OnlyFans has exploded in popularity during the pandemic. A content-subscription platform that allows influencers and content creators to monetize their content, OnlyFans is primarily used by sex workers, who post racy content on their feeds in exchange for a monthly subscriber fee. The platform has grown exponentially over the past nine months, at one point seeing a 75-percent increase in signups, and many users have turned to the platform as a way to make ends meet. One of those people was Lauren Kwei, 23, a New York-based paramedic who had turned to posting semi-racy content on the platform to supplement her income. She also reportedly worked as a hostess at a Korean restaurant, meaning that, like many Americans, she juggled multiple jobs in order to eke out a living.
Instead of applauding her for her entrepreneurial spirit, however, or clucking over what a dismal reflection of the capitalistic economy it is that a health-care worker needs to hold three jobs during a pandemic, New York Post reporters Susan Edelman and Dean Balsamini decided to dox Kwei, possibly putting her job as a health care worker at risk and sparking massive uproar on social media.
The story, headlined, “NYC medic helped ‘make ends meet’ with racy OnlyFans side gig,” states that Kwei “was not secretive about her online exploits” and had the audacity to include her last name in her social profile. After she was contacted by the Post, she deleted some photos on her OnlyFans page, which she told the Post she took “down in the hopes that I won’t lose my job in the middle of a pandemic and three weeks before Christmas,” adding that her employer SeniorCare had asked to meet with her after being contacted by the Post. (On a GoFundMe page set up for her, Kwei later wrote she was meeting with SeniorCare today to discuss the status of her employment. A representative for SeniorCare later told the Daily Beast that it was not planning to terminate Kwei’s employment.)
As OnlyFans has increased in popularity, it is not uncommon for tabloids to run stories about people in non-sex worker fields turning to the platform to help make ends meet. (It is also not uncommon for healthcare professionals in particular to start an OnlyFans due to the dismal pay associated with the profession, as BuzzFeed previously reported.) In April, an Indianapolis mechanic was fired from her job after her employer discovered she had an OnlyFans, a story that went viral after she tweeted about it.
On her GoFundMe page, Kwei summarized some of the context behind the article. She said she had started an OnlyFans to support herself during the pandemic. “I did not ask my parents for help because I’m adult and wanted to make my own money. I never once spoke of my pictures at work or used my job as a paramedic to solicit subscribers. I know I did nothing wrong and I have nothing to be ashamed of,” she writes.
Kwei also claims in her post that at the time the New York Post contacted her, she had moved down to her hometown in West Virginia to help her father after he suffered a heart attack. She also alleges that Balsamini called her employer and her mother to inform them that she had an OnlyFans while he was reporting out the story. “Most of the quotes in that article are me defending myself to this reporter. He did not include that I begged him to remain anonymous (which was never agreed to) and that I told him my safety and job were going to be at risk if he posted this article,” she writes. “He truly did not care.” (Kwei and Amanda Tr, who is listed as the creator of the GoFundMe, did not immediately return requests for comment.) She wrote she started the GoFundMe after posting to First Responderinos, a Facebook group for fans of the podcast My Favorite Murder, and being inundated with shows of support and requests for donations.
On social media, the New York Post story attracted widespread opprobrium, including from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who tweeted, “Leave her alone. The actual scandalous headline here is ‘Medics in the United States need two jobs to survive.'” This opinion was echoed by commenters on Kwei’s GoFundMe, which has raised more than $23,000 as of press time. “The fact that a healthcare worker needs a second job when a pandemic is ongoing is a scandal,” says one donor. “What kind of job they take isn’t.”
Correction Mon. Dec. 14, 2020: A version of this story contained a misspelling of Lauren Kwei’s name.