A petition is underway against the tube site Pornhub for hosting videos of sexual abuse. At first glance, this seems unquestionably reasonable: After all, Pornhub has received repeated criticism for reportedly hosting videos filmed without consent—specifically, undercover camera footage, coercively filmed clips, and videos of rape. As the Guardian reports today, the petition has garnered over 350,000 signatures and centers on “the perceived insufficiency of the company’s safeguarding checks” on user uploads, an issue Jezebel previously raised.
What the Guardian does not mention is that the petition against Pornhub is aimed at shutting down the site and was launched by Exodus Cry, a group devoted to the abolition of sex work. The petition itself links to TraffickingHub.com, a site dedicated to closing the tube site, and which prominently quotes Gail Dines, the most visible of today’s anti-porn activists. Contrary to the site’s claims, this is not a “nonpartisan” petition, but rather an abolitionist project with an emotionally persuasive rallying cry.
Of course, this does not mean that Pornhub, which is owned by Mindgeek, the tube-site behemoth gobbling up the adult industry, is without fault. Last summer, Pornhub continued to work with, and failed to contain the spread of videos from, Girls Do Porn, an amateur porn company sued for abusive filming practices, as Samantha Cole at Vice has tirelessly reported. In the fall, videos of the rape of a missing teenager were reportedly found on the site. Soon after, it was revealed that the site had hosted undercover locker room videos shot at South Carolina’s Limestone College, which it only removed after the involvement of law enforcement. Earlier this year, the BBC reported that Pornhub hosted videos of a 14-year-old’s rape and was slow to respond to takedown requests.
Although the site previously told Jezebel that it has a “dedicated team of human reviewers,” it heavily relies on community flagging as a defense against nonconsensual content. This is inherent to the design of sites like Pornhub which thrive off of quick and easy user uploads. The upshot is that a nonconsensual clip might not be recognized as such until just the right person sees it. In the case of those Limestone College videos, it was a “concerned parent” who apparently recognized the locker room in question and alerted authorities. Beyond the problem of recognition, even, Pornhub has reportedly been far from expedient in responding to legitimate complaints. In the case of Girls Do Porn, the site waited until a federal indictment to cease hosting the amateur company’s page. Pornhub has a major existential problem on its hands.
Yet the involvement of Exodus Cry and Trafficking Hub should sound an alarm about the integrity of this particular petition. We have seen, time and again, how anti-trafficking, abolitionist groups claim to be interested in protecting women and children while impinging on sex workers’ rights and consequently making the work more dangerous. Case most dramatically in point: FOSTA/SESTA, a bill purportedly designed to prevent sex trafficking, but which predictably led to the shut down of sites used to safely screen clients and continues to imperil sex workers to this day. This mirrors the contemporary anti-porn movement, which increasingly emphasizes, with questionable evidence, a “public health crisis” over more traditional moral messaging. These insidious, manipulative ploys make it more difficult to reasonably and factually address legitimate issues relating to porn and sex work. You might note: The petition is not interested in pushing Pornhub to remedy its business practices, but rather to shut it down entirely. Luckily, it’s possible to reject both Pornhub’s worst practices and the political motivations behind this petition.
Update, 3:14 p.m.: In a statement to Jezebel, Pornhub said the site “has a steadfast commitment to eradicating and fighting any and all illegal content on the internet, including non-consensual content and under-age material.” The site further stated that its average response time to non-consensual video complaints is under eight hours.