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Pornhub removes millions of videos after investigation finds child abuse content

Pornhub has just removed millions of videos—more than 9 million—after an investigation revealed a large number of them featured underaged and sex-trafficked subjects. What first led to this purge and what part did the pornographic video-sharing platform play in this?

In July 2020, Pornhub, the world’s biggest porn site, made headlines while facing accusations of promoting violence against women and sex trafficking on its platform. Shortly after, a petition was launched with the aim of shutting down the website and holding its executives accountable for “aiding trafficking.”

Fast forward to 4 December, when The New York Times posted the in-depth article The Children of Pornhub which further highlighted Pornhub’s profit off videos of exploitation and assault. This not only caused the credit companies Visa and Mastercard to cut ties with the Pornhub and all related websites, but it also forced the platform to prohibit unverified users from posting new content.

However, only restricting the posting options for unverified users wasn’t enough, which is why Pornhub had to remove content previously uploaded by unverified users too. In a blog post announcing the changes, Pornhub wrote, “This means every piece of Pornhub content is from verified uploaders, a requirement that platforms like Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, Snapchat and Twitter have yet to institute. At Pornhub, the safety of our community is our top priority.”

By Monday 14 December, the purge had already brought the total number of videos on the site down from 13 million to just 4 million, a Vice report found. As crucial as it was for Pornhub to take action against the overwhelming amount of content including child rapes, revenge pornography, racist and misogynist content, and more on its platform, the purge may pose a significant threat to sex workers who use the platform’s sales as a source of income.

Until now, anyone could upload videos on Pornhub. From today, only verified users can do so, but to become ‘verified’, users are required to submit a photo of themselves holding a piece of paper with their username. This process takes time, and for sex workers who have already been struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic, the news is “crushing,” says Pornhub.

The platform also banned downloads in order to slow down the sharing of non-consensual videos and made some key expansions to its moderation process by launching a trusted flagger programme with dozens of non-profit organisations.

Although the company acknowledged the severity of the accusations, it also highlighted the fact that the campaign to crackdown on Pornhub comes from groups that have long campaigned against sex content of all kinds. In its statement, Pornhub said it is “being targeted not because of our policies and how we compare to our peers, but because we are an adult content platform.”

According to The Guardian, the groups spearheading the effort to police Pornhub include the anti-pornography groups the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, which was formerly known as Morality in Media, and Exodus Cry/TraffickingHub.

Pornhub was previously criticised for continuing to host videos by the amateur porn specialist GirlsDoPorn, a company that offered girls being featured in porn “for the first and only time”, even after a court in San Diego heard evidence that the videos were made using dishonesty and abuse. The official GirlsDoPorn page was not removed until October 2020, although the court began hearing evidence in August. Its videos were still being found on the platform months later.

To put things into perspective, “In the last three years, Facebook self-reported 84 million instances of child sexual abuse material. During that same period, the independent, third-party Internet Watch Foundation reported 118 incidents on Pornhub,” reports The Guardian. Pornhub came first, perhaps now it’s time for Facebook and YouTube to be held accountable?

New petition exposes Pornhub as sex trafficking hub

Pornhub, the world’s biggest porn site, has made headlines again as it faces accusations of promoting violence against women and sex trafficking on its platform. A petition has been launched with the aim of shutting down Pornhub and holding its executives accountable for “aiding trafficking.” And while dismantling a porn empire the size of Pornhub might seem like a far-fetched undertaking, the petition and affiliated campaign have already caused quite a stir, generating a worldwide debate over the company’s criminal dealings.

Is Pornhub promoting sex trafficking?

Pornhub has gotten itself a fairly mixed reputation over the years. Through its philanthropic arm—Pornhub Cares—and a handful of other initiatives, the porn giant has been involved in supporting artistic enterprises, providing scholarships, promoting sex education, and even partaking in the fight to preserve the oceans. But trailing behind its list of philanthropic endeavours is a swelling record of instances in which Pornhub has placed profit over human rights.

The petition, launched by the #Traffickinghub campaign, is accusing Pornhub’s parent company, Mindgeek, of failing to adequately regulate content uploaded to its websites and featuring non-consensual videos depicting rape and abuse of women, many of whom are trafficked underaged girls.

Based in Luxemburg with offices in Canada, Cyprus, the UK and the US, Mindgeek reigns supreme in the porn streaming landscape, owning not only Pornhub but a slew of other streaming websites (such as YouPorn) and porn production companies. Pornhub alone boasts a stupefying annual average of 42 billion visits and 6 million video uploads. While the company is adamant that it maintains “a steadfast commitment to eradicating and fighting non-consensual content and under-age material,” as it told The Guardian, the fact remains that such content continues to plague its platforms and that its removal, if occurring at all, is disturbingly slow.

Is Pornhub promoting child rape and abuse?

Back in 2019, the Internet Watch Foundation identified 118 different cases of child rape and abuse on Pornhub. A subsequent investigation by The Times in November of that year confirmed that Pornhub is “flooded with illegal content,” indicating that if found dozens of child abuse videos and pictures on the website, some featuring victims as young as three years old. Pornhub’s insistence that it bans content featuring minors is baffling, as The Times reported that some of the videos amassed over 350,000 views and were present on the site for over three years.

Shortly before The Times investigation was published, reports came out about a case in which a 15-year-old girl who had been missing for over a year was found, after her mother was alerted that 58 videos of her daughter’s rape and sexual abuse were uploaded to Pornhub by her trafficker.

What happened to Rose Kalemba?

Then in February 2020, a BBC story broke about a 14-year-old Rose Kalemba from Ohio who was raped and sexually abused at knifepoint for twelve hours and discovered later on that her assault had been videotaped and uploaded to Pornhub. Kalemba had reportedly pleaded with Pornhub to remove the videos of her assault from the website; the company only did so after several months, when Kalemba submitted a letter from a lawyer threatening to take legal action against them.

Pornhub’s facilitation of rape and trafficking has also made headlines in 2018 when it continued to feature videos by the private label GirlsDoPorn after 22 women sued them for deceiving and coercing them into performing sexual act on camera and uploading it to Pornhub.

This is a company that is generating millions in advertising and membership revenue and yet they do not have an effective system in place to verify reliably the age or consent of those featured in the pornographic content it hosts,” said Laila Mickelwait, founder of #Traffickinghub and the anti-trafficking organisation Exodus Cry, in an interview for The Guardian.

In her petition, Mickelwait emphasises how alarmingly easy it is to upload content to Pornhub, and calls for the shutdown of Pornhub and the prosecution of its CEO Feras Antoon and COO David Tassillo for their complicity in the trafficking of women and minors. The petition has already garnered over 1,339,000 signatures.

The accusations made against Pornhub are hardly surprising considering the company is part of an industry infamous for its abusive practices and utter disregard for human rights. Mickelwait’s petition, as well as the growing evidence brought to light by victims coming forward, should compel governments throughout the world to enact proper regulations over porn content as part of a larger effort to crack down on sex trafficking and sexual abuse, and hold facilitators such as Antoon and Tassillo accountable for their crimes.

It should also serve as yet another reason for us to take a hard look at the ravages caused by a culture and an economic system placing monetary gains above all else.

Finally, let’s make one thing clear: allowing platforms such as Pornhub to run content without any form of supervision isn’t promoting “legitimate fantasies protected by freedom of speech,” as the company claims; it is a cruel and oppressive preying on the vulnerability of victims and a detrimental impediment to the fight for women’s rights and well-being.