Executives at Pornhub defend efforts at preventing child porn on their platforms

·3 min read

MONTREAL — Representatives of Pornhub told a parliamentary committee Friday they didn't know if they had been contacted by a woman who said she struggled to have a video of her removed from the popular pornography website.

Feras Antoon and David Tassillo of MindGeek, parent company of Pornhub, told the committee on access to information, privacy and ethics that they couldn't find records of any correspondence with Serena Fleites.

Fleites, however, told the committee on Monday that she had to ask Pornhub multiple times to remove an explicit video of her — taken when she was 14 years old — that was posted on the site without her consent.

Antoon, MindGeek part owner and CEO of the company's Canadian operations said, "We started an investigation and we do not have enough information to see if she ever contacted us at all.

"With the information we have today, we cannot find anything from what Ms. Fleites is saying."

While Antoon said he didn't want to suggest Fleites was lying, he said the first time he heard of her was when the company was contacted by a journalist. It was not the only time the executives didn't have answers for the committee.

Antoon and Tassillo were called to testify in front of MPs regarding whether they planned to make reparations for “the company’s failure to prohibit rape videos and other illegal content from its site,” according to a committee motion in December.

The company is facing a class-action lawsuit in Quebec, alleging it profited off material showing child sexual abuse and non-consensual activity since 2007. It is also being sued by 40 women in California who claim the company continues to profit from pornographic videos of them that were published without their full consent.

Pornhub says it has removed all videos uploaded by non-verified users after the adult website faced accusations it hosted illegal content. The move came after Visa and MasterCard launched investigations and decided in December to stop allowing their cards to be used on Pornhub. Between eight and 10 million videos uploaded by unverified users were removed from the website after the change, Tassillo, MindGeek co-owner and chief operating officer, told the committee.

Asked by Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith how many times in 2020 people asked to have content removed because they didn't consent to it being posted, Antoon said the company was preparing a transparency report that would be made public soon.

When Erskine-Smith asked about previous years, Tassillo said the company has the information but that he didn't know off "the top of my head."

He also said he didn't know how many times child pornography that appeared on the site had been reported to authorities or how much the company has paid in legal settlements to people — adults or children — who did not consent to having explicit videos of them posted on the site.

"I can ensure you that number would be way below what I spend annually to protect the children and protect my site," Tassillo said.

While MindGeek — one of the world's largest producers and distributors of pornography — is legally headquartered in Luxembourg, Antoon and Tassillo live in Montreal where the company employs around 1,000 people.

Tassillo and Antoon said their company is a "world leader" in preventing the distribution of images of child sexual abuse and non-consensual pornography. If Pornhub was full of child pornography and non-consensual pornography, the four million Canadians who visit the site daily would be calling the police, Antoon said.

They said all content that appears on the website is screened using multiple software tools before being approved by human moderators. "We always instruct all our agents to err on the caution side, if you have any doubt at all, just don't let it up," Tassillo said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 5, 2021.

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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press