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Pornhub, Censorship and the New York Times

Posted at 15:00 on 27 Dec 2020 by Pandora / Blake



About a week ago, PornHub announced they were banning uploads from unverified users - meaning that only verified performers and content creators signed up to PornHub’s model scheme would be able to upload videos to the site.

In and of itself, this is a fantastic piece of news and something people in the industry have been calling for for a while. PornHub is a huge player, and it’s almost impossible not to engage with it on some level if you sell porn online. This change will go a long way toward ensuring that professional content creators are not in direct competition with people providing free porn (which was often pirated). It will also help massively in reducing the instances of uploads that are not porn so much as they are abuse, such as so-called “revenge porn” and content including people who have not (or could not have) consented. It’s good for performers, who will get paid more; it’s good for consumers, who will see a higher calibre of content; and it’s good for PornHub, who will have a less mammoth task ahead of them in terms of eradicating illegal and immoral uploads.

Or it could have been, anyway.

These changes were implemented as the result of a lengthy and extremely sensationalistic op-ed recently published by the New York Times. XBiz described the article as “emotional pornography”, and I can see their point - it’s extremely emotive, not particularly evidence-based, and ignores some basic facts about the dissemination of content depicting child abuse online. The sad truth is that this content isn’t a porn problem - it’s a people problem. There are more images of child abuse posted on Facebook than there are on PornHub. Anywhere that receives a large amount of potentially anonymous user-generated content (which is to say - the internet) will have to tackle this problem, but for some reason the anti-pornography campaigners never talk about that bit.

So now we get to the real issue: this change in PornHub’s policy isn’t the only impact that article had. Visa and MasterCard also decided to respond to it: they’ve launched an investigation of PornHub, to find out whether or not they are indeed facilitating the publication of illegal pornography. While this investigation is underway, they’ve frozen all card use on the site, both credit and debit. And if Visa and MasterCard both do it, that really is all card use: in much of the world they’re the only two kinds of cards anyone has, and as a result they’re the only two kinds of cards most places will accept.

The real kicker is that PornHub - and Mindgeek, the umbrella company who own them - are not the people most badly affected by this decision. Card payments aren’t their only source of revenue; they make money through affiliate links (when someone clicks through from PornHub to another site and eventually purchases something from that site, PornHub get a cut) and advertising (which they tend to put on pages containing free porn, ensuring those ads get a lot of views and are therefore extremely valuable). They definitely take a hefty cut of the card payments for PornHub Premium, but ultimately those card payments mostly go to pay the content creators, models and performers who publish on the site.

So once again - and as fucking always - it’s the little guys getting screwed over by this, not the massive conglomerate run by people who aren’t exactly broke. (I did have a go, while researching for this post, at finding out the rough net worth of the people who own Mindgeek. It’s not information that’s readily available online, indicating that they’re not on quite the level of the people on the Forbes 1000 or whatever. Still, though, I doubt they’re hurting for cash.)

The most worrying thing this highlights is just how much power Visa and MasterCard have. Whether we like it or not, the internet is operating under an unrecognised and unacknowledged form of global censorship that is outside of any kind of legislative process. It's not possible for any member of the general public anywhere in the world to vote on or influence it, and it's run entirely for the benefit of its own CEOs (and those CEOs really are on the Rich List). At any moment, Visa and Mastercard could effectively destroy the entire porn industry - and there’s nothing we can do about it. All it would take is for a few sensationalistic articles like the one recently published in the NYT to make them decide that they stand to gain more from being seen as anti-porn than they would lose in revenue from porn sites.

This is exacerbated by the fact that it’s not just PornHub affected by this. Other major players in the industry have already made their own changes out of fear that Visa and MasterCard will come for them next: Clips4Sale, for example, have silently deleted a lot of tags and categories that previously saw plenty of use. Some of them make sense: It’s obvious to us that things like ‘forced orgasm’ and ‘forced stripping’ are just roleplay, but I can see why they got the chop - especially as they were removed alongside many other categories including the word ‘forced’. But some are just bizarre - ‘limp dick’? Really? ‘Resting fetish’? Good grief. You can see a full list of the categories deleted here. (I'll confess to getting a small smile out of 'abused shoes' - those poor defenceless shoes!)

I’m all in favour of the recent decision made by PornHub to switch to verified content only, and it’s massively important to me - as a feminist, as a content creator and as a parent - to fight against pornography that is abusive, exploitative and unconsensual. But this isn’t about that. This is about the power held by a tiny number of unchecked companies and individuals over the freedoms of the entire world: sensationalist journalism that happens to be published in the New York Times, and the de-facto lawmakers in banking and billing institutions who can be influenced by it, to destroy hundreds of thousands of livelihoods on a whim.

Links

PornHub's updated Commitment to Trust and Safety 

XBiz: PornHub Removes All Unverified Content 

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Tags: censorship, corporate censorship, freedom, freedom of expression, MindGeek, PornHub, pornocalypse

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