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Mastercard severs ties with Pornhub, citing illegal content

The move comes after a news report alleging the adult website is ‘infested’ with videos depicting sexual violence and child abuse

(Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg News)

Mastercard said Thursday it has severed ties with Pornhub after confirming the adult website carried illegal content depicting child abuse and sexual violence.

The payment processor and its rival Visa launched investigations this week after a New York Times report by columnist Nicholas Kristof alleged that Pornhub “is infested with rape videos” and “monetizes child rapes.” Kristof wrote that he came across “recordings of assaults on unconscious women and girls” on the site. In a statement to the Times, Pornhub said any assertion suggesting it allows child videos on its site is “irresponsible and flagrantly untrue.”

Mastercard, Visa investigate Pornhub business relationship

Major credit card companies have been under pressure to block payments to adult websites that cannot ensure the legality of their hosted content. Earlier this year, women’s and children’s rights groups urged payment processors to bar transactions with porn sites. The advocates contend that financial institutions play a supportive role in facilitating the spread of abusive and illegal pornography.

Though the vast majority of Pornhub content is likely to involve consenting adults, the report found, many of the videos do not. Because they can be downloaded, the spread of exploitative and illegal material is amplified, it noted.

Pornhub drew 42 billion visits in 2019, an average of 115 million a day, the company has said. Users uploaded nearly 7 million videos.

“Today, the use of our cards at Pornhub is being terminated,” Mastercard said in a statement Thursday to The Washington Post. “Our investigation over the past several days has confirmed violations of our standards prohibiting unlawful content on their site. As a result, and in accordance with our policies, we instructed the financial institutions that connect the site to our network to terminate acceptance.”

Pornhub, which is owned by MindGeek, called the move “exceptionally disappointing,” because it came just days after new safeguards were implemented.

“Unverified users are now banned from uploading content — a policy no other platform has put in place, including Facebook, which reported 84 million instances of child sexual abuse material over the last three years,” the company said. “In comparison, the Internet Watch Foundation reported 118 incidents on Pornhub over the last three years.”

Laila Mickelwait, the founder of Traffickinghub — a movement that wants to hold Pornhub accountable for profiting from the alleged trafficking and exploitation of women and children — rejected Pornhub’s comparisons to other user-generated platforms. Popular social media companies explicitly ban depictions of sex acts and can rely on artificial-intelligence systems to immediately remove banned content, she said in an interview with The Post.

“Pornhub exists to monetize hardcore sex acts,” she said. “At the same time they did not verify the age or the consent of the millions of people in the videos they profit from.”

She applauded Mastercard’s decision while noting how long it has taken payment companies to take action. And she called for governments to investigate and enforce the law. “We don’t need just corporate responsibility and accountability,” she said. “We need criminal responsibility and accountability.”

Visa has not yet completed its investigation but has suspended the use of its cards on the website in the meantime. “We are instructing the financial institutions who serve MindGeek to suspend processing of payments through the Visa network,” Visa said in a statement to The Post. “At Visa, we are vigilant in our efforts to stamp out illegal activity on our network, and we encourage our financial institution partners to regularly review their merchants’ compliance of our standards on this and other platforms.”

American Express prohibits its cards from being used on “digital adult content websites,” according to the Associated Press. PayPal stopped processing payments to Pornhub last year.

MindGeek, a private pornography conglomerate based in Canada, operates more than 100 websites, production companies and brands.