Discover more from Reactionary Feminist
Shut It Down
Pornhub is a rape factory. It should be wiped from the internet
Serena Fleites was just 14 when an older boy at her school manipulated her into sharing nude videos with him. He sent the videos to other boys. Someone uploaded them to the pornography ‘tube’ site Pornhub. Fleites’ life became a living nightmare as the videos were repeatedly downloaded and re-uploaded, with Pornhub forcing her through the same laborious process every time before taking it down, all while monetising her images.
Fleites’ mental health plummeted. She dropped out of school and ended up addicted to drugs. Now sober, in 2021 Fleites became the lead plaintiff in a mass lawsuit against Mindgeek (now “Aylo”), Pornhub’s parent company. Along with 33 other Jane Does, Fleites alleges that MindGeek knowingly profited from videos depicting rape, child sexual exploitation, revenge porn, trafficking, and other nonconsensual sexual content.
The plaintiffs’ stories make grim reading. Here are just a few:
Jane Doe #1 was raped, trafficked, and exploited by a ring of powerful men from the age of 7, and forced to perform in pornographic videos from the age of 10. At the time the case was filed, least seven videos of her being sexually abused, as a child, were still live on various internet sites;
Jane Doe #2 was blackmailed by a now-convicted paedophile into providing more than 80 photos and videos of herself stripping and masturbating, which he then uploaded to Pornhub;
Jane Doe #8 was trafficked into the sex industry in Colombia, aged just 15. She was forced to have sex with now-convicted child trafficker and pornographer Victor Galarza, after which the video was uploaded to Pornhub. Despite her repeated efforts, aided by anti-trafficking nonprofit Operation Underground Railroad, to have the videos removed, the recording of her rape was (as of the case filing) still live on multiple sites.
The rest is a litany of horrors along similar lines. You can read the stories here, starting on page 78, if you have a strong stomach. Women and girls, some still children, recorded during sex by boyfriends or husbands, without consent. Children manipulated by paedophiles into making explicit videos. Young women drugged and raped by ex-husbands, at parties, or by gangs. Trafficked women and girls tortured on camera. Women enticed far away from home, or even overseas, with the promise of “modelling” work then held captive until they acquiesced to rape.
This carnival of misery is not an accident or oversight. Abuse has always been a feature of the porn industry, as radical feminists have often pointed out: Linda Lovelace, star of the notorious 1973 movie ‘Deep Throat’, which kicked off the so-called ‘Golden Age of Porn’, said in 1986 that “When you see the movie Deep Throat, you are watching me being raped”.
But the digital content revolution has scaled that to an unimaginable degree. Firstly, the digital transformation means most consumers expect content to be free, with producers making money indirectly, via advertising. In turn, across all of media, the tiny margins this delivers for all but the most successful creators means intense downward pressure on production costs. And secondly, because the sheer volume of digital content means an intense competition for eyeballs, that incentivises the production of schlocky clickbait.
Logically, then, the ideal porn video is extreme enough to work as clickbait, and very low-cost to produce. But how do you induce performers to endure the kind of violent, shocking, or degrading experiences guaranteed to provide clicks, without being paid a ton of money? Maybe some are pai,d or otherwise consenting masochists; but where this supply runs short, the obvious low-cost way to make up the shortfall is with un-consenting abuse victims. Serena and the 33 Jane Does listed alongside her in the Mindgeek case are simply a representative sample. There are a great many more.
Meanwhile on the consumer end, a limitless supply of free, streaming porn that fuses shock-value clickbait with erotic stimulus turns out to condition demand, in ways that further intensify this dynamic. Studies suggest the neurology of porn consumption functions in a fashion similar to drug addiction, meaning that compulsive users need ever more extreme doses to experience the same ‘high’. This inexorably drags users toward violent, extreme, degrading and otherwise taboo-violating content: the very material most likely to be extracted without consent. Just-about-plausibly-deniable rape, then, including of children (the ultimate taboo) is not a bug or accident, on Pornhub. It’s a structural feature.
Inevitably, then, a studied lack of interest in identifying abusive content is also a structural feature. Why would a venture that profits from viewer numbers do more than the bare minimum, for example, to distinguish between videos featuring performers in the perennially popular ‘teen’ category who are over or under 18? (As an aside, is it not a remarkable coincidence that this previously consistently popular category disappeared from Pornhub’s annual “Year In Review” reports right around the time the site’s complicity in platforming child sexual abuse content began to hit headlines and court papers?)
An anonymous whistleblower quoted in the court filing, states that Mindgeek “knew they were doing illegal stuff” but ignored this as restrictions would hamper SEO and revenue:
Every time you put an extra layer of control on who watches, you lose content. And it[’]s the same thing, in this case, if you put an extra layer of control on what content goes up, you lose content. And content in this case is more pages, and more pages is more results, more results is more paid views.
Undercover recordings emerged recently in which Mike Farley, a technical product manager at Pornhub, acknowledged Pornhub’s active incentive not to moderate or remove abuse videos. Instead, Farley chuckles about the loopholes the site employs to avoid either needing age verification for abused girls, or any risk that men perpetrating the abuse could be identified.
For it’s in Pornhub’s interests to let rape and abuse to go un-traceable and un-punishable. For video after video to be uploaded and monetised, with minimal, slow, reluctant intervention. And for this material to remain available free, on demand, via the millions of smartphones that make up 97% of Pornhub’s traffic - an unknown number of which are in the hands of children.
Unsurprising, then, that discovery in the Mindgeek court case recently revealed that content is only grudgingly reviewed by Pornhub’s moderation team of one single person for millions of videos, once it received more than 15 flags. The moderation backlog contained over 700,000 videos.
And what this all underlines is that our consensus on porn is hopelessly out of step with the technologies that now deliver it. Back at the beginning of the so-called “Golden Age of Porn”, the industry was boosted by a landmark 1966 California court case that granted First Amendment protection to even “flagrantly offensive” pornographic content. In effect, this inaugurated a tacit consensus in which incidents of rape and abuse in the porn industry were seen as regrettable but rare enough to be an acceptable trade-off against the benefits of free speech and sexual liberation.
Big Porn has grown fat on this settlement. But it’s time we acknowledged that the digital revolution - and in particular the smartphone one - has so radically altered the media ecosystem that this trade-off no longer holds. The harm is too immense and too far-reaching.
We can do something about this. After all, if recent years have demonstrated anything, it’s that the public has already shown itself more than happy to acquiesce to digital censorship where this is seen as being in the public interest. The only thing left to contest is what gets censored: in other words, what constitutes the public interest. And it’s hard to see what possible public benefit there could be to tolerating the continued existence of an organisation whose every incentive is to ignore, facilitate, and profit from industrial-scale sexual abuse.
Reactionary Feminist is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.