The high cost of Pornhub's 'free' offer
Apparently there’s no end to the lengths the porn industry will go to to legitimise its exploitative practises. Now with the world in the grips of a pandemic, Pornhub is showing that not even a global health crisis or its victims are off limits.
This week, in the name of slowing down the spread of COVID-19, Pornhub boasted about donating 50,000 surgical masks to the city of New York and expanding its 'free premium' offer for ad-free content worldwide. The offer prompted UK MPs to call for urgent action to get control of online porn.
This type of publicity stunt - one that attempts to mesh objectification and commodification of women's bodies with 'charity' - is not new. Earlier this year several porn stars came out in the name of supporting Australian bushfire victims. For example, an LA-based Only Fans (subscription-based content service) star claimed to raise one million dollars for victims of the fires. The claim is dubious, given the woman’s method of ‘donation’ was to retrospectively give other donors a digital nude image in exchange for proof of their donations. How do we know those donations would not have been made regardless of her offer? Her claim of ‘raising’ funds is unsubstantiated and in the end, her efforts appeared to be nothing more than a plug for the porn industry.
During the same crisis, a Cairns hotel promoted a bikini car wash in the name of bushfire charity. Men were able to pay for ‘sexy girls to wash their car’ - all for a ‘good cause’.
Are fundraising and donation activities that exploit women really charitable?
The interconnected sex and porn industries are rooted in malevolence: women (and children) are the means to men’s sexual gratification and profit, not ends in and of themselves. Trading off of the objectification and commodification of women’s bodies, agents of the industries - like Pornhub - legitimise misogyny and exploitation.
Acts of 'charity' are normally seen as benevolent. But when these are borne out of industries that exploit women, they should be rejected and condemned. What are Pornhub's COVID-19 'donations' other than profits derived from women's bodies, at the cost of women's humanity and worth, transferred to another party?
History shows that women and girls are more vulnerable to trafficking, sexual exploitation and abuse during natural disasters and emergencies. In the present COVID-19 pandemic, the UN has pointed to previous health crises to highlight the 'exacerbated sexual exploitation risks for women and children', while the Executive Director of UNICEF warned that right now, the risks of exploitation and abuse for children are 'higher than ever'. These facts must inform our interpretation of so-called-charitable acts carried out by exploitative agents like Pornhub which prey upon and profit from women's and children's vulnerabilities.
Attempts to connect acts of ‘generosity’ and ‘sacrifice’ - the essence of philanthropy - with the porn industry result in aberrations. Philanthropy is about promoting the welfare of others. The porn and sex industries are underpinned by the idea that women are objects to be bought and sold, used and abused. When porn industry proponents - individuals and corporates that profit from the use and abuse of women - promote themselves as charitable, we must call them out - each and every time.
(Last year we called out sex shop Honey Birdette for its use of exploitative marketing tactics - pinkwashing - in the name of breast cancer awareness and charity.)
Pornhub hosts countless videos showing the real-life rape and torture of women and girls for men's entertainment. There is a cost to this, as Andrea Dworkin explained:
When your rape is entertainment, your worthlessness is absolute. You have reached the nadir of social worthlessness. The civil impact of pornography on women is staggering. It keeps us socially silent, it keeps us socially compliant, it keeps us afraid in neighborhoods; and it creates a vast hopelessness for women, a vast despair. One lives inside a nightmare of sexual abuse that is both actual and potential, and you have the great joy of knowing that your nightmare is someone else’s freedom and someone else’s fun.
In the midst of a global health crisis in which women and children are at increased risk of exploitation Pornhub is fuelling and feeding the worldwide demand for exploitation material. It has even twisted COVID-19 public health advice to 'stay home and help flatten the curve' for its own purposes. Meanwhile, Pornhub is steepening the curve of abuse and crimes against women and children.
There is nothing 'free' about Pornhub's 'Premium' offer. Women and girls will pay the very high cost of it - with their safety and well-being; with their very lives.
Giving is good. But exploitation of women and girls is an indefensible trade-off for supporting other people in crisis. Philanthropy - truly charitable giving - cannot be pornified. And porn - inextricably linked to women's harm - is never charitable.
Help #ShutDownPornhub and hold its executives accountable for aiding trafficking: Sign and share the petition here.
How Instagram broadcasts live sex acts to kids
*Content warning: this article describes real events that may be distressing for readers
As a researcher and campaigner advocating for an end to the objectification of women and sexualisation of girls, I follow dozens of underage girls on Instagram. They are aspiring models, gymnasts and dancers. They pose in swimwear and leotards. I watch how they use Instagram to promote a new brand-name bikini, or to exhibit their latest ventures in flexibility: an attempt at oversplits or a contorted backbend. Some of the girls have hundreds of thousands of followers. We - their followers - didn't have to look for them: Instagram’s search , ‘Explore’ and ‘Suggested for you’ features served them to us in an algorithm-procured gallery of pre-pubescents and young teens that caters to the predator’s eye.
An Instagram feed filled with prepubescent girls in bikinis
The setting is a picture of after-school normality: an average kitchen in a home in Australian suburbia. Two girls in school uniform do what kids up and down the eastern seaboard are doing: arriving home after a long day of school, they dump their school bags and head to the kitchen to make a snack.
One of the girls - 14 according to information on her Instagram account - casually picks up her phone. Still in her uniform (easily providing information about what school she attends and where) she opens Instagram and with a tap of an icon starts a live post: a livestream video that her followers can watch. Instagram even promotes the live broadcast. I, one of her 12,000 algorithm-procured followers - and one of hordes of strangers whose identities, whereabouts and motives for watching a 14 year old girl are unknown - get an Instagram notification that she’s started a ‘live’. I click her avatar to start the livestream, and instantly I’m transported into the family kitchen. The girl and her friend occupy the foreground, creating a soundtrack with teenage chatter. In the background is a fridge plastered with photos, bills and reminders – artefacts of average family life.
One of the 50+ viewers makes a request to ‘be in’ the ‘live’. This request is one of Instagram’s built-in live-post features that allows viewers to interact with the host via a simultaneous, live video broadcast which the other viewers can see. The girl accepts the request, smiling curiously at the screen as she scans viewers’ incoming comments. As she does, my screen splits horizontally, making way for the viewer’s live video broadcast.
The viewer is a man. He is naked. And he is masturbating.
The girl bursts into nervous laughter and steps out of view, leaving viewers to watch the fridge and the man. He repositions his phone to show his genitals from a different angle before his school girl host returns, hand over mouth, and ends his live video. With the screen to herself again, she continues her live post giggling, while, from off-camera, her friend makes a comment to the effect that they shouldn’t be laughing: it’s not funny. But they don’t appear all that shocked. It’s almost as if this isn’t the first time a stranger has made a sexual approach this way, as though this after-school event is also normal. Parents aren’t told, no alarm is raised. They continue with their live post - even accepting another viewer’s request to be in the live post.
An underage girl has just – with no moderation or intervention from the global multi-billion dollar Facebook-owned platform - broadcast a live video of a naked man masturbating. She and her friend - and fifty other people - just witnessed a serious criminal act, prohibited by Australia’s Commonwealth, state and territory child exploitation material laws.
Who else witnessed the live sex act? Other school friends? Perhaps younger children – cousins or neighbours who tuned in to catch up on some big-girl news? How widely did Instagram disseminate this piece of child exploitation material that it failed to moderate and helped produce? How many times is this scene being played out in Australia each day? How many kitchens and bathrooms and bedrooms of Australian homes are being infiltrated by predators who want to abuse underage girls in this way? How many men are using Instagram to broadcast live sex acts to children? Has this type of criminal behaviour become ‘normal’ for girls who have been desensitised to predatory advances because sexual objectification, harassment and predation are so entrenched in their everyday, lived experiences? Why - in flagrant disregard of human rights, law, child safety principles and common sense - is Instagram connecting predators to minors?
Four days later our concerns that this event was not a one-off, that predators are targeting underage girls for the purpose of broadcasting live sex acts to them and that this is 'normal' for some girls were confirmed when we found the public Instagram account of a 9 year old girl based in Europe. She had saved a live post to her profile, allowing anyone to watch it for the 24-hour period that followed. We watched the video and saw that it was interupted several times as the young girl accepted requests from different viewers to be in the broadcast. We counted three different viewers who filmed themselves masturbating. We then followed the girl. Within an hour we received a notification from Instagram that she had started a live post. We began viewing the video immediately and within seconds she accepted a viewer's request to be in the broadcast. It was another naked, masturbating man.
In the week since I first saw men masturbating via live videofeed at those girls, I have not been able to erase the images from my mind. These are among the most disturbing things I’ve come across since my colleagues and I began investigating hundreds of predatory approaches to underage girls through their Instagram pages. Within a short time of making a report to Instagram about the 9 year old girl her account was removed. But how many backup accounts does she have? How long until she creates a new account? How long until Instagram reconnects her old followers to her? How long before they're again using Instagram as a webcam to broadcast live sex acts to her and other children? How many other victims are there? And what does the future hold for these girls who have been groomed by Instagram's predators to believe that men exposing and rubbing their genitals at them is normal? Will they be safe from unwanted sexual advances from their bosses and colleagues? From strangers? Will the #MeToo movement mean anything for them? Will others enable men to harass or commit other heinous, sexual crimes against them, the way Instagram did in their childhood?
Our investigation began last July and demonstrated how Instagram serves as a pedophile directory and forum. We reported web-based pedophile forums containing direct links to underages girls’ Instagram accounts, in which pedophiles described violent sex abuse fantasies involving Instagram’s child models, gymnasts and dancers - girls as young as one. We reported multiple examples of child exploitation material.
In November 2019, Collective Shout, in coalition with the National Centre on Sexual Exploitation in the US and Defend Dignity in Canada, launched #WakeUpInstagram - an international campaign to hold Instagram and Facebook executives accountable for the exploitation and predation of underage girls on their platform to try to leverage our combined weight to force the platforms to act.
We then wrote to Instagram’s Head of Global Policy with some of our key discoveries, including countless sexualised and predatory comments made by men to underage girls, and to ask Instagram to address its widespread child predator problem. In the letter we made several recommendations and asked Instagram to stop adults from contacting minors during live posts. Having viewed several live posts hosted by girls as young as 11, we knew that men were using ‘lives’ to harass and solicit sexualised content from minors.
Three months later – while Instagram’s investigations continued - we witnessed yet another example of how Instagram caters to predators and even facilitates criminal behaviour, and how girls’ safety and well-being are sidelined. Instead of safeguarding children, Instagram is bringing child predators - naked and masturbating in real-time - into their homes.
Instagram’s catchphrase rings of utopian ideals of boundless connectivity: “Bringing you closer to the people and things you love”. When juxtaposed against our discoveries which show that the ‘people’ are often predators, and the ‘things’ they love are underage girls, the slogan rings sinister. Nowhere in society are we fostering connections between child predators and children. In fact we are vigilant in our efforts to prevent such connections. Why are the rules different for social media companies? Shouldn’t Instagram not only stop connecting predators to children but work fastidiously to prevent these connections?
Instagram does prevent certain adult-child connections: those between parents and their children. According to its “Tips for Parents” Instagram can’t - due to privacy laws - give a parent access to their 13+ year old child’s account. But an Instagram-procured predator who wants to masturbate at a child has the freedom to do so.
In a timely report, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children highlighted some of the dangers of social media that we - through the #WakeUpInstagram campaign - are calling on Instagram's corporate leaders to address:
'Offenders, traffickers and criminal groups use Internet tools, such as social media, to identify child victims more easily and establish relationships, subsequently intimidating them into exploitative situations.'
The report further pointed out that offenders are empowered by impunity:
'Ultimately, the essential feature of most offenders is their knowledge or belief that their actions will go unpunished'.
Our investigations have shown that predators are fed a steady stream of victims via Instagram’s algorithms and that predators are free to roam and prey at will, not just with impunity but with the endorsement of moderators who tell us their behaviour ‘doesn’t go against community guidelines’.
Australia is at the forefront of global efforts to improve online safety. The Office of the eSafety Commissioner’s user-centred initiative, Safety by Design, was the outcome of consultation with industry, service providers, parents and young people and resulted in a set of principles that prioritises user rights and safety. Safety by Design highlights the imperative role of service providers like Instagram in the broader context of shared responsibility for online safety. It spells out eight initiatives designed to 'ensure that known and anticipated harms have been evaluated in the design and provision of an online service'.
In the same week we witnessed how Instagram is used by sex predators to broadcast live sex acts to children, its parent company Facebook committed to a set of new, voluntary standards developed by the Five Country Ministerial (represented by government Ministers of Australia, the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and New Zealand) to combat online child sexual exploitation and abuse.
Can Instagram abide by these principles and standards without a drastic overhaul to its ethos and operations? While it is underpinned by ideals like boundless connectivity which connects child predators to children? While it stands by community guidelines that accommodate the sexual harassment of little girls? While it indiscriminately gives its users tools - like 'Explore' and live posts - which predators can use to find child victims and commit sexual crimes against them?
As Campaigns Manager Caitlin Roper warned:
'We cannot overlook the significance of a wider culture that sexualises children and treats them as appropriate objects of men’s sexual desire.'
Instagram - through its predator-friendly policies and practises - has fostered a community that fetishises underage girls and helped fuel a culture that normalises their sexualisation and harassment. Now - as well as upholding the principles it has committed to, Instagram must work to eradicate its child predator community, and to foster a culture in which the sexualisation, harassment, exploitation and abuse of children is unthinkable. We owe it to girls and women - this and future generations - to make sure they do.
- If you are concerned about suspected online child exploitation material, make a report to the eSafety Office.
- If you are concerned about an adult behaving inappropriately online toward a child, make a report to the Australian Federal Police.
- Make an anonymous report to Crime Stoppers or phone their toll free number 1800 333 000.
*Content warning- this article mentions child sexual abuse which may be distressing for some readers*
In January, the United Nations released the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children, including child prostitution, child pornography and other child sexual abuse material, containing an overview of the main issues of concern and recommendations for going forward. The report examines the sexual exploitation and sale of children in a number of settings- online, in prostitution, in travel and tourism, sports and major sporting events, peace keeping and humanitarian aid, child marriage, illegal adoption and surrogacy.Read more
A thirty-seven year old mother spent seven days online as an eleven year old girl. Here’s what she learned.
WATCH: Social media dangers exposedRead more
Executive "mega-pimps" must be held accountable for facilitating sex traffickingRead more
*Content warning - Facts and censored images may be distressing*Read more
Reported in The AgeRead more
But Instagram says they don't violate "community guidelines"Read more
Last week was Triple J’s ‘Porn Week’, with a special focus on stories about pornography and “discussing all things porn”, promising to examine “every facet of pornography”.
Perhaps a thorough examination of every facet would include a discussion about sexually violent content in pornography, including frequent acts of aggression, cruelty and humiliation of women, the normalisation of a male dominance/female subordination paradigm, or a critical look at the sexist and racist tropes that are commonplace in porn.
Maybe it would include accounts of mistreatment from female pornography performers, citing abuse and exploitation within the industry and being raped during production or high rates of suicide among performers.
It might also include a conversation about the experiences of women and girls growing up in a ‘porn culture’, with growing numbers reporting sexual coercion in their intimate relationships with men and boys, and pressure to submit to unwanted, painful or degrading sex acts.
Maybe a segment would be devoted to the potentially devastating impacts of children’s early exposure to hardcore pornography and how it shapes their attitudes and sexual practices. The quadrupling of child-on-child sexual assaults attributed to pornography, reports of girls as young as twelve requiring medical treatment for sex-related injuries, or more recently, the sixteen-year-old girl forced to get a colostomy bag after rough group sex
But there was no meaningful discussion of any of this.
Rather than engaging with legitimate criticisms of the pornography industry, or a growing body of research documenting how pornography harms women, children and men, Triple J instead promoted pornography use with articles like “How porn can be a positive force in your relationship” and “Porn, kinks and kink-shaming: You're not weird for watching the porn you watch”, just weeks after publishing a piece entitled “So you want to book a sex worker”, with instructions and advice on the ins and outs of purchasing sex.
What could have been a frank and much-needed examination of pornography felt more like a week of free PR for the sex industry.
Viewing rape porn "nothing to be ashamed of"
The article “Porn, kinks and kink-shaming” reassures readers that it is both normal and acceptable to masturbate to rape and incest porn- that these are “kinks” and “nothing to be ashamed of”. Masturbating to the physical abuse of women is framed as a matter of individual preference, and kink advocates quoted in the article warn against “kink-shaming” or “demonising” consumption of this material. Porn is, we are told, “only a fantasy”.
But it’s not just a fantasy. Fantasy occurs in the mind. When acts of sexual violence and cruelty are carried out on the bodies of living women, this ceases to be a fantasy and becomes reality. A porn scene featuring a woman being choked cannot be produced without an actual woman being choked on camera. That’s not fantasy, that’s a man’s actual hands around a woman’s actual neck, actually choking her.
It’s also not merely fantasy when it happens to women outside of pornography. A recent US study found a quarter of women surveyed have felt scared during sex. A number of these said their partner had tried to choke them without warning. Researchers in London studying heterosexual anal sex among teenagers found a climate of coercion, and that young people rarely spoke about anal sex “in terms of mutual exploration of sexual pleasure”.
Eurydice Dixon’s killer Jaymes Todd was this week sentenced to life in prison for her rape and murder. The court heard that Todd watched violent pornography before and after raping and killing the young comedian, and that Todd was addicted to a fantasy of coercive rape, including fantasies of death, and searched for snuff films online, in which people are killed. Was Jaymes Todd’s preference for pornography depicting rape and extreme violence against women, even murder, a mere “kink”? Was it a coincidence that a man who was obsessed with porn depicting the sadistic rape and murder of women carried out these same acts against a real woman?
Triple J promotes "ethical" porn
Another segment was dedicated to ‘ethical’ porn, with a visit to a Sydney porn set. So-called ethical or feminist porn is often positioned as a positive alternative to run of the mill misogynist and male-dominated pornography. But the bar for what constitutes ‘ethical’ porn is very low, and typically only refers to conditions of production, such as fair compensation and labour conditions, representation of diverse body types and sexualities, consent and authenticity.
The actual content in ‘ethical’ or ‘feminist’ porn may be indistinguishable from violent and abusive mainstream porn. Rather than showcasing more egalitarian or non-violent content, degradation and acts of physical violence against women such as slapping, gagging and strangulation are still found in ‘ethical’ porn. Does this sound all that ethical? And if ethical porn truly exists, is anyone interested in watching it?
Dr Meagan Tyler, Senior Lecturer at RMIT, argues that the notion of ethical porn is a cynical attempt to make porn companies look like good corporate citizens.
“It’s a marketing ploy and an exercise in obfuscation,” she says.
"It's for a small segment of consumers who would like to think that their pornography consumption is unproblematic and they would like to think that what they are doing is totally different from what others are doing when, in reality, it all feeds the same commercial sex industry."
“It speaks volumes about how much pornography has colonised our understandings of sex that we can only imagine the possibility of a (potentially) slightly less harmful pornography, not a happy life without pornography at all.”
Were any researchers who have analysed the harmful impacts of pornography, especially in young people in their sexual development, consulted? Or was it only those in favour of porn consumption, including those with vested interests in the industry? ABC is a publicly funded broadcaster, and Dr Tyler says we need to ask questions about who commissioned this discussion, and under what circumstances.
“Triple J ‘Porn Week’ [is a] week long advertorial for why porn is great - we can’t ignore the intersections of men’s violence against women and intimate violation of women and the multi-billion dollar global pornography industry.”
We need to have honest conversations about the realities of pornography and our engagement with it. Porn Week was a platform for pro-pornography indoctrination, and many more women and girls will suffer as a result.