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Pornhub's Downfall

Pornhub's Downfall

Background

To many, the downfall of Pornhub, behemoth of the online porn industry, will not come as a surprise; it has been thoroughly documented over the past few months. The trigger, arguably, was the class-action lawsuit launched by 40 women from California against Pornhub’s parent company, MindGeek. The lawsuit, estimated to be north of $40 million, was the first of many that the Montreal-born corporation would be slapped with throughout the following months.

The plaintiffs all alleged having had compromising images or videos of themselves uploaded to the different pornographic websites owned by MindGeek. They are now holding the company responsible for not taking down said images and videos after having been made aware of the fact that they were made public without their consent.

Similarly, in Ontario, a woman is leading another class-action lawsuit against MindGeek, demanding $600 million in reparations after a video of her being raped at 12 years old was published on Pornhub.

Serena Fleite’s Case

The most damning story, however, is that of Serena Fleites, from California. At the age of 14, under the threat of leaving her if she didn’t comply with his request, she sent an erotic video of herself to her then-boyfriend. It didn’t take long for the boy to share it with his friends, and it quickly wound up on Pornhub.

This would critically alter Serena’s life. Having been thus far an exemplary student, humiliation and harassment by her peers compelled her to change schools. Her mistake, however, followed her to her new school and blighted any attempt at normalcy right from the start. As a result, she started skipping classes and fell into drugs. Her life took an even darker and direr turn when she started cutting herself and attempted to commit suicide.

Fast-forward five years, she is now sober, but without a job and still ostracized. Her meandering recovery, throughout the years, was often impeded by the video she made back in eight grade. To this day, she still lives with its consequences.

Initially, she contacted Pornhub to request they take the video down. After weeks without reply, they finally saw to her request, only for the video to be uploaded again a few months later. Hence, the painful process had to be restarted over once more.

Ramifications

Serena’s story, sadly, is far from being an isolated case. Her account and those of many other victims have caused a wave of indignation. Many activist groups, such as Exodus Cry, an organisation dealing in the prevention of sex trafficking, have launched boycotting campaigns against Pornhub. Promoted through social media, these calls to spurn the website and its content have seemed to have positive ramifications. Within the span of three months, Pornhub’s monthly viewership fell by nearly 26.5% (down to 2.5 billion viewers from 3.4 billion).

In an attempt to avoid regulation by governments and to stem the downward trend, MindGeek announced the removal of all the content published by unverified accounts. This will have hopefully eliminated any content that wasn’t made professionally.

Even so, this doesn’t ensure that any video still up on the website has been made with the consent of those filmed, as many former pornstars report having been coerced into making movies.

Moreover, these changes might not be enough to avoid the implementation of new laws, as many political figures and advocates, including Lianna McDonald, executive director of the Canadian Centre for Child Protection (CCCP), are calling on the government to step in and address the issue.

Others, such as Daniel Bernhard, executive director of Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, believe that the laws to protect Canadian citizens from these crimes already exist but need to be strengthened in order for the companies to take them seriously. In any case, if the trend is anything to go by, things are moving in these groups’ desired direction, much to the chagrin of MindGeek.

Trust and Safety

Recently, Pornhub released its first Transparency Report, “one of many proactive Trust and Safety efforts that we have made and are making going forward, not only to make Pornhub the safest platform on the web, but also to empower users, affiliates, and the public by making this information readily available”.

Pornhub announced that only verified “content partners and people within the Model Program will be able to upload content to Pornhub”, and that a new verification process will be implemented in 2021. Downloads are no longer possible except for those within the verified Model Program. More exhaustive human review and “cutting-edge detection technologies” such as Google’s Content Safety API, Microsoft’s PhotoDNA, Youtube’s Child Sexual Abuse Imagery Match (CSAI Match) and others will be deployed to monitor user uploads and ensure safety throughout the website.

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