Watch Pornhub Execs Being Grilled for Abuse on Their Platform

MindGeek execs answered to Canadian Parliament about moderation, abuse, and why it didn't act sooner.

Feb 8 2021, 5:54pm

On Friday, Canadian Parliament questioned MindGeek executives on Pornhub's moderation practices, following allegations about child pornography and rape videos on the site. In December, the access to information, privacy, and ethics committee moved to bring MindGeek in for testimony about “the company’s failure to prohibit rape videos and other illegal content from its site." 

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Throughout the hearing, Members of Parliament (MP) on the House of Commons committee asked Mindgeek chief operating officer David Marmorstein Tassillo and CEO of Mindgeek Canadian operations Feras Antoon for details on Pornhub's moderation team, how the company is addressing reports of unlawful material on the site, and why change didn't happen sooner.

In December, following pressure from media reports and conservative anti-pornography groups, Mastercard and Visa suspended payments on Pornhub. Less than a week later, Pornhub suspended all content uploaded by unverified users—around 80 percent of the total content on its platform—and disabled downloading for anyone who isn't verified. Earlier this month, the platform announced more details on its new safety measures.

Several MPs asked why Pornhub didn't make changes earlier, if it knew the problem existed.

"Why did Mindgeek wait until December 2020, after global condemnation and threats from payment processors, to take these actions?" member of parliament Shannon Snubbs asked. Tassillo said that the moderation practices have been a "constant evolution" almost since the company's inception in 2008. "We had human moderation on our sites when it was a word that didn't exist... These were things that we started. We weren't public about it but these are things we did since the beginning," he said. 

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On Monday, Serena Fleites, one of the child pornography victims cited in a December New York Times opinion piece about child abuse material on Pornhub, testified before parliament that Pornhub took more than a week to act on the content she reported as abusive. 

"Is it fair to say, if these changes were put into place years ago, that this instance wouldn't have happened and Girls Do Porn wouldn't have happened ... do you think that's fair?" MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith asked.

"I respectfully disagree," Antoon said. "Our system is not perfect like any other video sharing platform, adult or not adult... We can always improve and always do better." 

Several other questions focused on the specifics of moderation and compliance agents, which Antoon and Tassillo say review every piece of content that's uploaded before it goes on the site. Neither divulged how many moderators or compliance agents the company employs, but "irrespective of the amount of content, the content will not go live unless a moderator views it," Tassillo said.

In response to questions about tagging and categories, and whether they might be abused with words like "teen" or "middle school," Tassillo and Antoon said that the site now has a database of more than 1,000 words that are deemed "risky" and require further review, as they could have positive or negative connotations depending on the way they're used. None of those words are available to use as tags or categories, or in titles, they said—this is also part of Pornhub's expanded safety measures as announced last week. 

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Erskine-Smith asked about reporting from the Globe and Mail in February that quoted moderators as saying that they flagged content that they felt should be reported to authorities, but were ignored by managers. 

Antoon said he "read it quickly," because there are so many articles about Pornhub lately. "Media articles are not facts. It's journalists writing whatever they want," Antoon said, adding that the article mixes up "formatters" and "moderators," which do different jobs. "That's a perfect example of journalists not understanding who they're interviewing." 

Later, Antoon said that when reports about illegal content come out in the media, Pornhub reaches out to the journalists for more information. "That journalist himself could have easily flagged that content. They did not flag it, they did not submit information to us. If we don't have this information I can't say if it's illegal or not." 

In 2020 a Motherboard investigation revealed how Pornhub's moderation, and specifically the video fingerprinting technology Antoon mentioned during the hearing, failed to stop the distribution of non-consensual Girls Do Porn videos. Before the story was published, Pornhub insisted that "Anyone who digitally fingerprints their content is then protected from having their video uploaded by unauthorized parties." After the story was published, Pornhub took down hundreds of Girls Do Porn videos from its site.  

In December, 40 victims of Girls Do Porn sued Pornhub, claiming that the site was knowingly profiting off their abuse imagery. In January, an Ontario resident brought a class-action lawsuit in Quebec against Mindgeek, claims that the adult content conglomerate "illegally disseminated intimate videos and photos including depictions of child sexual abuse, sexual assault of adults, as well as intimate images of adults who did not consent to the public dissemination of their images," according to the Canadian Global News

Tagged:

porn, Canada, MindGeek

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