Pornhub's Content Purge Has Left Fetish Creators Wondering What's Next

Furries, fandoms, and other adult content creators outside the mainstream are asking where they fit in among Pornhub’s new policies.

Dec 22 2020, 2:00pm

Before the purge that disappeared more than 75 percent of content on the platform, Pornhub hosted a lot of videos and photos that weren’t humans having sex. There were full-length movies, memes, and video game playthroughs that you might see on a non-adult site like Twitch, but there was also a ton of animation, 3D renderings, audio erotica, music videos, fanfic from furries and bronies, and stop-motion animation like LEGO minifigs fucking

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Pornhub became a dumping ground and safe harbor for a lot of stuff, and a lot of these creators didn't necessarily want to upload a photo of themselves to a huge porn corporation's database in order to get verified. They were just throwing things on the site for fun, to share with others in their respective communities, and the wider world. Compared to a site like Milovana (an adult message board and the birthplace of Cock Hero, videos of which are mostly gone from Pornhub now) or the furry fan art forum e621, Pornhub was a way to reach a more mainstream audience. With last week’s action, a lot of that stuff is now gone.

For victims of abusive imagery and non-consensual porn, as well as anyone who's had to deal filing takedown requests for pirated content uploaded to Pornhub, the removal of unverified content is a positive: between Pornhub's new policy for only allowing content partners and performers in the model program to upload and download, and the retroactive suspension of all this content pending review, the platform seems to be making long-overdue changes that sex workers and victim advocates alike have asked for. But by applying a blanket solution to a complex problem, it's caught small, independent creators from niche communities in its net. 

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Several creators told me that Pornhub's damage-control scramble has created issues for verified users, locked many unverified creators out of their own content, and left many more wondering whether there's even a future for indie and fetish works on the site.

“It was a betrayal”

In a month when sex on the internet is being attacked from all sides—from Instagram's new terms of service, to TikTok kicking sex workers off the platform, to payment processors leaving Pornhub—some creators are concerned that losing one of the most popular porn sites in the world as a platform is another blow against fetish and outside-the-mainstream content on the internet as a whole. 

For a lot of creators, Pornhub's melting pot was a source of inspiration for artists, Lifty and Sylox, hosts of the Furry Frequencies podcast, told me in an email. "Many of the videos that were uploaded onto Pornhub from the furry community were sexual videos of furries partaking in sexual acts in fursuit," they said—which could include videos of furries in fullsuit with “strategically-placed holes” performing solo or with one or more partners. "Some furries perform with just their fursuit head, handpaws, and feetpaws to provide better nude content. An unverified, but significant amount of this content catered to specific fetishes of the furry community, such as feet fetishism or watersports." 

"Furries won't abandon PornHub immediately," Lifty and Sylox said, noting that more creators will likely migrate to Onlyfans or communities like Furaffinity to post content. "Changes like this tend to take time before the effects can be measured... PornHub's status as a repository for one-stop furry porn content will eventually diminish significantly." 

It's not just illustrators and furries who have lost Pornhub as a platform in the last week. Audio erotica creator Goddess By Night told me that she lost all of her content—about 40 videos. She's been making audio erotica for five years, and in the last two she'd made a business out of it. She makes Gentle Female Dominant and Dominant Mommy-themed stories, as well as Futanari role play and other kink-related fantasies.

"Most of my work is a niche within the adult entertainment industry, and Pornhub allowed me to reach a broader audience, so it’s a pretty significant loss," she said. "However, my community has been incredibly supportive and intend to follow me to the next platform(s) I choose. I don’t plan on returning to Pornhub because of this. It was a betrayal, especially to the loads of creators they explicitly welcomed after Tumblr’s ban two years ago. I know some creators who lost work that they may never get back because Pornhub didn’t offer a grace period."

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Each of the creators I talked to, whether they were verified or unverified, said that they weren't given any warning before Pornhub's content suspension took place. Pornhub used the word "suspension," not "deletion," and told Motherboard at the time of the suspension announcement that this meant content would be "removed pending verification and review." 

Creators whose content was removed saw a message in place of their uploads that explained the video was "flagged for verification" and invited them to apply for the Model Program or Content Partner Program in order to re-enable the videos, or wait for the new verification process to start in 2021.

They were locked out of their own content at that point and were unable to even download it from the platform.

When Tumblr removed all NSFW content from its platform in December 2018—similarly for allegations it hosted child sexual abuse imagery, but also to appease Apple—the social media platform gave creators about two weeks of notice to get their stuff off the site. Pornhub's announcement came at 7 a.m. EST on a Monday and went into effect immediately. By the time most people saw the news, the suspensions were underway, and more than 10 million uploads were gone by 9 a.m.

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This is especially bitter news for creators who, in 2018, took Pornhub up on its invitation to move to the platform from Tumblr.

"Amusingly [Pornhub was] very happy to take advantage of the Tumblr refugees back when all that went down, inviting us to upload all our galleries there," adult content illustrator IzzyBSides told me in a Twitter message. "I think most of us on Twitter know we're living on borrowed time, people have backup accounts set up and occasionally plug them to their followers letting them know to follow it in case their main account randomly disappears overnight."

Because the mass suspensions were meant as a broad solution to get unlawful, abusive content on the site under control, allowing users to download their content would miss the point of stopping the spread of any abusive imagery. But the move also meant that a lot of content that wasn’t abusive and fell well within Pornhub's terms of service was removed in the process. People didn't have the chance to choose whether they wanted to pack their bags and go elsewhere. If they want to recover their own content, they'll have to play by Pornhub's verification rules, which have yet to be announced and won't start until sometime early next year.

One animator who asked to remain anonymous told me that they lost about 20 videos, "including story animations, which I loved very much ...This was sad for me as the videos were deleted without warning," they said, but added that they luckily had a backup of their videos saved to their hard drives. "However, I didn't have any income from Pornhub, so it's okay, the videos are saved and I'll just move them to another site." 

That illustrator wasn't verified, but even being a verified user didn't save some people from the purge. Pornhub's policy changes were intended to skip over verified accounts, but some users still saw their verified content taken down.

“Sex workers are under attack everywhere”

Another confusing aspect of Pornhub's cleaning spree is the effect it has had on verified creators and performers. Many have reported on Twitter that some of their verified content has been disappeared, seemingly at random, even while other uploads have stayed online. Others in the comments of Pornhub's own verification policy page say that they were verified, but now they aren't. From the outside, there seems to be no consistent reasoning for this. 

Before the policy changes, there were three types of verification, according to Pornhub: Content partners, users in the model program, and verified users. The last category is now gone, and only uploads by models and content partners remain. The users reporting verification issues were likely in that last category—verified based on the old standards Pornhub used, which involved sending Pornhub a selfie with your face and holding up a sheet of paper with your name written on it. Those users are all now unverified. But inconsistencies remain.

Riley Cyriis, a performer who's been verified on Pornhub for more than a year, told me that most of her free videos and around 40 of 120 paid videos were removed, along with 20 videos she had set to private, only viewable by her. 

"My best guess would be certain tags, like 'teen' or 'daddy,' but it's really just a guess," she said. "The majority of flagged videos were my most successful ones ranging from 200k to 700k views, so maybe it's just how they came up? My profile is pretty obviously made by a real person and I listed my age publicly."

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She wasn't using Pornhub as a main income source (although many performers do), so she's planning to focus more on other platforms like Onlyfans and Manyvids. 

Pornhub has said that it will restart the verification with new requirements in 2021. But the gap is a long time to wait if you're losing an audience and relied on the site for income. Many performers have already lost significant income due to Mastercard and Visa's decision to drop Pornhub. Performer Mary Moody said in a video about the payment processing news that she was making enough money from Modelhub to cover rent each month.   

And the verification process, which still hasn't been clarified publicly by Pornhub, could bring up new issues for anyone who wants to get their content back. IzzyBSides said that they'd received verification rejections before Pornhub's content purge, because their avatar—a fire sprite—obviously doesn't match their real-life face. The reason Pornhub gave for their rejection the last time, before the content suspensions, was that their avatar didn't match their verification photo. "We need to see your face to confirm," Pornhub's customer service email to them said. According to Pornhub, this method of verification is now outdated.

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It's unclear how verification will work in the future, but Pornhub has said that identification of some kind will be part of the process. There are obviously many reasons that not everyone would want to use their real face as their avatar on a porn website.

"I'm not sure how I'm supposed to get verified with those sorts of requirements," IzzyBSides said, adding that performers who wear masks or keep their faces cropped out of videos would be excluded from verification on these terms. "It would force anyone experimenting out of the closet."

I asked performer Dylan Thomas how a verification system with even more strict requirements for identity could impact trans, non-binary, and gender non-conforming content creators and performers. He said Pornhub could avoid excluding these groups by consulting with, and hiring, them to help create the new system. 

"Some of us with intersectional experience in both creative strategy, the digital space and sex work would like nothing more than to serve our community and get everyone back online, generating income and having an enjoyable, safe and sexy time," he said. 

How Pornhub’s new verification policies and process will unfold in practice is yet to be seen, but by including the voices of people who use the site, it could avoid future mistakes—just as it could have avoided this month’s backlash—and listen to the sex workers and content creators who've been asking for things to change for a long time.

"Pornhub was blatant about their disregard to what appeared on the site. But sex workers are under attack everywhere," Cyriis said. "Aside from the payout issues caused by Visa/MC, YouTubers and celebrities are flicking onto our platforms and basically doing whatever they want with no real financial repercussions. The consequences fall squarely on the shoulders of sex workers who built these platforms."

Tagged:

Sex, porn

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