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Revenge of the Smut Peddlers: Pornhub Launches War on Revenge Porn

Pornhub will make it easier than ever to get your nonconsensual nudes removed from their site. According to the company's vice president, "We vehemently stand in opposition to those who engage in these types of attacks."
October 14, 2015, 8:55pm
Image via Stocksy / Nina Zivokvic

"Revenge porn" is a term that refers to sexually explicit photos or videos distributed without the subject's consent. In recent years, it's gone from something seen as equal parts salacious and shameful—think celebrity sex tapes of yore—to a violation and a potential sex crime. So far, 26 states have outlawed revenge porn, and websites like Google and Reddit have taken steps to either remove or de-index nonconsensually shared media. Now, internet porn behemoth PornHub is following suit.

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Yesterday PornHub announced a new anti–revenge porn initiative, involving "the creation of an all encompassing page that streamlines the process for users to remove any videos posted without consent quickly and painlessly." The form (which currently has NSFW banner ads) allows users to input the URL of any nonconsensual content they want removed; according to a press release, this will "make the process more efficient/effective in helping to ID and eliminate revenge porn content." Significantly, users won't have to provide government identification throughout the request process—which is something other popular sites require—and Pornhub maintains that reported content will generally be removed within a few hours.

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"It's no secret that some people feel porn sites are a popular destination for revenge porn, and so it was important for us to take a stand against this practice and streamline the process to help people easily remove their unauthorized content," said Pornhub vice president Corey Price. "If other sites stood up in public condemnation and put into place similar deterrents, we could effectively curb the practice by a great deal."

According to revenge porn advocates, this is a notable step in the right direction. Revenge porn can take myriad forms, Carrie Goldberg, a Brooklyn attorney who specializes in internet privacy and sexual consent law and serves on the board of the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative (CCRI), told Broadly. This includes "posting onto dedicated revenge porn websites; sending [images] directly (via text, email, DM) to targeted people in the victim's life (i.e., family, friends, colleagues, clients, employers, new relationship); using the images to impersonate the victim in sex advertisements; publishing [the images] on social media; and uploading [the images] onto porn sites."

Some people feel porn sites are a popular destination for revenge porn, so it was important for us to take a stand against this practice.

Goldberg said that about ten percent of her cases involve revenge porn that's been uploaded onto big porn aggregator sites; however, she noted that these cases are often the most "pernicious" because of "the volume of traffic to these sites and the instant spread to thousands of cottage porn sites that you never knew existed." According to Goldberg, PornHub's extensive online properties—a network that includes PornHub, XTube, and YouPorn—receive billions of visitors per month, all of whom have "the theoretical ability to download material they see, retain it on their computer, and re-post it somewhere else."

Before PornHub had a dedicated reporting page, Goldberg said, she would have to rely on copyright law (technically, one owns the copyright to any photos they've personally taken, meaning it's possible to sue for copyright infringement if one's selfies are posted on a porn site). For everything else, she'd simply have to "call up PornHub's lawyers and make a bleeding heart pitch."

Victims suffer tremendously. They become depressed, anxious, and some resort to physical harm like cutting.

For victims of revenge porn, the fallout can be utterly devastating. "Victims suffer tremendously. They become depressed, anxious, and some resort to physical harm like cutting. In the most unfortunate cases victims have committed suicide because they are unable to cope with the effects of the cyberharassment," said Elisa D'Amico, a cyber security attorney who founded the Cyber Civil Rights Legal Project. "Victims whose search-engine results are flooded with nonconsensual pornography are virtually unemployable. And those who already have jobs fear they will be fired, or are fired. Victims fear for their safety, and the safety of their children. And in many cases the pain and agony doesn't end—it goes on for years and years following the online abuse."

Price says that Pornhub has seen a 38 percent decrease in take down requests in the past two years, which he attributes to people taking revenge porn more seriously. "Now that posting revenge porn is being taken seriously as a criminal offencs and that more and more companies and community leaders are taking hard stances against the practice, we can only hope that this downwards trend will continue," he said.

But advocates caution that there's still a long way to go. "Although we have found some ways to help manage the necessary cleanup following a sexual cyber harassment incident, even with an online removal form, the process still involves manual labor and a significant amount of time," said D'Amico. "It is much akin to a game of whack-a-mole, or trying to herd fruit flies." Goldberg put it more bluntly: "Pornhub's focus must also be on their uploading policies. By the time the victim is requesting a take down from Pornhub, it's already too late. Her vagina is already on 50 websites."

By the time the victim is requesting a take down from Pornhub, it's already too late. Her vagina is already on 50 websites.

Goldberg also initially took issue with the vagueness of the removal page, noting that PornHub doesn't define what, exactly, "unauthorized" content means. "It does not specify whether they mean criminally illegal, copyright-infringing, or nonconsensually uploaded material," she noted. Fortunately, however, PornHub seems receptive to her criticism: When Goldberg aired her problems with the removal page on Twitter, the company responded promptly, saying they'd be happy to make changes to the form. "They said they will work on creating something and also that the gist of their policy is that if somebody asks for something to be removed, they'll remove it," Goldberg said. "They also were receptive to a collaboration with experts at CCRI and me to protect victims of revenge porn."

According to Price, Pornhub's action this week sends a powerful message to other porn sites, as well as to those who upload and view Pornhub content. "That message is that revenge porn will have no home on our site and that we vehemently stand in opposition of those who engage in these types of attacks," he said. "We'll be working to streamline internal systems over time to speed up our processing/removal capability, and by remaining vigilant will help to hammer that message home to anyone who thinks they can victimize people in this way."