Pornhub are not the good guys

Pornhub are not the good guys
Empty reform — After news that Pornhub has deleted 80 per cent of its content, attorney Dr Ann Olivarius argues that this move does not go far enough and that governments must act now to prevent online image abuse.

This week, Pornhub announced that it has taken the unprecedented step of removing millions of user-uploaded videos – around 80 per cent of its content. The decision came in response to Mastercard and Visa cutting ties with the adult video giant, following a New York Times investigation earlier this month claiming that Pornhub was hosting non-consensual and child abuse content on its website. 

In a move that activists and the tens of thousands of victims of image-based abuse have long been calling for, Pornhub announced that it will now permit only ‘verified’ models to appear in videos uploaded by users. 

As an attorney who devotes much of my practice to fighting the plague of image-based abuse, I agree with this decision – but I can’t bring myself to applaud Pornhub. Taking basic steps to prevent harm should be expected and mandated, not celebrated. Companies must do more, and if they won’t, governments must step in. 

Years of peer-reviewed research shows that victims suffer brutal psychological harm from intimate image abuse.  That is why victims and their advocates have fought to make commercial porn sites stop uploading non-consensual content. Mostly we have been ignored. The global porn industry fights bitterly against any restrictions against their profiteering from rape and abuse. The only reason Pornhub took this overdue step is that finally, they were hit where it hurts – in their wallets.  

And it may just be a tactical retreat.  Pornhub is only one branch of the global behemoth of pornography, MindGeek, which also owns RedTube, YouPorn and many more.  Those subsidiaries have made no pledge to remove unverified content, so what is driven off Pornhub may just end up in a new part of the MindGeek empire. 

Pornhub’s announcement allows it to market itself as the “good guy” of porn, praising itself for having “the most comprehensive safeguards in user-generated platform history,” while its parent company and the industry at large, including even bigger platforms like XVideos, continue to profit from abuse.

Instead of praising PornHub, let’s bury non-consensual image abuse once and for all. Let’s force MindGeek, WGCZ Holdings (owner of XVideos) and all other porn suppliers to put harm prevention before exploitative profit.  

First, we need national legislation across the globe mandating that pornography websites verify that all those depicted in their images give full legal consent – which means, of course, that they are of age. Porn websites should no longer be granted immunity via legislation like Section 230 from the consequences of hosting illegal material. 

We also need an international enforcement body so that law firms like my own, when contacted by distraught victims, no longer find it almost impossible to effectively cross national borders to punish perpetrators. 

And, we need to change the narrative. The porn industry likes to claim it is a liberal bastion, defending people’s right to sexual pleasure against supposed anti-sex activists. Pornhub’s statement used this argument, comparing the fight for unverified porn to those for women’s and LGBTQ+ rights.  In truth, the porn industry defends only its own revenues.  Sex involves consent. When there is no consent, there is no sex, only rape and violence. Confusing the two is exactly the fallacy that Pornhub seeks the public and lawmakers to accept.  

Image-based abuse is disproportionately targeted at women, LGBTQ+ people and children. It is grossly cynical for Pornhub to try to ally itself with liberal causes as a beacon of erotic freedom.

So long as any porn company allows users to upload underage sex – which is called child rape – and intimate videos of adults having sex posted without consent, which is a different form of violence, the company can never legitimately speak for sexual liberation. Only through legally mandated and verifiable consent can porn websites claim to offer cybersex rather than cyberrape.

Dr Ann Olivarius is a senior partner at McAllister Olivarius. Follow her on Twitter.

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