Pornhub announces new measures following exposé

11 December 2020

UPDATE: on Monday 14 December Pornhub removed all videos from unverified users, this totals c. 10m videos. Pornhub stressed that they have suspended the videos and not deleted them, pending updates in their verification process in the new year. This is considered a major win for anti-trafficking groups, though, as detailed in the article below, does not necessarily go far enough. Groups such as Traffickinghub are continuing to call for damages for victims.

Ben John comments on new restrictions announced by Pornhub on uploads to its service after a New York Times investigation.

On 4 December, Pulitzer prize winning journalist Nicholas Kristof published in the New York Times an article ‘The Children of Pornhub’. In it, Kristof writes:

“Pornhub prides itself on being the cheery, winking face of naughty, the website that buys a billboard in Times Square and provides snow plows to clear Boston streets. It donates to organizations fighting for racial equality and offers steamy content free to get people through Covid-19 shutdowns.

“Yet there’s another side of the company: Its site is infested with rape videos. It monetizes child rapes, revenge pornography, spy cam videos of women showering, racist and misogynist content, and footage of women being asphyxiated in plastic bags. A search for “girls under18” (no space) or “14yo” leads in each case to more than 100,000 videos. Most aren’t of children being assaulted, but too many are.”

He goes on to detail some of the horrible and heart-breaking testimonies of teenagers who were abused or who sent what they thought were private images and videos to boys to find them uploaded to Pornhub.

This, however, is not new. Organisations like CEASE UK and Trafficking Hub have been calling for greater scrutiny of Pornhub for several years, and in 2019 the Sunday Times published an investigation highlighting the videos of abuse. A petition calling for Pornhub to be shut down currently has over 2 million signatories. Earlier this year, I wrote about the problems with Pornhub and why I joined the anti-Pornhub protest on the International Day of Non-Violence on 2 October this year.

Changes are being made

Encouragingly, since the NYT article was published, Pornhub has announced a number of restrictions. Including, allowing uploads only from verified users, no downloads, and improvements in moderation.

Laila Micklewait, founder of Traffickinghub, described the announcement as “a huge win for the movement” but noted that, “however we need reliable implementation, apologies to victims, restitution for victims & more.”

CEASE UK welcomed the announcement with a “cautious optimism”, noting “major steps in the right direction” but ultimately saying that the measures “still fall short of what’s necessary to ensure that the site is absolutely free from illegal and non-consensual content.”

This has been followed with commercial and corporate boycotts of Pornhub. Mastercard has announced that they have cut their financial links with Pornhub after completing their own investigation, saying: “Our investigation over the past several days has confirmed violations of our standards prohibiting unlawful content on their site… [therefore] we instructed the financial institutions that connect the site to our network to terminate acceptance.”

Visa has also suspended its service to Pornhub pending their own investigation.

It is important this cultural and commercial pressure is supported by political pressure. Whilst reform is welcome, we want to see sanctions placed on Pornhub for its negligence in dealing with the horrific content on its website. Additionally, we should call for stricter and proactive regulation, currently there are no adult verification tools in place to confirm the ages of those in the videos, and, of course, pornography is still widely consumed by under-18s. Plans to bring in age verification for pornography were dropped by the government, but there are still calls by some MPs to bring them in in order to protect our children.

Arnold Viersen MP in Canada (where Pornhub is based) tweeted:

We must pray that this pressure leads to action against Pornhub.

Consent is not enough

Kristof writes:

The issue is not pornography but rape. Let’s agree that promoting assaults on children or on anyone without consent is unconscionable. The problem with Bill Cosby or Harvey Weinstein or Jeffrey Epstein was not the sex but the lack of consent — and so it is with Pornhub.

Whilst well intentioned, consent is never enough. Sin is sin whether consensual or not, and we must be careful not to fall into a mindset that misunderstands the connections. Naomi Miles of CEASE UK has written on the inherent connections between trafficking, prostitution and pornography.

She writes:

“Pornography is just prostitution with a camera rolling. The dawn of the internet has led to an explosion in online pornography, thus bringing prostitution to the masses. In prostitution and sex trafficking, those selling sex are objectified, dehumanised and vulnerable. It’s no different in pornography, where women are exposed, stark naked for the sexual arousal and gratification of a potential global audience of millions on anonymous, voyeuristic onlookers who care nothing for their dignity, humanity or well-being.

“As with prostitution, pornography is justified by the assumption that watching porn doesn’t hurt anyone and those who feature in porn videos are acting out of free choice. But these assumptions are ill-founded; there’s mounting evidence that in the vast and largely unregulated world of online pornography, sex trafficking, coercion, violence and abuse are rampant.

The reality is that sex trafficking, pornography and prostitution are inherently interconnected. Human trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation is the fruit born of the commercial sex industry, which is deeply rooted within the fertile soil of sexual objectification. We cannot hope to end sex trafficking without uprooting the entire structure.

We must continue to call on action against Pornhub, but we must be careful that we don’t do it with faulty assumptions that misunderstand the distortive impact of pornography on society, whether consensual or non-consensual. There certainly should be anger and indignation at trafficking, sexual abuse and rape, but have we stopped to think that ‘normal’ porn, which is prostitution, and fornication are already normalised and celebrated in our society? Or do we turn a blind because of ‘consent’? Consent as the authority for morality is what campaigners use to promote all kinds of issues, from pornography and prostitution to assisted suicide and euthanasia. We need to be bold in applying God’s word and truth to all of life and reality, rather than using secular and humanistic models of morality.

We must have a bigger vision for cultural transformation and reformation, that has a better story of hope, love and sex than that is what offered by the world.

As we read in 1 Corinthians 6:18-20 (ESV):

“Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”

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