Crusaders vs Sex Workers, with Pornhub Caught in the Middle



We are now one month into the aftershocks of changes at Pornhub, the tenth-most heavily browsed website in the world, and in its wake, social media sites have further restricted sex workers as well. For those living in a vacuum, I’ll catch you up - on December 4th, 2020, the New York Times printed a report with claims alleging that Pornhub permitted user uploads promoting sexual abuse and sexual assault of minors. The accusations included spycam feeds, child abuse recordings, and revenge porn.


Pornhub responded immediately that the claims were “irresponsible and flagrantly untrue,” but payment service providers like Visa, Mastercard, and Discover decided that they could not be associated with this kind of content monetization, and they terminated payment services. In response, Pornhub removed free uploading and downloading, calling these changes “the most comprehensive safeguards in user-generated platform history” and only allowing verified users and Model Program members to upload new content.


This means Pornhub removed at least 80% of its content - millions of videos - and uploads have slowed almost to a halt, only allowing trusted users to post new material. The company also says that it is being targeted by anti-sex work and anti-pornography organizations, and the elimination of abuse is a pretext. These removals consisted of almost exclusively and voluntarily posted content based on the numbers of abuse found. So users were punished - while Pornhub is still making the same amount of money, if not more because they’ve kept their income-generating users and still make money on advertising. The measures aren’t even punishing the sites, but users who may depend on them.


While Pornhub has its problems, it’s strange that these organizations who claim to be focused on protecting children wouldn’t also go after social media sites, which struggle far more to control these types of abuse and exploitation. In fact, 94% of the complaints to the National Center of Missing and Exploited Children regarding online child sex abuse come from Facebook. Instead of wiping out the sexual exploitation of minors, it appears that the moral grandstanders are counting on leveraging pornography and sex shame to control the actions between consenting adults. More evidence - watchdog group The Internet Watch Foundation only found 118 instances of child abuse on Pornhub in a period of almost two years. It’s worth pointing out that the IWF is an independent organization, and Facebook’s own public reports concede to 84,000,000 sexual abuse instances, which might lead to believe that 118 is fairly accurate and 84,000,000 may actually be low.


It’s not like the adult industry is Pornhub’s biggest fan, either. Sex workers have long complained about pirated videos and content shared non-consensually. But in the last few years, Pornhub has tried to crackdown. The changes most recently made have actually long been requested by adult performers, and while anti-porn crusaders get all of the credit for crackdowns, sex workers have been trying to convince Pornhub to reduce all types of illegal content while allowing those adults who choose to monetize their work to do so.


Pornhub finally made the changes within their control - after monetizing became more difficult.


When Visa announced it was terminating its agreements with Pornhub, Ginger Banks pointed out on Twitter
“Literally the only people who used this were the people PAYING FOR OUR PORN! Which means they had to be buying it from a verified account…….why would you be worried about that at all? The illegally uploaded porn IS NOT PAID FOR! You just fucked sex workers for no reason!”

What are the repercussions of these developments? Let’s be clear that Pornhub is the latest of these user-generated content sites that the anti-porn crusaders have come after. Before Pornhub it was Backpage, then Craigslist. OnlyFans might be next, and then they’ll come after more. Backpage was able to protect itself under Section 230, which means that the sites are protected from user-created content. Something dangerous or illegal posted on a site is the responsibility of the creator, not the site itself.


But factions are currently trying to remove 230 protections, which means that, if they are removed, when I write something controversial, the site will be held responsible after all. So all of the user-generated content sites will start censoring everything that may be the slightest bit out of step, and among other much-reviled movements and communities, the sex work community is going to get policed into total censorship.


After the events of January 6, 2021 at the US Capitol, outgoing President Trump threatened Twitter by saying he’d remove 230 protections, which he took credit for providing in the first place. While at the time of publication it appears that Trump is losing his clout quickly, only time can tell in which direction Section 230 is headed and if recent events will affect it at all.


All of that said, even if we find a platform for our work, they’ve gotten to the payment processors. Any platform that has signed up with one (which is everyone) will be forced to ban sex work or lose their payment system, which is the only way they can stay in business - they’re forced into it too.


What does that mean for sex workers then - with no platform and no payment? We can’t even advertise using social media anymore without 230. Tumblr banned explicit content in 2018, and Instagram and Facebook have always had a war against sex workers, with Facebook even banning explicit emojis (including the peach) in 2019. A late December 2020 change in terms of use for Instagram has many sex workers concerned they’ll soon be banned, and studies show that users who post the same explicit content get punished for it much more often if they’re sex workers. If 230 is taken away, these sites that already censor so much will ban more users entirely.


Obviously, we can’t continue to work online if this continues. The crusaders have won, right? NOPE - we pivot. Sex workers will have to go back to the days of in-person work and accept cash and cryptocurrency - in some cases endangering us and always limiting our income and resources.


The real kicker in this story is that while Pornhub is being unfairly targeted and that is affecting sex workers - Pornhub isn’t necessarily our victim. Many sex workers have been asking for protections regarding stolen content that would have been beneficial to the mega clip site in the future. Had these protections been put in place, Pornhub might not have been the martyr in Visa and Mastercards crusade against adult material. However, the majority of the community has put differences of opinion aside to show unity and strength.


So how do our friends and fans and other supporters help lift us up? Well, speak up, obviously. But also, stop looking for free porn and pay for it instead - using cryptocurrency. Learn how to use it and teach others too.


You can help join the fight by retweeting and elevating sex worker voices. Contact your representatives and let them hear your thoughts. Donate to organizations such as the SWOP and FSC.


Special thanks to Mary Moody and Justin for their input on this article



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