CEASE response to resignation of Pornhub executives

The CEO and COO of Pornhub/ Mindgeek have just resigned. This is just days after the New Yorker 8000 word investigation exposing them for hosting and distributing child abuse, rape and nonconsensual content for years.

The article reminds us that this is about the injustice of lives that have been devastated by Pornhub’s lack of safeguards. What to Pornhub are merely bytes of “content” valuable because of generating user engagement are to victims videos that trigger a sequel of life-altering events, often ending in depression, PTSD and vulnerability to further exploitation.

The porn industry has been one of the most successful at exploiting the money-making potential of tube-sites, which have mushroomed under the protective shadow of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act which makes them legally immune for the content of the videos they host. Where liability is low and money is high, it’s no surprise that these sites should have boomed. 

But there are early signs that the boom years are coming to a close. Finally, the reality of the damage being wrecked by videos depicting rape, sexual images of children, and image-based sexual abuse is becoming ever harder for porn sites to shake off and ignore. Dozens of lawsuits are being filed against Mindgeek and, as the New Yorker article points out, these legal cases “may test the limits of Section 230 protections”. 

Already, the 2021 New York Times expose of Pornhub, which came on the back of the massive global Traffickinghub campaign, led Visa and Mastercard to withdraw their payment services from Pornhub. This forced it to make radical changes to the way that it operated, removing all user-generated content (some 10 million videos) and commissioning an assessment by the law firm Kaplan, Hecker & Fink which lay out “more than ninety recommendations of ways for the company to improve its procedures for keeping nonconsensual videos off Pornhub and its other sites.”

It seems impossible now that Mindgeek can go back to the way things used to be. The cost of being a market leader has been the cost of bearing the weight of responsibility for the criminality of the industry. 

Aside from launching scathing attacks on its critics, Mindgeek’s defence seems largely centred on pointing the finger at other sites. It’s true that, as the biggest, most popular porn site in the world (and one which made a point of trying to go mainstream, with billboards in Times Square and a range of merch), Pornhub was singled out by campaigners. Interestingly, the New Yorker article reports that according to a corporate presentation reviewed by Canadian tech-news site, Logic, “Pornhub’s traffic declined by forty per cent in the year after the Kristof column [in the New York Times] was published.” Was this because of Pornhub’s reputational damage? Or was it because Pornhub removed so much of its content, including the most dubious and extreme? 

The sad fact is that, dulled by the unlimited menu of free porn, users’ changing tastes, combined with fiercely competitive forces in an unregulated marketplace, have meant that illegal and extreme content is often popular and profitable. So porn sites that take safeguarding seriously and filter out the very worst of their content face losing out to the competition. 

This is already happening. It’s why self-regulation will never work, and why governments have to step up and introduce minimum standards that apply across the board.

Like Visa and Mastercard, we’re asking that the UK government supports laws that mandate age and consent checks for all those who feature in pornographic content. This will cut off illegal content at source.

We’re also fighting for the BBFC’s classification standard for R18 content to be introduced into the online world, in order to prevent sites from hosting vidoes including depictions of sexual violence, material that promotes an interest in abusive relationships such as incest, and acts likely to cause serious physical harm such as breath restriction or strangulation.

Such regulations are fundamental, not radical.  Every other industry is regulated- why not online pornography? We’ve somehow become used to the idea that this should be a “Wild West” in the name of free speech and sexual emancipation. But in the light of mounting evidence of its irrefutable, far-reaching harms, it’s high time we demand change.