The Corner

Law & the Courts

Pornhub’s New PR Problem

Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times recently highlighted the fact that sexual-assault videos and other horrifying material — “child rapes, revenge pornography, spy cam videos of women showering, racist and misogynist content, and footage of women being asphyxiated in plastic bags” — could be found on Pornhub.

How does that happen on a major (and respected, as far as such things go) adult site? Well, Pornhub is a “tube” site: like YouTube, except for porn. Users upload their own footage for public display, and the law does not require the site to independently verify that the videos were obtained consensually. 

Pornhub insisted to the Times that it “is unequivocally committed to combating child sexual abuse material, and has instituted a comprehensive, industry-leading trust and safety policy to identify and eradicate illegal material from our community.” As Kristof notes, however, when any random person can upload a sex video, it can be hard to tell who is a minor and which videos feature real sexual assaults as opposed to acting. To make things even more difficult, one source tells Kristof that MindGeek, Pornhub’s parent company, employs about 80 moderators, yet Pornhub posts more than a million hours’ worth of video per year.

Since the exposé, the site has vowed to make a series of changes, including accepting material only from verified users. Yes, it took until 2020 for one of the world’s biggest porn brands to decide it would like to know the names of the people putting sex tapes on its site. It will also end downloads (so users can’t save videos that are later removed) and expand its efforts to flag illegal material.

And now a bipartisan group of senators is stepping up with a new bill. It would require porn sites to set up a system through which victims could demand videos be taken down, and also punish sites that knowingly host nonconsensual content, both through criminal penalties and by allowing victims to sue. I’m not sure how big of a blow that would be to Pornhub, especially if it implements its voluntary reforms in good faith, but it would hammer any site that failed to remove videos it knew shouldn’t be up.

I’m hardly an anti-porn crusader. But would it be crazy to require sites that deliberately host porn to verify, in advance, that everyone is of age in the videos they run, the same way we already do for the companies that produce porn? Frankly, if that’s in tension with Pornhub’s “hey everyone, post sex videos here!” business model or the courts’ current gloss on the Constitution, it’s the latter two things that should change.

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