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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.

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.

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

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

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: June 23rd, 2021.

December 4th, 2020: Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nicholas Kristof publishes an investigative column in the New York Times, giving visibility to Pornhub’s questionable business practices.

December 8th, 2020: Pornhub announces huge 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 with Pornhub 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.

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.

All of these events were years in the making

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.

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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