Pornhub Facing Consequences for Profiting Off Sexual Exploitation, Sexual Exploitation

Pornhub Removes Most of Its Content

Following accusations of profiting from nonconsensual content, Pornhub has removed over 10 million videos from its site. This monumental change comes days after New York Times’ columnist, Nicholas Kristoff’s exposé alleged that Pornhub’s archive of pornographic material included videos of child abuse and nonconsensual sexual acts. Kristoff reported that Pornhub was profiting from, “child rapes, revenge pornography, spycam videos of women showering, racist and misogynist content, and footage of women being asphyxiated in plastic bags.” Pornhub now claims that only verified content and content created by Pornhub’s partners and members of its adult performer network remain on the site.

Previously, users of the site could easily upload content without consent from the creator or participants. If exploitative material was reported and removed, users were given the option to easily upload and download the videos again. Search algorithms and playlists allowed users to easily search for and find child pornography and violent material. Users were not required to have an account or verify their age before viewing and uploading videos. This recklessness has allowed content depicting child sexual exploitation to remain rampant and profitable.

For Months, Pornhub Knowingly Kept up Videos of Sex-trafficking

On December 15th, 2020, forty women victimized by the pornographic website, GirlsDoPorn, filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the Southern District of California alleging that Pornhub’s parent company, Mindgeek, knowingly continued a partnership with the company after learning about the nonconsensual nature of its content. The lawsuit alleges that Mindgeek continued to profit off the videos, even after charges were filed against GirlsDoPorn for sex-trafficking. Before and during their lawsuit with GirlsDoPorn, the women pleaded for the videos to be taken down. Now they are demanding the money that Mindgeek earned during that time. In total, they are asking for $52 million in damages.

The women involved in the lawsuit against GirlsDoPorn claimed that they were, “forced to perform certain sex acts they had declined to do, or they would not be paid or allowed to leave.” Many reported that they were sexually assaulted, and at least one woman stated that she was raped. The owners of the company, Michael James Pratt and Matthew Isaac Wolfe, were charged with crimes of sex-trafficking by federal prosecutors in the Southern District of California. Some of the videos were still on the site as recently as December 12th, 2020.

Pornhub Only Deleted Content After Facing Financial Implications

Following Kristoff’s article in the New York Times, multiple financial institutions, including Visa and Paypal, stopped processing transactions for the site. Visa even halted all transactions for Mindgeek’s (Pornhub’s parent company) websites. Mindgeek owns several other pornographic websites, including Brazzers, Men.com, and RedTube. After investigating Kristoff’s claims, Mastercard confirmed that the site contained “unlawful content” and also ended payment services for the site. Shortly after, Pornhub announced that it will now be accepting bitcoin and other forms of digital currency as payment for its premium services.

After making the switch to digital currency, it may be even harder to track users of the site. Pornhub has already announced that paying members will still be able to download videos from the site, many of which may still be unlawful. These changes will also take place across all Mindgeek websites and continue to make the company a significant profit. Many of these earnings will still allow Pornhub to profit off victims of sexual exploitation.

Upcoming Changes

Multiple federal senators have come forward and proposed a bill that would allow victims of revenge porn, sexual abuse, and sex trafficking the opportunity to sue pornographic websites featuring illegal content. Until now, the government has loosely regulated the pornographic website industry, allowing the industry to benefit greatly from the exploitation of others. Lax regulations have given websites like Pornhub the ability to continually escape punishment while simultaneously profiting off illegal content. In response to the threat of tightening regulations, Pornhub announced that it will be making several changes to take effect in early 2021.

Starting next year, Pornhub will require verification from all content creators. To post a video, all users must take a picture of themselves holding a sign with their username and the website’s name written on it. This method may still allow nonconsensual material to end up on the site, since the victims in videos are often experiencing abuse. It is unclear if Pornhub will require users to provide additional identification, such as written consent of those who participated in the videos.

Pornhub has also announced that it will continue to work with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to create a Transparency Report detailing its content moderation for the year of 2020. In an attempt to save its image and continue profits, Pornhub stated on its website, “In early 2021, NCMEC will release our total number of reported CSAM [Child Sex Abuse Material] incidents alongside numbers from other major social and content platforms. We will also continue to work with law enforcement globally to report and curb any issues of illegal content.” After making this announcement, Pornhub made the claim that it is the only adult content platform to release a report detailing its content moderation efforts. It also stated, “every piece of content is from verified uploaders, a requirement that platforms like Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, Snapchat, and Twitter have yet to Institute,” making it clear that it believes that its targeted due to the nature of its content.

Pornhub has also recently launched the Trusted Flagger Program, a partnership between the company and over forty nonprofit organizations from around the world. The program intends to help with the moderation process and allow the non-profits the opportunity to flag offensive content for removal. Partners of the program include the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative in the United States, as well as nonprofits in Austria, Taiwan, Sweden, France, Columbia, and several other countries.

The company is also asking for users to report any content that violates their terms of service by flagging it or using the site’s Content Removal Request Form. Regarding the subject, Pornhub stated, “Our policy is to immediately disable any content reported in the Content Removal Request Form for review.” Oftentimes, users are less likely to report child pornography and nonconsensual sexual videos on pornographic websites than other websites or platforms.

In 2021, Pornhub will introduce a new team of moderators to regulate all uploaded content. Currently, the site already has a team of moderators that checks upload to the site. Each moderator is employed to manually review and remove all illegal material. Currently, these moderators also use various technologies to aid in their search, including CSAI Match, a proprietary technology used by YouTube to identify content containing Child Sexual Abuse Imagery. Other technologies, such as Google’s Content Safety API and Microsoft technologies are used find and remove images of child abuse. Moderators also use fingerprinting software provided by Vobile that scans uploaded videos and compares them to banned material to prevent re-uploads. If Pornhub already employs these technologies and employs several moderators to screen and report all its videos, how has so much exploitative content made it through all these different channels?

The Impact of Pornhub on Its Employees

Since Pornhub has come under scrutiny, several former moderators employed by the site have come forward to discuss the site’s lenient video evaluation policies. One moderator alleged that he watched up to 1,200 videos per day. While watching videos, managers told moderators to find excuses to not remove suspicious videos. If users knew that they were uploading prohibited material, they could simply change the title of the video to bypass the relaxed screening process. Moderators also alleged that managers often took too long to report and remove content that was obviously illegal.

Burnout and anxiety attacks were common among staffers as they tried to meet their quota and watch at least 400 videos per day. Regarding the content of the videos, one former employee stated, “At one point we were debating what creatures were OK to be stepped on. Crickets, insects, and crawfish were OK, but not goldfish, because people have goldfish as pets.” The former employee’s statement grossly draws attention to the fact that Pornhub banned videos of goldfish abuse while simultaneously allowing content containing child abuse and rape.

Pornhub Has Consistently Denied Claims of Misconduct

For years, Pornhub has denied the existence of child pornography on its website. Laila Mickelwait with Exodus Cry, an anti-trafficking organization stated that Pornhub profits off the exploitation of the most vulnerable populations. Regarding the victims of these videos, Mickelwait further said, “Not only did they have to go through the experience of being abused and raped as children or as adults, this intentional download button enabled anybody around the world to actually download their worst moments and upload them forevermore to the site, essentially immortalizing their trauma.”

The Lingering Impact Sites Like Pornhub Have on Victims

The impact that these videos can have on a victim’s life is significant. Often, they feel shame and embarrassment and turn to drugs, alcohol, or suicide. Many fear that future employers and family members will discover their secret. Once revealed, the videos are often used to manipulate, exploit, or abuse the victim into committing more nonconsensual sexual acts.

The devastating effects that these videos and photographs have on victims can also be continuous. Some sites even go as far as requiring payment from the victims to have nonconsensual content removed. In 2014, Citron and Franks conducted a study on nonconsensual pornography and reported that out of 1,244 survivors, over 50% of the victims were linked to their pictures by their full names and social media profiles. Oftentimes, women delete all of their social media accounts to avoid harassment.

Websites like Pornhub are aware of the struggle that these women face while attempting to have their attacks removed for the internet. Yet until now, they have refused to acknowledge the effect that these struggles have on the survivors. Now that this issue is brought to light, women can fight and have this extreme invasion of the survivors’ lives resolved. If you or a loved one has been a victim of sites like Pornhub, please contact us today.

Pornhub’s attempts to clean up its image may be too little too late. The trauma and shame that victims of child and nonconsensual pornography feel may never go away. Their ordeal is and forever will be preserved by pornographic websites like Pornhub. As the focus on this issue increases, it is up to the government, corporations, and courts to respond so that victims can get the relief and justice they deserve.