The ravages of pornography
Daniel R. Suhr | An industry that makes big profits from depravity may soon face a legal reckoning
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The dark underbelly of the world wide web is very dark indeed. Serena was a young teenager when she let her boyfriend make an explicit video of her, which he uploaded to PornHub. The video was viewed more than three million times, as Serena (impersonating her mother) again and again asked PornHub to remove it from their sites. Mocked and bullied, she dropped out of school, moved out of her home, attempted suicide, and became addicted to heroin. A recent ruling from a federal judge summarizes her plight: “While MindGeek [the company that owns PornHub] profited from the child porn featuring Plaintiff, Plaintiff was intermittently homeless or living in her car, addicted to heroin, depressed and suicidal, and without the support of her family.” Such sadness.
Unfortunately, it’s a predictable sadness, according to allegations in this pending federal lawsuit against MindGeek. Reading Serena’s story, one instantly asks, “But isn’t child pornography illegal for just this reason? So how could this happen?” According to a report from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children relied on by the judge, there were actually 8.4 million pornographic videos featuring children posted online in 2018. Many of these find their way onto MindGeek’s sites, both paid and free (though MindGeek generates significant advertising revenue from click-ads alongside the free content).
According to the lawsuit, MindGeek has a small team of content reviewers who are supposed to scan each video’s content and standardize the formatting. The reviewers receive financial bonuses to push through as much content as possible, which led the judge reviewing the lawsuit to comment, “Such an incentive structure suggests that content moderation was not the goal.” MindGeek also allegedly retains titles and tags for content it has since removed as child porn in order to continue maximizing its search engine appeal, and content that’s been removed can later be reposted on PornHub or another site, creating a perennial game of whack-a-mole for victims and investigators.
The lawsuit names not only PornHub’s owners but also Visa, the worldwide credit-card company that processes payments for PornHub and its affiliated sites. In 2020, after a bombshell New York Times report on PornHub’s illegal child porn videos, Visa suspended its services to the site. PornHub responded to the Times’ expose by taking down over 10 million unverified videos, about 80 percent of the site’s content. After this supposed clean-up, Visa restored services.
These financial services companies are essential to the porn industry’s survival. The lawsuit uses the same strategy liberals use by targeting banks that serve the firearms or oil-fracking industries: cut off the funds and the companies will fold. If a financial services company like Visa knowingly facilitated payments for illegal child pornography (a crucial if—the judge made only a preliminary ruling and Serena must still prove her case), then it is potentially legally liable to her and other victims.
As people of faith, our hearts ache at every aspect of the pornography industry. We grieve for children like Serena who are exploited in awful, illegal videos. We grieve victims of revenge porn, posts by former partners who get back at an ex by exposing content created during a time of trust. But in our compassion for victims we should not fail to consider others in the industry. Imagine what it does to your soul to watch porn for minimum wage all day as a content reviewer at PornHub.
We can and should demand accountability from those who profit from perpetuating this industry. Pro-family advocates collectively applauded a decade ago when Marriott decided to cut pay-for-view pornography from its hotel rooms. And PayPal cut off PornHub in 2019 because of its illegal content. We can hope others will follow suit, especially as the cultural tide turns against the industry.
The judge ruling on this case recognized, “The sexual exploitation of minors is an intractable, complicated social problem involving countless independent bad actors.” That is certainly true. It speaks to the depths of human sinfulness that there are millions of dollars to be made off posting child pornography videos on the internet. Those who knowingly post, host, and facilitate such content may be legally liable—but the moral liability also lays on our society at large.
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