Concern for victims or anti-porn rhetoric? Netflix's Pornhub documentary sparks debate

Mar 16 2023, 4:43 pm

Editor’s note: This article mentions and discusses the sexual abuse of adults and minors. Some readers may find the descriptions disturbing.

Netflix released a documentary on Pornhub on Wednesday, highlighting the highs and lows of the Canadian-owned company, as well as the controversies it has found itself wrapped up in for years.

Money Shot: The Pornhub Story discusses at length the humble origins of the adult entertainment website, how it became a ubiquitous giant, and the shocking exploitation of non-consenting adults and children it hosted for years and profited from without proper content moderation.

Pornhub began as the brainchild of three students from Concordia University. When it was sold to MindGeek, it grew exponentially. Free access was ironically its biggest selling point.

In the documentary, former Pornhub employees explained how things works on the money front: People had the option to pay for a premium subscription to watch their favourite stars. Many industry professionals who hosted their videos elsewhere turned to Pornhub for the traffic and opportunity it brought. They could sign up, verify their account, link their bank information, and hit the upload button to instantly begin to make a better living.

But there was a much more sinister side to the website overshadowed by its success. Pornhub suffered a long-lived lapse in moderation efforts.

The documentary notes that anyone was allowed to post any video on the website, and they would not need to verify themselves if they were not making money from it. Pornhub had very few moderators for a platform of its size. The staff was overworked, processing as many as a thousand videos per employee per day. Oversight was bound to occur.

Videos of thousands of sex trafficking and rape victims, child abuse victims, and revenge porn targets made it to the website. Sex workers who did not consent to their content being uploaded on Pornhub were seeing holes in their income stream widen. The website’s “download” option meant you could keep clips offline and upload them anywhere.

It got exploitative real quick.

Getting these videos taken down was no easy feat. According to investigations attributed in the documentary, even when Pornhub did respond to takedown requests from victims or their guardians — often parents of minors — the process would take a very long time, and the video would pop up again any time someone felt like uploading it.

This caused immense strife to victims who were seeing their abuse replay, knowing full well others could see it too and possibly have access to it forever.

A movement using the hashtag #TraffickingHub began and was helmed by Laila Mickelwait, CEO of the Justice Defense Fund. It garnered support from millions who were shocked by these stories. Eventually, the noise resulted in a damning New York Times column, which pushed the subject further into the mainstream.

Pornhub employees and freelancers took a big hit, especially those who performed on screen and were recognizable, narrowing their chances of switching careers. Their family and friends began asking whether it was true that Pornhub knowingly hosted child porn.

Meetings between the Canadian House of Commons Standing Committee and Pornhub execs began and were aired online. Anyone associated with the company was under public suspicion. PayPal, Visa, and Mastercard stopped processing payments from subscribers to Pornhub, hitting creators’ wallets directly.

Eventually, Pornhub decided to mass-delete a majority of the unverified content hosted on it in a bid to make amends.

The documentary looks into what happened in the background of this story. People within the industry began talking about the #TraffickingHub movement and its anti-sex work and anti-porn origins, mostly motivated by religious conservatism.

A debate started about the credibility and motivation of this movement — did it truly begin to protect victims of sexual abuse or to take down sex workers because of its own moral compass? How ethical was it for Pornhub staffers to continue working for the company after it was exposed for making a profit off videos of rape and trafficking victims?

Money Shot raises all these questions.

The documentary offers an extension into this debate and brings to the forefront the victims supported by the ongoing #TraffickingHub movement and the ones created in its wake — sex workers and other adult entertainment industry professionals placed under scrutiny and left without income and protection.

The documentary contains interviews with current and former Pornhub workers.

It has left people split on who the real victims of this massive moderation mishandling are. What are your thoughts?

For further context, watch Money Shot: The Pornhub Story here on Netflix.

National Trending StaffNational Trending Staff

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