him watching… I think what he wanted me to do was masturbate on video chat with him, [because] he told me to get my toys and I was gonna want to get naked,” says Josie. “I was like, ‘I can see where this is going.’”
Josie told Andrey she wasn’t interested and then told a friend about the application process, who suggested to her that she was being scammed in exchange for providing Andrey with free content. An embarrassed Josie edited her Google review to call the company out, only to receive a reply saying the agency had done a background check on her and found trafficking and drug charges against her (which would have been impossible, she says, because she never gave Andrey her real name). Since then, “I’ve heard a lot about fake training where people can go to OnlyFans models and say, ‘we can make you a real model, just go for this training,’ and it turns out the training is just collecting a whole bunch of your work for free,” she says. (Andrey did not reply to requests for comment.)
Other aspiring OnlyFans modeling agents appear to simply be trying to capitalize off the platform’s boom, without having the knowledge or skill set to do so. Roxie Sinner, 18, was living at home with her parents and selling premium content on Snapchat when a 22-year-old man named Samer Morcy DM’ed her on Instagram. Morcy claimed to be a model manager with an agency called Bombshell. “At the time I didn’t know anything about the industry. I just wanted to make money to move out,” she says. So when Morcy asked for 34 percent of her earnings in exchange for promoting her on Instagram and preventing her content from being leaked, she didn’t bat an eyelash. “Honestly, I thought he’d ask for 50,” she says. (The standard in the industry, Rothfield says, is between 5 and 15 percent.)
Then Roxie started noticing the checks Morcy was sending her were less than she expected. When she confronted him about it, she says he admitted he was taking 50 percent, a number she says they had not agreed to. She also received DMs from an anonymous person addressed to her legal first name, saying Morcy had been impersonating her on Snapchat and selling her nudes without her consent. “That’s when I really lost my shit,” she says. She confronted him over text, where he denied impersonating her and claimed she had agreed to 50 percent to start with.
The next day, Roxie says, she woke up to realize she had been logged out of her OnlyFans. When she managed to get in touch with a representative, they said she had tried to delete her own account. Though OnlyFans eventually gave her back access to the account, she estimates Morcy still owes her about $16,000, and never got a “single cent” back. “He knew I was a naive little child,” she says. “He knew I’d go along with everything he said.”
Lora is another OnlyFans creator based outside the U.S. who claims to have been contacted by Morcy on Twitter last spring. She says Morcy represented himself as an agent employed at Veno Management, a firm that specializes in managing growth for models and influencers. “He promised that I would be in the top one percent in a few months of working with them. That did not happen,” she says. Lora also shared with Rolling Stone a copy of the contract she signed upon starting work with Morcy, which lists the agency as Bombshell Magazine Limited, or BML, Agency. A search for Bombshell Magazine Limited yielded one Facebook page with three likes, which lists an Orlando, Florida address as headquarters for the company; that address is the same as the address on Morcy’s driver license.
When contacted by Rolling Stone, Veno Management denied any involvement with Morcy. “Veno Management is a social media management agency that is absolutely in no way, shape or form associated with the individual you have mentioned as ‘Samer Morcy’,” the company said in a statement. When reached for comment, Morcy denied any wrongdoing while he was working as a manager for OnlyFans models, and said that the anonymous DMs were written by a former friend who was trying to smear his reputation.
Part of the reason why the OnlyFans space is so rife for exploitation is because of the stigma attached to the sex industry in general. Many who have joined OnlyFans within the past two years are completely new to the adult industry, and thus are concerned about being outed to their family or friends. It is not unheard of for this to happen to content creators when the relationship goes south, says Rothfield. “If you try to leave it’s basically, ‘I know who you are, I know where you live, it would be a shame if this info came out,’” xie says.
Within the industry itself, hiring someone to manage your OnlyFans carries a fair amount of stigma. Rothfield compares the manager cottage industry to a Fight Club: “it’s just something you don’t talk about.” Because the ostensible purpose of OnlyFans is to connect content creators directly to their followers, there’s a belief among many fans that if creators hire someone to answer their DMs or post content for them, they’re “scamming” or “catfishing” consumers — even though the practice of hiring social media managers is widespread, if not standard, in the mainstream entertainment industry. “People sign up for OF because they want the one-on-one connection with you. They think they’re talking to you,” says Jessica Sage, an online sex worker and stay-at-home parent. Sage briefly hired a manager two years ago after her following grew, only to terminate the relationship when, she says, without her consent, he started offering her subs custom content that she was not comfortable making. “I realized they wanted to do things to help their pockets,” she says. “I felt like at the end of the day, [the relationship] would hurt me more than it would benefit me.”
For those just starting an OnlyFans, hiring a manager may at first seem like a good way to navigate an unfamiliar industry. Autumn Nelson, a popular content creator who goes by @ColorsOfAutumn on Instagram, was approached by her current manager on Instagram in 2017, when the influencer industry was just starting to take off. “I never thought I could be one of those people with a large Instagram. I was just a technician who worked in health care,” she says. “But I thought, why not? Let’s just try it and see what happens.” She says with his help, she reached 10,000 followers within a week, completely organically. She now has 1.2 million Instagram followers and a sizeable following on OnlyFans, where her manager takes an eight-percent commission to post content for her and respond to pay-per-view messages. She has also started managing models on an Autumn’s Angels Instagram account, inviting models to sign up for OnlyFans using her referral link, a common way for creators to make money. (OnlyFans has a program that offers five percent of a new model’s first-year earnings to the creator who referred them.)
Despite her own success, however, Nelson cautions OnlyFans newcomers against hiring someone to outsource their content management off the bat. Prior to hiring her current manager, she says, she had a bad experience with a former manager who coerced her into videos that she “wasn’t comfortable with at all,” which ended up being posted on the website ManyVids without her consent for additional profit. The manager, she alleges, also sent photos to her family and tried to sell foot fetish videos to a private client. “As you build your platforms, you kinda can determine who’s trustworthy or not,” she says. “I would say don’t go with a program you see ads for online. Find an individual you see as trustworthy, preferably a female, who understands how personal and uncomfortable it can be posting your nude content online.”
In theory, OnlyFans itself discourages creators from sharing their passwords and other account info. In a statement, OnlyFans tells Rolling Stone: “All creator accounts on OnlyFans must be owned by and be registered in the name of the creator and be paid out to the creator’s bank account. The platform has no involvement in any agreements made between creators and third party managers off of the platform.”
But Rothfield says that as the manager industry grows, OnlyFans could afford to be much more responsive to creators who may find themselves getting fleeced by unscrupulous entrepreneurs. “In our experience working with them they haven’t been the most receptive or involved,” says Luque, Ari’s attorney. “When we’ve tried to get things taken down it hasn’t been the most fruitful.” Rothfield says that she is seeing an increasing number of creators get locked out of their accounts and seek out xir help for recovering them. With OnlyFans, xie says, “you kinda just have to pray. You email support and you hope they get back to you.”
But as more and more aspiring adult content creators join OnlyFans, and more and more aspiring entrepreneurs gravitate to the platform to make a few bucks, some content creators are warning newbies to steer clear of people claiming to be agents or managers. “They make all these promises: ‘You’re gonna grow so much, you’re gonna make thousands of dollars and be super successful,’” says Sage. “But at the end of the day it’ll benefit them more than it benefits you.”
Lol this is too much work for one person. Triller/Verzuz wants a combo candidate who can code, design, and edit videos (a unicorn). And if they find one are they even good at all 3. The last guy or gal probably lost their mind and that’s why there’s an opening again.