Pornhub: Reckless Website or Criminal Enterprise?

It's time to for action

Welcome back Chaise Lounge Readers! This will be the final post for 2020. I wish you all a peaceful and healthy holiday season and will see you in 2021. Boy, that feels great just to type!

Today’s post was difficult to research and write, but when I read the Nicholas Kristof piece that kicked off the changes in Pornhub, I knew that I needed to know more. His piece was very upsetting, but I am so glad that he brought this issue to light. It is my hope that this article will get many of you to call and write your Congressional Representatives to make changes in the Communications Decency Act or whatever other calls to action your choose.

Before we dive in, I thought that I would share this great video that the New York Times posted about women and menopause. You may recall the post I wrote a few weeks ago, and I thought this video captured these women’s experiences beautifully. Clearly, we all need more education on this important phase in a woman’s life.

When I was a middle school teacher, each year we had an instance of a girl who had a crush on a boy and sent him a topless photo at his request. The girl always regretted it because every single time that photo would get shared around with the other boys. The girls just did not understand the ramifications of doing so, no matter how many times they were told that the internet is forever. At least for now, thanks to Nicholas Kristof, they don’t have to worry about their photo being uploaded to Pornhub. 

If you haven’t read Kristof’s piece in the New York Times, I suggest you do so soon. He tells the stories of several girls whose lives were ruined by the relentlessness of videos of their rapes being posted and reposted on Pornhub. The pictures and videos have haunted them into their adult lives. The stories are not only heartbreaking because the events were so heinous, but because the women are constantly retraumatized by the videos. Can you imagine if someone recognized you from watching a video of your rape? It’s just unthinkable. How do you heal from a terrible trauma that continues in cyberspace? 

Pornhub has bypassed any responsibility for the content on their website. What rules they do have are not enforced leaving millions of videos of young girls and boys being abused and raped up on the site. Many of these videos are of young people who are being trafficked. And users can download the videos, so even if Pornhub decides to delete a video, it can be uploaded again and again and again.

While there have been efforts and petitions to get the site to take down content that has ruined many a person’s life, nothing of any significance has happened until now. Since the publication of Kristof’s article, the pressure on Pornhub to do something increased exponentially. Between Sunday and Monday, Pornhub pulled over 10 million unverified videos from the site that were uploaded by users. That’s over 80% of the videos that were on the site beforehand. Of course, it took the pressure of money to get Pornhub to do this. Visa and Mastercard cut off payment processing last Thursday after they found illegal videos on the site. 

The fact that Pornhub has been able to get away with hosting the videos of known criminal activity with the nonchalance of a bully who has just beaten up yet another nerd, shows us exactly who matters in our society and who does not. The legal protection that this company enjoys is unconscionable. It would be one thing if there was even one bit of believability to their claims of taking care not to host illegal pornography of children and rape victims. But with only a couple of hundred people looking at the uploads that number in the hundreds of thousands each day, there is no way they can keep up with the flow of videos. And when women like Rose K writes to the website begging that the filming of her rape when she was 14 years old be taken down and it is not, we understand that the company simply does not care. They make money off these videos, and that is what matters to them. 

Pornhub’s parent company, MindGeek, owns several other porn hosting sites and has not pulled videos from them. Pornhub claims that they are making significant changes to a user’s ability to upload videos through a certification process, but who knows how robust that will really be? Until they are held legally liable for hosting these videos, it is more likely that they will go the path of least resistance. 

The Communication Decency Act of 1996 (CDA), 47 USC Section 230, gives internet-based companies “safe harbor” from liability based on the content that their users post. While it is understandable that sites cannot be responsible for everything that is posted, sites like Pornhub can put into place procedures that can reduce the likelihood of illegal videos showing up. Until now, Pornhub has not done so in any meaningful way. It is likely, that once the spotlight is off the site in the next news cycle, we will see illegal porn pop up on the site again. Without the serious threat of litigation, Pornhub and sites like it will continue to profit off the worst day of a person’s life over and over. 

In 2018, Congress passed an amendment to the CDA Section 230 removing immunity for online platforms promoting illegal sex trafficking through ads. This was in response to civil lawsuits brought against backpage.com, a site where individuals could post ads for sex with minors. As a result, many other sites chose to just take down any personal ads to avoid possible litigation.

I personally know a man who served a couple of years of jail time for having child pornography on his computer. I have no idea where he got it, but if he can go to jail (as he should) for possessing child pornography, why is the host of the illegal pornography off the hook legally? A question that needs an answer, now! It is time to put pressure on every member of Congress to take this issue seriously and act. 

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