Pornhub’s New Terms

With the proliferation of pornography on the internet comes challenges in regulating sex trafficking, child sexual abuse, and revenge porn. The ease of access to adult content websites and potential anonymity provided to uploaders has resulted in unfettered access to content, some of which is non consensual. 

In a sweeping policy change made on Dec. 13, Pornhub decided to remove all unverified content from its site, purging nearly 80 percent of its videos. 

According to its search bar, 2.9 million videos remain on the site compared to 13.5 million prior to the update. The site banned all unverified users from uploading and downloading content and expanded efforts to moderate copyrighted and abusive videos and images.  

“At Pornhub, nothing is more important than the safety of our community,” according to a statement from the site.“Our core values such as inclusivity, freedom of expression and privacy are only possible when our platform is trusted by our users. This is why we have always been committed to eliminating illegal content, including non-consensual material and child sexual abuse material (CSAM).”

Only verified users and members of the site’s Model Program can now add images and videos to Pornhub. The verification process used to require taking a selfie with your username and written on a piece of paper. Going through the verification process makes a user eligible for the model program and content monetization. A more thorough verification process for users is set to be implemented in 2021 but Pornhub has yet to release what that will entail, according to the statement. 

The change comes after both porn performers and anti-trafficking activists called for greater moderation on the site. Before, any user could make a free account and upload images and videos without verification. Abusive or illegal content could remain on the site until a takedown notice was filed. The new policy changes look to both stop abusive and non consensual content onto the site as well as content piracy. 

Another statement released by Pornhub on the policy update claimed that campaigns against the site are primarily motivated by their objection to pornography and commercial sex work not concerns over abuse. The statement pointed to a report filed by the Internet Watch Foundation that found 118 instances of child sexual abuse on Pornhub in the last three years compared to 84 million on Facebook in the same period of time. 

“It is clear that Pornhub is being targeted not because of our policies and how we compare to our peers, but because we are an adult content platform,” read the statement. 

A petition to eliminate Pornhub altogether was drafted in early 2020 by Exodus Cry, an anti-trafficking organization. The group opposes commercial sex entirely, including pornography as well as any legislation that legitimizes sex work. The group cites the end of pornography as a key component to ending sex trafficking and prostitution. Exodus Cry claims to be non-religious and non-partisan but has argues that the struggle against sex trafficking is a spiritual one with a dedicated prayer section on its site.  

Exodus Cry has been criticized for its anti-sex work and anti-LGBTQ+ platforms that reinforce the notion that sex work is inherently victimizing. 

Mastercard and Visa Cut Ties 

Just a few days before the content purge, both Visa and Mastercard announced they would suspend processing payments to Pornhub amid investigations of illegal activity, namely CSAM. Visa more specifically said it would cut ties with the entire Mindgeek network, the parent company of Pornhub that also owns Redtube, YouPorn, XTube and Brazzers. 

In the New York Times podcast “Sway,” Mastercard’s chief executive Ajay Banga said that the decision to suspend payment processing is entirely a legal issue and not a moral judgement of the adult content on Pornhub.

The decision came following an opinion piece published in the Times that followed accounts of child sexual abuse posted to Pornhub. 

“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,” wrote Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff. 

The exposé referred to the Exodus Cry petition as an indicator that concern about Pornhub was “bubbling up” but made no mention of the group’s anti-sex work platform or its critics. 

Effects on Sex Workers, Performers and Models  

While banning unverified content and developing a more robust moderation process has long been advocated for by performers and anti-trafficking advocates, the implications of the Visa and Mastercard suspension threatens the livelihoods of many sex workers and performers, for whom Pornhub is their primary source of income. 

An online platform allows sex workers to both foster community with other sex workers and to self-employ, thus avoiding agencies or handlers that can be exploitative. There can also be more vetting online with shared blacklists for dangerous clients. An online space for sex workers is especially key in a pandemic when in-person sessions risk health and safety. 

Because buying and selling sex in the United States is illegal, with the exception of some counties in Nevada, stricter regulations both online and in physical spaces doesn’t end sex work or the trafficking and abuse that some experience but only pushes it into more clandestine and remote corners. 

Those who do sexual labor either by choice, their circumstance or by coercion need legislative protection not greater regulations that push sex trades further underground where the potential for abuse and violence becomes much higher, according to a 2020 recommendation by the ACLU.

Although Pornhub’s new moderation policy establishes a promising step in underscoring the importance of consent on its platform, issues with sex work regulation still lie in a lack of legislative support and recognition. For sex workers to have adequate protections, organizations like the ACLU, the World Health Organization and Amnesty International recommend fully decriminalizing the practice of the sex trade to offer more avenues for reporting abuse and coercion.