How Visa and MasterCard strong armed PornHub into making policy changes

Earlier this month, I wrote about PornHub's recent policy changes. A quick summary: the New York Times published an exposé about victims of child trafficking and revenge porn, whose lives had been wrecked by explicit videos of them which were uploaded to PornHub without their consent. While PornHub is legally protected from the ramifications of user-generated content by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, the company did announce a major internal audit that aspires to crackdown on these kind of non-consensual video content.

What I did not realize at the time was that PornHub had been pressured to make these changes by Visa and MasterCard. As a result of the exposé, these major credit card companies refused to process payments for the company, leaving cryptocurrency as the only payment path for anyone looking for premium PornHub content.

As EFF succinctly explains:

Sexual exploitation is a scourge on society that needs resources, education, victim support, and, when necessary, prosecution by responsible authorities to address. Visa and Mastercard are the wrong entities for addressing these problems. Visa and Mastercard do not have the skills, expertise, or position to determine complex issues of digital speech. Nuanced challenges to what content should exist online, and whether moderation policies will inadvertently punish otherwise marginalized voices, are issues that legal experts, human rights experts, lawmakers, and courts in the United States and abroad have been deeply considering for years. The truth is, navigating speech policies in a way that won't shut down huge swaths of legitimate and worthy speech is hard. And it's wrong that Visa and Mastercard have the power to—however clumsily—police speech online.

More importantly, as a society, we haven't given Visa and Mastercard the authority to decide online speech cases. Those companies haven't been elected or chosen by any electorate in any country. They are here enforcing speech rules that we haven't adopted in the United States—and, frankly, which would likely violate the U.S. Constitution if they were adopted. And sadly this is not the first time these companies' decisions have jeopardized speech online.

As long as we live under capitalism, then financial process is an effective means of enacting change. But there's a huge difference between individuals making strategic choices about the businesses whose ethics they do or do not support, and major financial institution with an essentially monopolistic grasp on electronic payments saying, "You're not allowed to participate in the exchange of money for goods or services."

Surely even the most conservative Republicans could see how forcing an American to exchange their currency out of USD in order to participate in the act of free trade might be a problem. Furthermore, there are plenty of other reprehensible entities — from Facebook to Exxon-Mobil to the NRA to, shit, any porn site that's not owned by MindGeek — who are still permitted to engage in online transaction facilitated by Visa and Mastercard. As EFF concludes:

Censorship, financial or not, of sex sites gets little push-back, and a great deal of public praise. It justifies the continuing concentration of free speech chokepoints—chokepoints that have always been used against LGBTQ speech, and women's and minority rights—whenever a moral crusade needs an undemocratic hand. Any website or individual can find itself running afoul of Visa and Mastercard's moral sensibilities and shut off from receiving online payments. We saw it with WikiLeaks. We saw it with the kink social network Fetlife. We saw it with the independent book publisher Smashwords. And we've seen it with countless sex workers.

Those praising Mastercard and Visa's actions now should recognize that these censorship powers are more often used against those without power. That should scare all of us. 

Visa and Mastercard are Trying to Dictate What You Can Watch on Pornhub [Danny O'Brien and Rainey Reitman / Electronic Frontier Foundation]

Image: Public Domain via PicServer