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Pornhub Needs To Change. Shutting It Down Might Not Be The Answer

Listening to sex workers can help us understand the nuanced issue. 

(@femmewavefest / Instagram)


If you’ve sifted through this week’s mess of political rhetoric on social media, something new may have stood out to you: a video campaign calling out Pornhub for egregious instances of abuse uploaded to the platform. 

The #Traffickinghub campaign, organized by a group called Exodus Cry, has received 15 million views on its latest IGTV video, alledging that Pornhub is “enabling and profiting from rape, abuse and child sex trafficking.” Its petition to shut down the platform has over 1 million signatures to date. 

On the surface, it seems obvious to support a campaign that claims to help victims of trafficking. But digging deeper, the conversation about shutting down Pornhub is much more nuanced, and the effects of doing so might be counterproductive. 

Pornhub misses the mark in a lot of ways (see: allowing content which perpetuates racial and gender stereotypes), and it should be held accountable for that, as the petition suggests. But the implications of shutting it down could set a dangerous precedent for sex work and online communications in general.

The fact is that shutting it down completely — or any other pornographic website — will not end sex trafficking. It will not end revenge porn. It will not end the crimes committed against women and children which have been documented on the platform. 

Real changes need to be made to create safer work environments in the sex industry (#sexworkisrealwork). Shutting down Pornhub won’t do that. It will just make these awful instances of violence take another form while pushing sex workers, and resources for them, deeper into the shadows. 

At best, the #Traffickinghub campaign seems to be a well-intentioned attempt at rightfully holding a platform accountable, but at its core it perpetuates anti-sex work narratives.

The Exodus Cry website states that the sex industry is “a global system of violence, exploitation, and gender inequality that encompasses prostitution, pornography, and stripping,” and that, even if women — and it only focuses on women’s victimhood — aren’t coerced into it, they’re “seduced by the deceptive ‘empowerment’ narrative.” It says that, “Together, we can break the cycle of sexual exploitation and bring freedom to the captives.”

In response to the campaign, some prominent sex workers and educators have shared on social media that the campaign’s mission might actually do more harm than good, despite the wide support the petition has garnered.

Adult film star and director Asa Akira critiqued the campaign in an Instagram post.

She disputed the claim that Pornhub profits off of underaged or nonconsensual content. However, some commenters claim she has a biased reason to defend Pornhub since she’s making money through them, and several people have stepped forward with stories that suggest otherwise, particularly those documented in the #Traffickinghub campaign video.

In March, Pornhub issued a statement to Jezebel that noted it typically responds to nonconsensual video complaints in under eight hours. But the task is lengthy and horrific to those who investigate claims, which may contribute to errors in moderating content. 

One of the problems, sex worker and certified sex educator Elle Stanger suggested, is the poor compensation content reviewers receive for filtering illegal content. 

Either way, there is no excuse for any major porn site to have loose or unclear regulations when it comes to verifying the ages or consent of those in videos. And Pornhub should take serious accountability for its past lapses in policy while decreasing the ease of uploading videos. 

In an Instagram post, Stanger wrote, “Want to make performative sexuality work safer? The workers know how, listen to us instead.” And she has a point. 

She noted that Laila Mickelwait, the founder of the #Traffickinghub campaign, has never responded to Stanger or other sex workers about how banning sex work is supposed to make them safer. 

Stanger drew comparisons between Pornhub and Instagram, saying “any method of communication can be abused for nefarious purposes, how do we plan for that and manage better?” 

Pornhub needs to invest in better screening and verification technologies, address the survivors of abuse who have called them out for ignoring their requests to take down videos and hire a larger team of reviewers who are compensated well and given extensive mental health care. (Although it’s hard to measure an appropriate amount to pay someone for seeing unforgettable traumatic events.)

Shutting down Pornhub would only lead to other porn sites being targeted, Stanger said, and the abuse documented on the site would just go more underground and limit sexuality resources and communication. 

She has been a vocal advocate against FOSTA-SESTA, a bill passed in 2018 under the notion of curbing sex trafficking online by holding websites accountable for allowing sex work on their platforms. 

The real effect, however, was a shutdown of sites which screened prospective clients of sex workers and provided community resources. Plus, it made it even harder for law enforcement to find actual traffickers, and, as Aja Romano from Vox put it, has made it so websites have to choose “whether to overpolice their platforms for potential prostitution advertisements or to underpolice them so they can maintain a know-nothing stance.” 

Currently, Congress is considering the EARN IT Act, which is another bill aimed at curbing child sex exploitation in a misguided way. It will require online platforms to “earn” certain protections against liability by forcing them to scan and censor more of their users’ communications - predictably leading to higher safety risks for sex workers, LGBTQ+ people and other marginalized communities, according to the ACLU. 

Until transparent steps are taken on Pornhub’s end to make it a safer place, it’s reasonable and perhaps necessary to step away from supporting the site. Many people have offered alternatives, such as purchasing professional porn and supporting creators directly. There’s also a booming market for ethical feminist porn.

But to shut down the platform as a whole barely scratches the surface of the real mission Exodus Cry claims and seems to reinforce attitudes that contribute to the problem in the first place. 


If you have more questions about the Pornhub debate that weren’t answered here, or if you need other sex or relationship advice, fill out this form (anonymously or not) and we’ll give you our hot take in the next Rowdy After Dark.


Morgan is an online writer at Rowdy Magazine and a fourth-year journalism and women’s studies student at UF. You can usually find her at a local coffee shop, petting her latest foster cat or on social media @morgangoldwich.


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