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The Catch-22 of OnlyFans Leaks on Telegram

Though the app’s increased encryption and invite-only groups make it harder to track down stolen content, it’s still one of the only places sex workers can promote their work

Earlier this month, Natalie — a pseudonym — received a panicked phone call from a distant cousin, who warned her that naked photos from her OnlyFans account had been leaked on the encrypted messaging app Telegram. Somehow, her aunt had stumbled across the photos. “I’m trying to find out who leaked my content, but I’m also just trying to keep calm,” she wrote in an anonymous forum post. “I just hope my aunt doesn’t go telling the rest of my family and my parents.”

Porn leaks are pretty much everywhere, but encrypted messaging app Telegram is quickly becoming the internet’s biggest hub of stolen videos. This is largely due to how it organizes groups and content — unlike publicly available clips on porn sites, Telegram’s X-rated stuff can only be accessed through invite links to “channels,” which are essentially private chat servers unavailable to the public. Invites aren’t hard to find, though — they’re everywhere on Twitter, Google and Reddit, a breeding ground for OnlyFans leaks itself.

OnlyFans consultant Amberly Rothfield (who uses xie/xier pronouns) deals with these leaks on a daily basis. “I get messages from creators about Telegram content leaks more than once a day,” xie tells me. “It’s devastating to hear how violated they feel. The appeal of OnlyFans is the affordability, but it comes at the price of making it accessible to pirate content, too.”

These aren’t small-scale channels, either. There’s one group dedicated solely to link-sharing that has almost 20,000 members. Some channels are devoted to specific creators, but others, like “All About Ass” (2,000 members), “FTM Amateur” (7,900 members) and “Naked TikTok” (18,000 members) are crowd-sourced spank banks filled with countless, often stolen videos. In March this year, the admin of a Telegram leak channel — the now-defunct SG Nasi Lemak — was sentenced in a district court to nine weeks in jail and a fine of $19,000 for sharing stolen OnlyFans content. At the time of closure, the channel had 44,000 members.

These leaks are fucking creators over in more ways than one. First, they leave models like Natalie vulnerable to being “outed” to their families. Because models often don’t know their content has been leaked on Telegram — and because it’s possible to block them from joining channels — their nudes and videos have a greater chance of circulating freely, increasing the likelihood that they’ll end up in the wrong hands. 

Then, there’s the financial aspect. Plenty of leakers package stolen content into Google Drive folders, charging around $20 or $30 for access, effectively forcing models to pay for their own content. It’s also common for users to chip in small amounts of cash to collectively buy access to OnlyFans accounts, and then share the content in Telegram channels. This applies to private videos sent in pay-per-view messages, too — even creators that don’t get naked on their OnlyFans feed still risk their private hole shots being exposed.

Thieves will also try to “bait” social media users who don’t share XXX content online. Using sex workers’ stolen nudes, they’ll send thirsty DMs in the hopes of receiving naked photos in return. When they do, they’ll screenshot and share.

Telegram isn’t exactly proactive about removing these channels either. Beloved by activists worldwide — from far-right Capitol rioters to Arab Spring protestors — the app is deliberately opaque, and offers encryption to keep everyone’s details totally private. “Sending a support ticket to Telegram can help, but I’ve seen them drop the ball on models who have proof that the content is theirs, and was posted without their permission,” says Rothfield.

There aren’t many avenues for sex workers to protect their content, either. The DMCA — Digital Millennium Copyright Act — offers a paid content protection scheme, which slaps a watermark across a model’s content (OnlyFans also watermarks content automatically) and allows sex workers to file DMCA takedown requests. But this doesn’t deter leakers — what’s a little watermark when you stand to profit off stolen content?

Sex workers also need to know where to send these requests — in other words, where the leak came from. “Many creators have expressed having a hard time knowing who to send the DMCA request to,” Rothfield explains. “It can take over a week to hear back [from Telegram], and more than a few say they never got a response. There are even channels that say the word ‘pirated’ in their name, and they stay up for days, even weeks after being reported.”

Despite all this, sex workers often have to use Telegram to promote and sell content. In 2018, SESTA-FOSTA decimated the filthiest corners of the internet, wiping out sex workers’ advertising platforms and online safety resources. Since then, OnlyFans has come to dominate the marketplace. However, the site has basically no search function — you can’t really “explore” or search for creators — and there are stories of sex workers being booted for sharing “SFS” (shoutout for shoutout) posts to cross-promote with other creators. Telegram — made popular by activists who, just like sex workers, have to be cautious in order to avoid criminalization — is one of their only avenues of promotion.

So it’s quickly become a double-edged sword: Telegram is a hotbed of leaks available to those in the know, but it’s also an important advertising tool for sex workers. Not all paying fans are stealing and selling content, but Rothfield says the Telegram leak situation is a “nightmare” all the same.