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What’s Going On with Pornhub? A Simplified Timeline of Events

In case you missed it, there’s been a lot going on with one of the world’s largest porn sites, Pornhub, owned by the world’s largest porn company, MindGeek.

By September 6, 2022No Comments

Disclaimer: Fight the New Drug is a non-religious and non-legislative awareness and education organization. Some of the issues discussed in the following article are legislatively-affiliated. Though our organization is non-legislative, we fully support the regulation of already illegal forms of pornography and sexual exploitation, including the fight against sex trafficking.

This article was originally published in March 2021 and is updated with breaking news.

In case you missed it, since December 2020, there’s been a lot in the news about one of the world’s largest porn sites, Pornhub, owned by a company that owns and controls much of the mainstream porn industry, MindGeek.

All of these events have been years in the making. Countless anti-exploitation advocates and survivors of trafficking, child abuse, and image-based abuse have worked tirelessly since long before December 2020 to expose the questionable business practices of the porn industry and the proliferation of nonconsensual content on porn sites.

Let’s review why Pornhub is in trouble for reportedly hosting nonconsensual images, and what led up to MindGeek being investigated by the Canadian House of Commons Ethics Committee and MindGeek’s CEO and COO resigning.

And if you’re into podcasts, we invite you to listen to the breakdown of all of the following info (up to April 14th, 2021) in this episode of Consider Before Consuming, a podcast by Fight the New Drug.

This timeline begins on December 4th because of the ripple effect that was fueled by the New York Times article.

For each timeline event, click on the date to read our or others’ coverage of what happened in detail. This simplified timeline will be updated as new events and developments occur. Last updated: September 3rd, 2022.

2020

December 4th, 2020: Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nicholas Kristof publishes an investigative column in the New York Times. This article gives visibility to Pornhub’s questionable business practices, nonconsensual content reportedly posted on the platform, and the anti-exploitation advocates including the Internet Watch Foundation, Traffickinghub, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. And while not mentioned in the article, the work of many other advocates and survivors made this article possible.

December 8th, 2020: Pornhub announces significant changes in security measures to their platform including only allowing videos uploaded by verified users, disallowing video downloads, and assembling a larger moderation team.

December 10th, 2020: Mastercard, Visa, and Discover announce they have suspended their payment processing services on Pornhub’s site just days after the New York Times reported that the platform included videos of child abuse and rape.

December 14th, 2020: Pornhub removes from the site over 10 million uploaded videos from unverified users.

December 15th, 2020: At least 40 women file suit against MindGeek, Pornhub’s parent company, for reportedly failing to moderate the videos of them being sex trafficked by amateur porn company “GirlsDoPorn” and for actively profiting from and promoting these videos.

2021

February 1, 2021: The Canadian House of Commons Ethics Committee (ETHI) launches their investigation into MindGeek for reportedly hosting videos of child sexual abuse, rape, sex-trafficking, and nonconsensually distributed content. A few days later, on February 5th, MindGeek executives testify before the committee and seemingly stated multiple mischaracterizations, falsehoods, and lies of omission about their business practices and history of hosting nonconsensual content.

February 12th, 2021: An assembly of survivor-focused and commercial litigation law firms jointly file a class-action lawsuit against MindGeek. The representative class members are two survivors of childhood sex trafficking whose videos and images of their sexual abuse were posted on Pornhub and other MindGeek-owned sites.

February 19th, 2021: To better understand the effects of abusive content being available for consumption on one of the world’s biggest porn sites, four survivors of sexual exploitation provided witness statements to the ETHI Canadian committee over the course of a couple of meetings. One survivor shared on February 1st, and three others shared on February 19th.

February 22nd, 2021: Fight the New Drug joins a collective of 104 survivors of sexual exploitation and 525 NGOs from 65 countries that have sent a letter to a Canadian Parliamentary Committee praising the ETHI committee’s actions thus far, and urging a “full criminal investigation” into MindGeek, for appearing to have violated Canada’s child protection laws and laws regarding the sharing of intimate images without consent.

February 22nd, 2021: The ETHI committee hears witness statements from leaders in child protection services that further weakened the MindGeek executives’ testimonies about their content moderation and reporting of illegal content. It appears as though Pornhub has not fulfilled the requirement to report child abuse images to law enforcement and child protection organizations until public pressure increased after the New York Times piece. In the last part of 2020 alone, Pornhub made over 13,000 reports of child sexual abuse material (CSAM) to the Cybertipline operated by NCMEC. However, about 9,000 are duplicates. It was ultimately revealed that Pornhub reported zero instances of child sexual abuse materials (CSAM, i.e. child pornography) to US or Canadian child protection agencies or law enforcement from 2008-2019, and for most of 2020, which is a criminal offense in Canada and the US.

April 2nd, 2021: The first-ever Pornhub transparency report is released. The site reports that it removed 653,465 pieces of content that violated its Terms of Service in 2020, according to the report. The 653,465 pieces of potentially infringing content violated its Terms of Service and other site guidelines in 2020. (This number is separate from the 10 million videos that were removed from the site uploaded by unverified accounts.) Pornhub considers content depicting minors, nonconsensual content, hate speech, animal harm, incest, bodily fluids like blood and feces, and violent content to be infringing. The report also detailed the moderation efforts the site employs, but still did not disclose how many moderators there are.

April 12th, 2021: The ETHI committee conducts another meeting. One side of the committee argued that self-regulation is ideal for MindGeek, whereas other committee members have argued that MindGeek has been shown that they cannot be trusted to self-regulate based on not reporting sex trafficking, rape, abuse, exploitation, and nonconsensual content on their platform for the last nine years.

April 14th, 2021: Mastercard changes and strengthens its rules for adult sites, announcing that it will require “clear, unambiguous and documented consent” for content on all of the platforms using it as a payment processor. In their statement, they said, “Chief among these [the rules and standards that govern the use of our payments network] is that we do not and will not permit merchants to engage in unlawful activity on our network.” Other requirements included in their statement: Documented age and identity verification for all people depicted and those uploading the content, content review process prior to publication, complaint resolution process that addresses illegal or nonconsensual content within seven business days, and appeals process allowing for any person depicted to request their content be removed. This announcement sets the standard for other payment processing platforms to not allow their services to support nonconsensual content and exploitation.

June 17th, 2021: Following multiple witness and survivor testimonies that left members of the ETHI committee “horrified,” the committee releases a report recommending that the federal government strengthen laws to curb the spread of child sexual exploitation material and rape videos online.  The new report includes 14 recommendations for the federal government, including that it explores “means to hold online platforms liable” for failing to stop illegal content from appearing on their websites.

June 17th, 2021: 34 more survivors of trafficking and abuse file suit against MindGeek and Pornhub. The lawsuit alleges that the site knowingly profited from videos depicting rape, child sexual exploitation, trafficking, and other nonconsensual sexual content. Here’s a link to the full lawsuit complaint. Out of 34 plaintiffs, 14 say they were victims of underage sex trafficking. The plaintiffs come from various US states, as well as the UK and Thailand.

October 15th, 2021: A settlement was reached in the lawsuit filed on behalf of 50 women who sued Pornhub’s parent company for hosting videos produced by former San Diego-based website GirlsDoPorn.com. Reports say terms of the settlement were not disclosed in a brief court document.

Here are direct links to the ETHI committee’s hearings that we referenced in the timeline above: the February 1st hearing with a CSAM survivor and her legal representative, the February 5th hearing with MindGeek executives, the February 19th hearing with three survivors of nonconsensual content and CSAM, and the February 22nd hearing with leaders in child protection services. And here’s a link to the April 12th hearing about MindGeek’s ability to self-regulate or not.

2022

June 13th, 2022: The New Yorker publishes an extensive investigative piece about everything that has happened with MindGeek, Pornhub, and the dozens of lawsuits filed by survivors of abuse and child exploitation who had their images uploaded to MindGeek’s site(s). The New Yorker interviewed several women who discovered videos and pictures of themselves on Pornhub that they did not consent to sharing and who spent months trying to get the site to remove the material. The article highlights numerous instances of reported inaction by the company to not only prevent underage or abusive content from being uploaded, but also the repeated inaction that reportedly happened once survivors repeatedly reported nonconsensual content.

June 21st, 2022: MindGeek’s CEO Feras Antoon and COO David Tassillo resign in the wake of The New Yorker article, though MindGeek claims the leadership transition has been in the works since early 2022. Antoon and Tassillo will remain shareholders in MindGeek. No other changes to the company or porn platforms were reported, though MindGeek has said they are looking to “invest deeply in expanding creator-first offerings” as well as additional “opportunities for content monetization.”

July 29th, 2022: At the end of July, 2022, a federal judge ruled that Visa helped Pornhub “monetize child porn” and sex trafficking. The court denied Visa’s motion to be dismissed from a case against them and MindGeek which alleges that Visa engaged in a criminal conspiracy with MindGeek to monetize child sexual exploitation material. The court stated there was enough evidence to show that Visa “knowingly provid[ed] the tool used to complete the crime” of distributing CSEM, ruling that the civil case must proceed: “The Court can comfortably infer that Visa intended to help MindGeek monetize child porn from the very fact that Visa continued to provide MindGeek the means to do so and knew MindGeek was indeed doing so.” The case, Serena Fleites v. MindGeek S.A.R.L. et al., is Docket No. 2:21-cv-04920-CJC-ADS in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

August 4th, 2022: In light of not being dismissed from the lawsuit against MindGeek and Visa, Visa announces they’ve suspended payment processing for advertising purchases on Pornhub and other sites owned by MindGeek. That same day, Mastercard follows suit. This move effectively demonetizes a large part of MindGeek’s business model due to the significant percentage of revenue that comes from ads on MindGeek sites like Pornhub through TrafficJunky, MindGeek’s own advertising arm. Recall that on December 10th, 2020, Visa and Mastercard suspended payment processing on Pornhub’s site due to reports of abusive content on the site. August 4th’s announcement goes much further than that previous decision due to significantly more revenue coming from TrafficJunky and advertising than site subscriptions.

September 3rd, 2022: Instagram removes Pornhub’s account. Before it was removed, it was verified with a blue checkmark and had 13.1 million followers and more than 6,200 posts. Variety reports that reps for Meta, Instagram’s parent company, did not respond to a request for comment. As of now, Pornhub still has active accounts on other social media platforms like Twitter and YouTube.

All of these events were years in the making

Again, all of these events have been years in the making. Countless anti-exploitation advocates and survivors of trafficking, child abuse, and image-based abuse have worked tirelessly to expose the questionable business practices of the porn industry and the proliferation of nonconsensual content on porn sites.

It’s more important than ever to take a stand against exploitation and educate on the realities of the porn industry and porn’s harms to individuals, relationships, and society. What we’re seeing now is only the beginning of what is being uncovered.

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