Canada's House of Commons Committee Holds Hearing About Pornhub

Canada's House of Commons Committee Holds Hearing About Pornhub

OTTAWA, Canada — The Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics in Canada’s House of Commons held a hearing today concerning the allegations made against Pornhub’s content moderation policies by Nicholas Kristof — based on religious group Exodus Cry’s Traffickinghub campaign against the tube site and parent company MindGeek — in a December 2020 New York Times article.

MindGeek is headquartered in Luxembourg, although many of its operations are run from Montreal and the two people identified by the New York Times as owners are Canadian nationals.

The hearing took place between 9:30 and 10:40 a.m. (PST), starting 90 minutes behind schedule, as Canadian MPs and only two witnesses — both American and U.S.-based — met in chambers.

The hearing began with an emotional presentation by the same young woman that was at the center of “The Children of Pornhub,” Kristof’s article for the New York Times targeting Pornhub that was published on December 4, 2020.

The woman, publicly identifying herself as Serena Fleites, retold her story of having difficulties getting Pornhub to remove a video she had shot of herself as a teenager, which then she sent to a boyfriend and which was allegedly repeatedly uploaded onto the tube site by unidentified third parties.

But the centerpiece of the hearing was a lengthy presentation by Fleites’ lawyer, a NYC-based litigator, Michael Bowe, who has previously represented disgraced evangelist Jerry Falwell Jr. and Donald Trump.

Bowe started his presentation by denying that this case was driven by the religious War on Porn, currently being waged by faith-inspired groups like NCOSE and Exodus Cry, or that the goal was to outlaw content made by consensual adults.

Bowe made repeated claims about a supposed conspiracy masterminded by MindGeek, and “their agents and allies” to “gaslight” the public opinion about the organized international campaign against Pornhub.

Bowe also asked for Canada to change their laws to make MindGeek accountable, and stated that in his opinion the company committed “criminal offenses.”

Neither Fleites nor Bowe nor the Canadian MPS mentioned actions being taken with currently available laws against the third parties who uploaded the illegal material.

Bowe and the MPs also invariably referred to “women” as the people who needed to be “protected” by their requests for legislation changes, although many documented victims of human and/or sex trafficking are male or trans.

Bowe is a partner at Brown Rudnick, specializing in white collar crime. His presention showed no professional understading of the technical issues around online platforms, algorithms or moderation, or about the ongoing controversy in the courts regarding 2257 forms (which he kept erroneously repeating that "everyone agreed on" before tube sites came along "to disrupt the industry"), or to basic free speech issues surrounding the debate around Section 230.

Bowe did not mention Section 230 protections, although the gist of his presentation was a challenge to existing legislation about third-party content.

The only time  Bowe tried to describe MindGeek's business model — which in his opinion is what makes them liable, Backpage/FOSTA-SESTA-style — he told the MPs he didn't "have time or full understanding to explain it."

A Conservative-led Hearing Starring a Lawyer for Trump and Jerry Falwell, Jr.

The hearing, broadcast live on CPAC, the Cable Public Affairs Channel (the Canadian equivalent to CSPAN), was chaired  by MP Chris Warkentin (Conservative, Alberta). Questions were supposed to be provided by participant MPs Shannon Stubbs (Conservative, Alberta), Brendan Shanahan (Liberal, Châteauguay—Lacolle), Marie-Hélène Gaudreau (Bloc Québécois, Laurentides—Labelle) and Charlie Angus (NDP, Timmins—James Bay) but all of them used their time to praise Fleites’ testimony and repeat that they were going to take action against MindGeek and Pornhub.

Angus had been actively promoting the hearing on social media over the past few days, retweeting the Kristof editorial.

“The Ethics and Privacy Committee will begin hearing on Monday into exploitation of non-willing young people by the Pornhub platform,” Angus wrote yesterday. “We will be inviting witnesses who survived the ordeal as well as executives of Pornhub and MindGeek.”

No witnesses for the adult companies were present at the actual hearing.

Angus also attempted to intervene in South of the Canadian Border politics recently when he tweeted that “safe harbour provisions and Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act [a U.S. law] allow online platforms to escape accountability.”

A Bipartisan Effort in Canada

On December 10, one of Canada’s leading newspapers, the Globe and Mail, reported that Liberal Member of Parliament Nathaniel Erskine-Smith was set to introduce a motion “requesting the top executives of MindGeek and its Pornhub website to appear before a House of Commons committee amid allegations the company was showing videos of rape and child exploitation.”

The Liberal Party is Prime Minister’s Justin Trudeau’s party and is considered to be more progressive than the Conservative Party.

The Globe and Mail made an explicit connection between Eskine-Smith’s motion and “The Children of Pornhub" article published the previous week.

The Kristof article served as mouthpiece for the demands of the Traffickinghub campaign, run by religious anti-porn group Exodus Cry and led by Leila Mickelwait. Mickelwait has taken credit for being the main source of Kristof’s column, and the New York Times writer has endorsed her editorials for the Washington Examiner newspaper, owned by religiously inspired billionaire — and prominent NCOSE (aka Morality in Media) backer — Philip Anschutz.

MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith told the Globe and Mail that it was the politicians’ obligation “to hold companies accountable when they ‘so incredibly failed to protect people,’” and said he would “move a motion at the House of Commons ethics committee, where he [was not] a member but was subbing,” demanding the appearance of the two Canadian nationals named by the New York Times as MindGeek owners.

“They should be held to a degree of public accountability where they’re going to have to answer questions from elected representatives,” Erskine-Smith added.

Erskine-Smith’s statements also coincided with credit card companies Visa and Mastercard bowing down to Exodus Cry and Kristof’s demand to cut ties with Pornhub and MindGeek. Visa and Mastercard both released statements about ceasing to process payment for Pornhub, though a Visa representative later said they had reinstated services for MindGeek sites that did not rely on unverified user-generated content.

Erskine-Smith also told the Globe and Mail that MindGeek “should have to answer for some of the damage the platform has done to society,” although he did not elaborate on the exact scope of this “damage to society” and what his plans were to make the company “answer” for it.

Canadian Press Quoting Anti-Porn Crusader

The Globe and Mail closed their article quoting veteran anti-porn crusader Gail Dines, who called MindGeek “the Amazon of the porn industry” and demanded state intervention of all sex content, questioning “how a moderator could tell someone is underage.”

“It should be government-regulated,” Dines added. “It shouldn’t be self-regulation. It’s like asking the tobacco industry to self-regulate.”

The Globe and Mail only identified Dines as “a professor emerita who has researched the porn industry for decades and runs the organization Culture Reframed.” The Globe and Mail did not point out that the professorship is from Boston’s Wheelock College, an institution that no longer exists, and that Dines’ Culture Reframed is an NCOSE-endorsed for-pay company that sells consultancies and lectures advocating for the total censorship of porn.

Wheelock College shut down in 2018, when it was taken over by Boston University.

XBIZ contacted Boston University and asked the BU Wheelock College of Education and Human Development about Dines’ affiliation.

“The former Wheelock College merged with Boston University in June 2018,” said a BU spokesperson. “I’ve searched the BU directory and there is no Gail Dines listed there.”

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