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Visa and Mastercard Cut Ties With Pornhub’s Advertising Network

On Thursday, Visa and Mastercard both announced that the payment processing giants would stop serving the main advertising network for Mindgeek’s sites, including Pornhub.

These announcements come after a U.S. district judge denied Visa’s attempt to remove itself as a defendant in a case that alleges the payment processor is culpable for harms done to minors on Pornhub. The plaintiff accuses Mindgeek and Visa of profiting from videos of her sexual abuse as a child that were uploaded to Pornhub by her then-boyfriend when she was 13 years old.

“The legal decision, with which we disagree, has also created new uncertainty about the role of TrafficJunky, MindGeek’s advertising arm,” Alfred F. Kelly, Jr., the chairman and CEO of Visa, wrote in a statement published on Thursday. “Accordingly, we will suspend TrafficJunky’s Visa acceptance privileges based on the court’s decision until further notice. During this suspension, Visa cards will not be able to be used to purchase advertising on any sites including Pornhub or other MindGeek affiliated sites.” 

“From day one, MindGeek and all of its platforms, including Pornhub, have never tolerated CSAM or any other illegal material. It is against our stated terms and conditions, it is against our values, and it is against our commitment to ensuring the safest possible online experience for our users,” a spokesperson for Mindgeek said in a statement. “Recently, allegations have been made that MindGeek knowingly allowed and monetized CSAM. These assertions are reckless and, more importantly, absolutely false. In many cases, these falsehoods have been propagated by groups whose stated agenda is to shut down the adult entertainment industry.”

While it’s not mentioned by name as often as Pornhub, TrafficJunky is a critical part of Mindgeek’s business. Mindgeek owns several porn production companies, allows users to sell clips on its sites, and offers a premium membership. But one way Mindgeek monetizes its family of hugely popular and free tube sites is by selling ads against them via its TrafficJunky network of display and pre-roll ads. When we tested TrafficJunky on Friday morning by signing up as an advertiser, we saw that one could pay for ad campaigns on TrafficJunky via the payment service Paxum, cryptocurrency, or a wire transfer. Paying with Visa and Mastercard was not an option.

In December 2020, following attacks from conservative, religious, anti-porn lobbyist groups who want to shut down pornography online, Visa and Mastercard cut off payments to Mindgeek’s user-generated content, ending a stable source of income for an untold number of sex workers who use the sites legally and leaving them even more vulnerable to exploitation than ever.

Kelly goes on to deny the allegations that Visa is complicit in the accusations against Mindgeek: 

“At this early stage in the case, courts must accept as true all allegations made in a lawsuit – even if they are not accurate or proven. In our view, our company’s role, policies, and practices have been mischaracterized. The allegations in this lawsuit are repugnant and stand in direct contradiction to Visa’s values and purpose.     

Let me be clear: Visa condemns sex trafficking, sexual exploitation, and child sexual abuse. It is illegal, and Visa does not permit the use of our network for illegal activity. Our rules explicitly and unequivocally prohibit the use of our products to pay for content that depicts nonconsensual sexual behavior or child sexual abuse. We are vigilant in our efforts to deter this and other illegal activity on our network. Moreover, we require Visa’s financial institution clients, which maintain the direct relationships with merchants, to assure and attest to merchants’ compliance with our standards.”

In his statement, Kelly said that Visa “does not make moral judgements on legal purchases,” and noted that Visa “can be used only at MindGeek studio sites that feature adult professional actors in legal adult entertainment.” 

Also on Thursday, Mastercard released a statement that it, too, would suspend acceptance for TrafficJunky.

“New facts from last week’s court ruling made us aware of advertising revenue outside of our view that appears to provide Pornhub with indirect funding,” Mastercard’s statement said. “This step will further enforce our December 2020 decision to terminate the use of our products on that site.” 

Is your production studio or adult business affected by Visa and Mastercard cutting ties with Mindgeek’s advertising network? We’d love to hear from you. Contact Samantha Cole securely on Signal at +16469261726, or email samantha.cole@vice.com.

In April 2021, Mastercard instituted new guidelines for adult sites, requiring “clear, unambiguous and documented consent” for anyone in images and videos, as well as a slew of other documentations and content review hurdles for platforms that host user-generated content. Sex workers who use these sites, which already required strict identify and age verification, said that these changes would make them less safe, and less able to support themselves financially online.

“Despite today’s suspension of payment acceptance for our advertising platform, we are extremely confident in our policies and the fact that we have instituted trust and safety measures that far surpass those of any other major platform on the internet,” the Mindgeek spokesperson said. “At this point in the lawsuit, the court has not yet ruled on the veracity of any allegations, and is required to assume all of the plaintiff’s allegations are true and accurate. When the court can actually consider the facts, we are confident the plaintiff’s claims will be dismissed for lack of merit.” 

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