All good stories have a hero and a villain. But in Money Shot, Netflix’s new documentary about the rise of Pornhub and its troubling business practices, the lines between the two are blurred. On one side there’s the apparent good guys: lawyers and activists campaigning to shut down Pornhub, which they say is a hotbed of sex trafficking and child abuse. The baddie, by default, is the porn site and its parent company Mindgeek, which allegedly profits off illegal content it hosts via ads and user data and refuses to combat the problem.

But this is a story about the murky morals of the internet, and nothing is ever that simple. The National Centre on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE), the leader in the fight against Pornhub, is not simply an advocate for victims, but a religiously motivated anti-porn campaign on a much wider scale. Previously called Morality in Media, NCOSE releases an annual “dirty dozen” list of 12 mainstream entities they say are “facilitating, enabling, and even profiting from sexual abuse and exploitation”, and among 2021’s cohort are Google, Netflix, Etsy and Visa. The organisation sees all sexual content as sexual abuse and exploitation and wants anything remotely sexual wiped from public life.

As does Exodus Cry, a similarly outspoken organisation. Its website claims that pornography, prostitution and stripping all fit under the umbrella of sexual exploitation and details its plan to bring the entire sex industry down by shifting culture, changing laws and reaching out to sex workers, who, in their eyes, are all victims of exploitation.

Turns out the heroes aren’t as honest about their noble mission as they pretend. What about the villains?

Defending Mindgeek is a hard job, and one I’m not particularly interested in. Allegedly, the site – knowingly or unknowingly – hosted unverified rape videos and profited from the ads on the same page. It’s shocking and unforgivable that the 12th most-visited company in the world would have a moderating team of just 30 people, according to an anonymous whistleblower in the documentary.

Only once campaigners and journalists started paying attention (and once Visa and Mastercard removed Pornhub’s ability to process credit card payments) did bosses start to take the glut of unverified and unverifiable videos down and make improvements to its moderation system.

Porn performer Siri Dahl (Photo: Netflix)

Money Shot gives each party a chance to make their case, but there’s one group with more at stake and more emotional involvement in the story: sex workers. All too often, the experience of sex workers is dismissed as a result of brainwashing, coercion or exploitation (one lawsuit against Mindgeek suggests that some porn performers were given preferential treatment on Pornhub in exchange for spreading positive “disinformation” about the site). But this film gives them the same credence as the academics and legal professionals: their opinion is valued and, more to the point, revealing.

The conflation between sex work and sexual exploitation is offensive, says porn performer Siri Dahl, and the idea that performers would be OK with sharing a platform with rapists and sex traffickers is preposterous. The crusade to shut down Pornhub – which many of the sex workers and pro-sex industry campaigners interviewed believe is simply shorthand to refer to all pornographic content on the internet – is censorship, they say. More sexual exploitation, trafficking and rape videos can be found on Twitter and Facebook than on Pornhub, some talking heads point out.

But it’s a fight they seem to be losing. In 2018, then US president Donald Trump passed FOSTA-SESTA (the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act and the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act), a new law that would make it illegal to knowingly assist, facilitate, or support sex trafficking. Remember when Tumblr announced it would no longer tolerate porn on its site? And when OnlyFans said it would no longer allow its users to post explicit content? That was the result of FOSTA-SESTA, which forced sex workers to leave the comfort of their own home offices and seek work in potentially unsafe environments.

It also made it harder to find sex workers profiles online, damaging their visibility and, therefore, their income. “You’re taking food out of people’s mouths,” says one sex worker.

What happens to sex workers if Pornhub is shut down doesn’t really come into NCOSE’s plans and it seems to have failed to recognise that killing the host doesn’t stop a disease. Getting Pornhub off the internet will just drive sex traffickers to upload their disgusting videos to lesser known, harder to control websites. Porn performer Allie Knox even goes as far to say that removing all the unverified content from Pornhub has already made traffickers harder to find.

Once we start comparing victimhood and arguing that one woman’s life is more important than another’s, we enter very murky and dangerous territory, where women’s sexuality is too easily policed. But it is also paramount that the biggest players on the internet do their part to identify and help stop sex trafficking. There are no easy answers, and Money Shot doesn’t pretend to come to a conclusion. At least we’re starting to have the conversation.

By admin