Instagram disabled Pornhub's account for unknown reasons

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin / TechCrunch

Instagram disabled Pornhub's account on the platform for undisclosed reasons.

The NSFW website's Instagram account had amassed 13.1 million followers and 6,200 posts. It's not clear whether or not this ban is permanent.

Instagram's content guidelines prohibit nudity and sexual content, but Pornhub's Instagram account didn't share pornographic posts.

According to Motherboard, a Pornhub spokesperson said, "Our account was temporarily disabled, as has happened many times in the past due to Instagram’s overly cautious censoring of the adult industry, a fact that thousands of adult performers deal with every day despite not violating any of Instagram’s terms of service. We look forward to our account being reactivated, as it always has."

Pornhub's Instagram account was also removed in June 2021, but reinstated in less than a day -- this time, the site's Instagram ban has extended for three days and counting. Instagram has not responded to requests for comment about the reasoning behind the ban.

Pornhub also blames the new ban on "anti-porn crusaders." Laila Mickelwait, leader of a campaign to shut down Pornhub, tweeted a screenshot showing a notification from Instagram that they had removed the account following her reports. According to Mickelwait's post, Instagram removed Pornhub's account for violating community guidelines, but Instagram has not confirmed this. Before founding her current project Traffickinghub, Mickelwait was formerly the director of abolition at Exodus Cry, a nonprofit working against sex trafficking and exploitation. But reports from VICE and The Daily Beast say that Exodus Cry wants to completely ban porn from the internet.

"Anti-porn crusaders like [the National Center on Sexual Exploitation] (formerly named Morality in Media) intentionally misled reporters about why Pornhub’s Instagram profile was disabled, and actively misled people into believing they were responsible,” Pornhub told Motherboard.

Mickelwait said in a statement to TechCrunch that Traffickinghub is not anti-porn altogether, but is seeking to hold Pornhub parent company MindGeek accountable for monetizing criminal, non-consensual content.

"Traffickinghub is not aimed at the legal porn industry, but is exclusively focused on shutting down Pornhub for the criminal exploitation of countless victims," she said in a statement.

Pornhub did not respond to TechCrunch's request for comment.

The account's removal follows a recent ruling in a lawsuit alleging Pornhub knowingly distributed child sexual abuse material (CSAM) on its site. A California judge said that Visa, which handled transactions for the site, could be implicated as complicit in the monetization of child porn. The plaintiff in the lawsuit alleges that MindGeek profited from videos that were filmed and uploaded to Pornhub when she was underage.

Pornhub is facing a years-long crackdown on the website's content moderation policies. In 2020, credit card companies like Visa, Mastercard and Discover cut ties with Pornhub's parent company MindGeek in the midst of concerns about the proliferation of CSAM on the platform. Later that year, Pornhub removed millions of unverified, user-uploaded videos, which the site called one of "the most comprehensive safeguards in user-generated platform history." Yet for victims of abuse and trafficking, this policy came too late -- once a video is on the internet, it's hard to completely scrub it away.

As all of this unfolds, MindGeek's CEO and COO both abruptly resigned this summer with no succession plans.

As user-generated content platforms struggle to regulate CSAM, sex workers have voiced concerns about how increasing regulation threatens the safety of their legal, online business. Last year, OnlyFans announced it was going to ban NSFW content in anticipation of changing Mastercard policies, which the ACLU described as violating sex workers' rights. After a swift backlash, OnlyFans suspended this decision, saying that it resolved issues with banking providers.

OnlyFans operates a different kind of business than Pornhub. OnlyFans takes a cut of revenue from creators on the platform, who sell adult content to subscribers -- in order to post on OnlyFans, creators must use identity verification services to confirm that they are not underage.

When platforms like OnlyFans threaten to ban sex workers, it can mean the loss of their livelihood. It can also push them toward more dangerous, offline working conditions.

Congress introduced the Safe Sex Workers Study Act in 2019 to examine the effects of legislation like the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA). Though this legislation is intended to curb sex trafficking, it can make online sex work more difficult. This study found that “community organizations [had] reported increased homelessness of sex workers” after losing the “economic stability provided by access to online platforms."

Update, 9/7/22, 6:40 AM ET with comment from Mickelwait.