Pornhub rocked by child abuse, rape video claims

Mastercard and Visa have cut payments to the Canada-based site. PHOTO: AFP

MONTREAL (AFP) - Adult content giant Pornhub is in turmoil over claims it turned a blind eye to videos of child abuse, rape and revenge porn, leading Mastercard and Visa to cut payments to the site as lawmakers in Canada, where it is based, seek to hold it accountable.

Pressure has been mounting on the porn giant since the publication of an expose by New York Times writer Nicholas Kristof, who accused Pornhub of profiting from abusive content - and appealed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, a self-proclaimed women's advocate, to crack down.

"Why does Canada host a company that inflicts rape videos on the world?" Kristof asked - sharing the harrowing stories of several women who attempted suicide over pornographic videos posted without their consent as teenagers.

The Times report brought to a head a controversy already simmering in Canada over such content, where 20 lawmakers urged the justice minister in a November open letter to take swift action against both Pornhub and parent company MindGeek.

The growing public backlash has seen more than two million people back a petition to shut it down, and led Mastercard to block payments to Pornhub on Thursday (Dec 10).

Visa quickly followed suit, pending a probe into the Times claim that of the 6.8 million new videos posted each year on the site, "many" depict "child abuse and nonconsensual violence," including scenes of incest and women being asphyxiated in plastic bags.

Because Pornhub users can download videos directly from the site, the Times argued, images of abuse could be endlessly reposted elsewhere on the Internet.

Simon Corneau, a professor in the sexology department of the University of Quebec in Montreal, said the decisions by Visa and Mastercard were a "major" blow to Pornhub's bottom line.

Pornhub called them "exceptionally disappointing," pointing to changes it made following the Times report: banning unverified users from uploading videos to the site, banning free downloads and increasing content moderation.

The credit card titans' ban, it said, was "crushing for the hundreds of thousands of models who rely on our platform for their livelihoods."

'Minimal verification'

Times writer Kristof has given a cautious welcome to the site's measures, saying: "A great deal depends on how responsibly Pornhub implements these, and it hasn't earned my trust at all, but these seem significant."

Based in Canada, but registered in Luxembourg, Pornhub had 42 billion visits last year.

Free to access, it generates revenues through advertising as well as paid subscriptions for premium content.

Serena Fleites, now 19, was 14 when a boy she had a crush on asked her to make a naked video and send it to him. She did, and it ended up on Pornhub. PHOTO: NYTIMES

The company is not new to controversy.

In 2019, several groups, including Unilever and Kraft Heinz distanced themselves from Pornhub after an article in Britain's Sunday Times identified videos with sexual content involving children.

Canadian Senator Julie Miville-Dechene, who in September proposed legislation aimed at preventing children from being exposed to pornography, told AFP there was "minimal verification" of video uploads on Pornhub.

And "even if Pornhub takes down a video, it can reappear elsewhere online and spread," she said.

Miville-Dechene said she would take a wait and see attitude toward Pornhub's latest measures.

A Liberal lawmaker, meanwhile, called on Friday for the company's top executives to appear before a parliamentary committee seeking explanations.

Responding to opposition questions, Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault this week told the House of Commons he was already working on new regulations to force "online platforms to eliminate illegal content including hate speech, child sexual exploitation and violent extremism content."

A government Bill would be introduced in early 2021, he said.

The spotlight on Pornhub comes in a context of proliferating child abuse imagery online: Cybertip, a Canadian tip line for reporting abuses, says it receives a total of about 10,000 calls per month about child exploitation cases.

In a statement, Pornhub told AFP it has "no tolerance" for content that shows sexual abuse of children - while arguing that such images are infinitely less prevalent on its site that other major internet platforms.

Internet Watch Foundation, it noted, reported 118 such cases of abuse on its site in the last three years, compared to 84 million on Facebook.

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