Outrage mounts at Pornhub, enabled by Big Tech: ‘Criminal network operating in plain sight’

by WorldTribune Staff, June 2, 2021

The largest porn website in the world, Pornhub, has come under heightened scrutiny for facilitating and profiting from the uploading and world wide online dissemination of child sexual abuse and other criminal sexual violence.

On May 18, 630 NGOs and 132 survivors of sexual exploitation appealed to Congress to hold MindGeek and other pornography websites to standards that would mitigate the ongoing exploitation and to demand criminal investigation and prosecution for violation of federal sex trafficking and child protection laws.

On April 8, in a virtual congressional briefing, The National Center on Sexual Exploitation called Pornhub “a criminal network operating in plain sight.”

Pornhub and sites like XVideos are enabled by mainstream social media sites like Twitter, Reddit, and Facebook, where child pornography has frequently been uploaded. By the end of 2020, Facebook had removed 12.4 million images related to child exploitation, and Twitter closed a staggering 264,000 accounts for the same reason, according to a NY Times report.

Google also facilitates the industry. Searching Google for “young porn” returns 920 million videos.

Pornhub, a Canadian company, has been described as “Jeffrey Epstein times 1,000.” It attracts 3.5 billion visits per month. It is the world’s 10th-most-visited website.

Not to the be confused with the Dark Web, Pornhub can be accessed by anyone with a standard Internet browser. At an average of 115 million visits per day, the mega site out competes Netflix and Amazon for traffic, and ranks third behind Facebook and Google.

In February, the Canadian House of Commons heard testimony about the website and its parent company MindGeek, which owns at least 160 other hardcore pornography websites and production companies. The scrutiny resulted in 400,000 signing a petition to shut down the site in March and more than 70 Canadian Members of Parliament across all parties calling for a criminal investigation of MindGeek.

On the weekend of April 24, the $12 million Montreal mansion belonging to Pornhub’s co-owner, Feras Antoon, was set fire by a suspected arsonist. The home, still under construction, was completely destroyed in a blaze that required 80 firemen to extinguish.

By mid May, professionals with jobs requiring security clearance were openly wondering whether their careers might be at risk for visiting the site, due to illegal content.

The company’s business model, the petition asserts, benefits from “facilitating and profiting from criminal acts including sex trafficking, filmed sexual abuse of children, and non- consensually recorded and distributed pornography.”

Pornhub’s woes appear to have begun with a New York Times exposé entitled “The Children of Pornhub” on Dec. 4, 2020.

As Nicholas Kristof observed in the piece, the “site is infested with rape videos. It monetizes child rapes, revenge pornography, spy cam videos of women showering, racist and misogynist content, and footage of women being asphyxiated in plastic bags. A search for ‘girls under18’ (no space) or ‘14yo’ leads in each case to more than 100,000 videos. Most aren’t of children being assaulted, but too many are.”

Another survivor wrote to Pornhub, “Why do videos of me from when I was 15 years old and blackmailed, which is child porn, continuously [get] uploaded? You really need a better system. … I tried to kill myself multiple times after finding myself re-uploaded on your website.”

In response, in December of 2020, Pornhub deleted the vast majority of its videos, nearly 80 percent of its content. After the purge, just under 3 million of the previous 13.5 million videos remained.

Critics were not appeased and for solid reasons.

In February, the Canadian House of Commons heard testimony from Serena Fleites, a survivor of child pornography distributed through Pornhub, and from Michael Bowe, an American attorney who spent a year investigating MindGeek.

Bowe testified that his investigation uncovered hundreds of instances of rape, abuse and trafficking on MindGeek sites, including one of a 15-year-old girl being raped, which was  published on Pornhub and distributed throughout her community. Pornhub refused to remove the video for three weeks, and then left it up two more months after claiming to have taken it down.

Fleites, who figures prominently in Kristof’s article, testified that at age 14 she had been pressured by her boyfriend to make a video of herself naked and send it to him. He then distributed to friends and the footage was eventually uploaded on Pornhub with the title, “13-year-old brunette shows off for the camera.”

It took weeks of pleading before the website removed videos of the minor, which were often re-uploaded by users. One video of Fleites at age 14 received 400,000 views. Her experience ultimately led to multiple suicide attempts and a meth addiction before age 19. She was homeless and living in a car at the time of the interview.

The April 8 congressional briefing began with the story of “Eva” who, also at age 14, became the cover image for Pornhub after she was groomed and secretly recorded during a Skype call. Getting her image and her name off the site and its front page then consumed her life.

“Top hits,” Kristof reports, “include a video of a naked ‘very young teen’ engaging in sex acts on XVideo along with a video on Pornhub whose title is unprintable here.”

Whereas the Congressional briefing was sponsored by twelve leading anti-trafficking organizations, now hundreds of NGOs are joining the cause. Even an adult porn star who does business with Pornhub said in December she believes commonsense regulation is needed, something she calls “insanely reasonable.”

Dawn Hawkins, CEO of the Washington-based National Center on Sexual Exploitation, said the time for Congress to act has arrived.