Thursday 5 August 2021

‘War Against Sex Workers:’ What Visa and Mastercard Dropping Pornhub Means to Performers

The world's biggest credit card companies terminated service to Pornhub, and performers on the site say it could seriously harm their livelihoods.

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(VICE.com) This week, Visa and Mastercard cut ties with Pornhub, a decision sex workers say will only harm their industry, and won’t actually help victims of non-consensual imagery.

In what seemed to be a bit of good news on Tuesday, Pornhub announced that it would change its policies to only allow verified users to upload content to, or download from, the platform—as well as enact a more robust moderation process.

This was a welcome shift, and was a long time coming: non-consensual sexual imagery activists, as well as performers whose work is often pirated and reposted to Pornhub, have been asking for these changes for years.

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But by Thursday, Mastercard and Visa pulled the rug out from under performers and models on Pornhub, each announcing within an hour of one another that they were discontinuing service with Pornhub completely, following investigations into unlawful content on the site.

The verified users that are now the only ones able to upload or download to Pornhub are also suddenly unable to receive payouts through the two biggest credit card companies.

Sex workers and activists say that this is a dangerous, discriminatory decision—one fueled by anti-porn campaigners and conservative activist groups who want sex work abolished.

In a statement published Friday, Sex Workers Outreach Project Behind Bars wrote that the decision will force more sex workers into the margins, calling it a “war” on sex workers.

“We say ‘war against sex workers’ because the damage they do does not impact the labor as much as it affects the laborers who depend on the Pornhub platform to earn a living,” it wrote. “[…] Violence against sex workers includes the societal and institutional violence that has led to the shuttering of our online platforms that give us a measure of safety and allow us the critical resource that is the ability to access banking.”

“If they can be shut down or hurt by this campaign, what hope is there for smaller platforms?”

All of these changes came days after a piece published by Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times, which highlighted the plight of child sexual abuse survivors whose images were posted Pornhub. Despite writing about an issue that’s been used as political ammunition to censor adult content on the internet for decades—including the deeply harmful Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2018—he barely cited performers who use the site or sex worker rights activists.

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Instead, he opted to name-check Traffickinghub, a campaign run by conservative religious anti-trafficking organization Exodus Cry, which opposes decriminalizing sex work and wants to abolish porn altogether.

In that opinion piece, Kristof directly calls for payment processors to drop Pornhub: “And call me a prude, but I don’t see why search engines, banks or credit card companies should bolster a company that monetizes sexual assaults on children or unconscious women. If PayPal can suspend cooperation with Pornhub, so can American Express, Mastercard and Visa,” he wrote. “I don’t see any neat solution.”

Much of the content on Pornhub is free to view, but for many performers, Pornhub was a stable revenue stream. The platform’s verified Amateur Program, as well as the clip selling service Modelhub and ad revenue made on video uploads make up a constellation of ways performers can make money on Pornhub. Kristof’s inability to see a “neat solution” erases the fact that many people rely on tube sites like Pornhub for their livelihoods, even though these sites are incredibly flawed. It’s not prudish to suggest child exploitation should stop and it’s willfully ignorant to suggest that it would be; everyone agrees on that, including Pornhub. Suggesting all payments on the site should be dropped is, however, callous and myopic.

“This is something we in the industry have known about for a long time, but often the trafficking or child porn headlines will drown out our voices,” cam model Mary Moody told me. “We saw a similar issue unfold under SESTA/FOSTA when survival or full service sex workers were unable to verify through Backpage and had to move to the more risky street based work, where a disproportionate amount of minority groups are arrested.”

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Porn performers have dealt with deplatforming and discriminatory payment processing practices from the beginning of the internet and beyond, but have always adapted, finding new ways to continue their work. But if two of the biggest credit card companies in the world can choose to deny service to Pornhub—a household name for online porn—some worry that nothing’s stopping them from denying service to smaller platforms, too.

“Pornhub/Mindgeek are a huge company with far more resources than most online platforms—if they can be shut down or hurt by this campaign, what hope is there for smaller platforms?” model Avalon Fey said. “By targeting Pornhub and successfully destroying the ability for independent creators to monetize their content, they have made it easier to remove payment options from smaller platforms too. This has nothing to do with helping abused victims, and everything to do with hurting online adult entertainers to stop them from creating and sharing adult content.”

Many adult content creators make an income through several outlets, using a combination of clip sites, live streaming, subscription platforms and independent websites, depending on what works for them. In the two years performer Vinnie O’Neill has been in the adult industry, Pornhub and Modelhub have been his best-performing platform in terms of revenue and followers. Now, he’s worried that will all change.

“Sex workers are scared by this change, despite not having uploaded any illegal content”

“Visa and MasterCard have actually been hurting our ability to make money long before they banned Pornhub from their payment networks,” O’Neill said. “For years, content creators have been suffering from having their content deleted because companies like Visa and MasterCard, through policies that constantly change, ban certain words and types of adult content.”

During an unprecedented economic downturn and lack of support from the government, sites like OnlyFans have exploded in growth, as people turn to sex work to pay the bills. Dylan Thomas, an amateur performer, told me that after coming out as trans and facing discrimination and harassment in his former career, as well as a decrease in regular income from the pandemic, he chose to start modeling on Pornhub to make money. “Now Mastercard and Visa are essentially for lack of a better term cock-blocking my potential to generate income through Pornhub and Modelhub,” he said. “I am watching to see if my OnlyFans will be their next target and sincerely hoping not.”

Sex workers are often the most vocal, constructive critics of the platforms they use, and many have been trying to get Pornhub to change its unverified upload policies for years. Six months ago, adult model Ginger Banks started a petition specifically to ask Pornhub to change its upload policies to make them safer. No one wants sexual abuse imagery to proliferate on the internet, let alone on a site they use every day for income. But Pornhub’s policy shift seems to have come too late.

“Pornhub has operated like the wild wild west, allowing pirated content which sometimes is non-consensual content,” performer Allie Eve Knox said in a Twitter thread about the news. “Some of that content stays up for way too long after takedown requests, super problematic and potentially harmful. None of us like that this happens and we have spoken out about how to fix these issues for years,” she wrote.

As flawed as Pornhub is, many are also asking why sites like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, which have reported millions more instances of non-consensual abusive imagery, aren’t targeted the way porn sites are. Facebook alone reported 84 million instances of child sexual abuse material over the last three years.

“Of course, no one will petition for those social media sites to be taken down—because people are more concerned about porn and sex work than anything else,” performer Gwen Adora, who has also been outspoken about conservative lobbyists’ efforts against porn, told me earlier this year.

Payment processors have been censoring sex workers for years, by banning adult platforms from hosting certain types of porn, such as blood play, urine, and sleeping—or by closing individual bank accounts altogether. Pulling support from a massive porn network, however, is different.

“Sex workers are scared by this change, despite not having uploaded any illegal content,” Fey said, “because we have seen these patterns before and have had sites and payment processors permanently and unexpectedly shut down.”

Article by Samantha Cole first appeared at Vice.com. Read the original here.

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