Fact Check: MindGeek Executives’ Pornhub “Defense” Before Canadian Parliament

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MindGeek, the parent company of online pornography website Pornhub, continued to face scrutiny for its role in facilitating—and profiting from—child sexual abuse and exploitation as its executives were questioned by the Canadian Parliament’s House of Commons Ethics Committee in early February 2021.

The Parliamentary hearings regarding MindGeek were called for shortly after the publication of Nicholas Kristof’s blistering piece for the New York Times entitled “The Children of Pornhub” in December 2020—an article which followed in the courageous footsteps of survivors who have helped pull the curtain back regarding Pornhub’s profiteering from child sexual abuse material (among many other things).

Pornhub and MindGeek scrambled to “save face” in the wake of the new allegations and subsequent media fallout—including announcing “reforms” and eventually removing over 10 million videos from their site—but that didn’t stop major credit card companies Visa, Mastercard, and Discover from cutting ties with Pornhub and launching their own investigations.

During the course of the testimony of MindGeek’s executives, which included MindGeek CEO Feras Antoon and MindGeek COO David Tassillo, it was evident that they were desperate to hide from any form of accountability for their hand in the abuse and trauma of countless individuals. The hearing also revealed the lack of plausibility behind MindGeek’s myriad attempts at deflecting and denying responsibility, as the executives were purposely vague, refused to make substantive remarks about corporate structure or profits when prompted, and essentially admitted to possession of child sexual abuse material (CSAM) while claiming true verification for posted videos was “impossible.”

What follows are just a few of the lowlights that show the untrue, problematic, and concerning statements that MindGeek executives made during their hearing before the Canadian Parliament’s House of Commons Ethics Committee on February 5, 2021:

  • Claiming CSAM and other illegal content could not exist on a wide scale on Pornhub because the viewers of such content would naturally report it right away. Feras Antoon, CEO of MindGeek, had this to say:

“We are very proud that we built a product that gets 170 million people a day. Four million Canadians, 30% of them women, a day. Don’t you believe that those four million Canadians coming every day to our site, if they see something so heinous and criminal like that, wouldn’t they be calling the police? Wouldn’t the police lines and the RCMP would be nonstop ringing? We created a very good product that I am proud of, that our 1,800 employees who have families and children are proud of.”

The reality that Antoon was attempting to obfuscate using a false equivalency (that a lack of police reports is the same thing as a lack of criminal activity) is rife with examples of illegal material existing on and remaining on Pornhub. There are myriad reasons that illegal activity and material goes unreported to the police and Antoon’s statement belies his inability to address the facts head on.

  • Admitting at multiple points that Pornhub’s moderation systems are not perfect and that they do, in fact, allow CSAM and other extremely harmful content to be posted and viewed on their site, Antoon said, “we recognize that we could have done more in the past and we must do more in the future,” while MindGeek COO David Tassillo admitted, “It is possible that people committing crimes are able to circumvent our systems.”

With two early candidates for understatement of the year, MindGeek’s executives did appear to acknowledge the reality that in spite of claiming to be “proud” of their “very good product” they are aware of the abusive and criminal behavior and material facilitated and distributed by their product.

  • Antoon and Tassillo attempted to tout Pornhub’s recent reforms—which Pornhub only announced they would be working on after they were pressured financially by credit card companies no more than two months prior to the hearing—as standard and established MindGeek practices. In the hearing, safety standards such as verification and moderation strategies were lauded by the MindGeek executives as proof they are already doing and have been doing all they can as a company to prevent exploitation and abuse—even though 1) they can’t fix Pornhub’s inherent problems and 2) they have only recently begun to implement them.
  • At multiple points, Antoon and Tassillo contradicted themselves regarding their moderation policies. At one point, Antoon claimed that “[Number one,] every single piece of content is viewed by our human moderators. Number two, it goes through software that we have licensed from YouTube, like CSI match from Microsoft, like photo DNA for pictures.” However, the MindGeek executives later said that human moderators only go through videos which have been flagged for review.
  • They stated that they have a comprehensive and accurate reporting form that would prevent non-consensual material from remaining live. Tassillo said:

“I wanna reiterate, that you can go fill out the form and the content will be disabled. There is actually no human intervention. You could go right now to the site, fill out a content removal form, and the content will be removed immediately. I can’t stop it, Feras can’t stop it, nobody can stop it. It will happen on its own.”

This claim stands in direct contradiction to the lived experience of myriad survivors—including Serena Fleites who testified in the hearing just days before MindGeek’s executives did—whose content was not removed from Pornhub even after reporting it.

  • The MindGeek executives also attempted to claim that, to them and to Pornhub users, the word “teen” actually refers to adults and not, as it is understood by the rest of society, to children under 18:

“‘Teen,’ as an example, has created a lot of controversy on the site, because when you’re, uh, using the English language in its, in its normal term, in its normal way, my apologies, ‘teen’ is used as 13 to 19, that’s the demographic that’s put into your head. Uh, in, in the adult world when people say teen, they’re actually referencing 18 to 25, 18 to 27, something in, in that range. Similar to how when you’re having a sports conversation, people-we use the word GOAT versus the traditional word of the goat when you’re referencing the animal.”

It is clear to us that MindGeek has been and is complicit in the distribution of child sexual abuse material and profiting from underage trauma and abuse (among other things).

Accordingly, we are encouraged by Canadian Parliament’s willingness to take this case very seriously. In response to survivor testimony, NDP MP Charlie Angus stated that “We are going to take action. We are going to hold these guys to account. That is our job as legislators and as parents, because the system failed you.”

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