Visa Bows to Media Pressure, Suspends MindGeek's TrafficJunky

Visa Bows to Media Pressure, Suspends MindGeek's TrafficJunky

FOSTER CITY, Calif. — In the face of media pressure from billionaire investor Bill Ackman, religiously inspired anti-porn activist Laila Mickelwait and attorney Michael Bowe, who formerly represented Donald Trump and Jerry Falwell Jr., Visa announced today that it will suspend card acceptance for MindGeek’s ad network TrafficJunky until further notice. 

Visa announced the decision this morning through a personal letter from CEO Alfred F. Kelly Jr., who was personally targeted as liable by Ackman, Mickelwait and Bowe during an appearance earlier this week on the CNBC financial news show “Squawk Box,” hosted by Andrew R. Sorkin.

Sorkin and CNBC provided a platform for Ackman, Mickelwait and Bowe without presenting either contrary opinions or guests with actual expertise in the complexities and challenges of online payment processing for adult sites.

During a lengthy tirade against MindGeek, Ackman urged Kelly to make Visa the ultimate arbiter of what is permitted online, without waiting for the outcome of pending civil litigation regarding user-generated uploaded content.

Kelly's letter explicitly acknowledges that "it is not customary for an executive to weigh in on legal matters in advance of a final ruling," but then bizarrely carves a sentimental exception by explaining that "this situation, however, is different, and as CEO — and a father and grandfather — I feel compelled to speak out."

Anti-porn activists groups are already celebrating Visa and Kelly's decision as a victory for their "operation chokehold," an attempt to use courts and the media to pressure private financial companies and internet platforms to decide what online content can and cannot be shared.

A Decision by a Controversial Judge in a Civil Lawsuit That Has Not Even Started

As XBIZ reported, Judge Cormac J. Carney of the U.S. District Court of central California ruled on Friday against Visa’s request to be dismissed from the lawsuit, which alleges it “conspired” with MindGeek to profit from CSAM.

Carney, a George W. Bush appointee who had to step down from his previous post as as Chief Judge for making a racially insensitive comment about one of his law clerks, wrote in his opinion that “if Visa was aware that there was a substantial amount of child porn on MindGeek’s sites, which the Court must accept as true at this stage of the proceedings, then it was aware that it was processing the monetization of child porn, moving money from advertisers to MindGeek for advertisements playing alongside child porn like Plaintiff’s videos.”

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of a woman who claims underage images uploaded by third parties were “monetized” by Pornhub, is part of an ongoing campaign of legal actions by religiously motivated groups like NCOSE and activists like Mickelwait, aiming to shut down MindGeek and all “online pornography.”

A MindGeek rep pointed out to Variety that "at this point in the case, the Court has not yet ruled on the veracity of the 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."

MindGeek, the rep continued, has "zero tolerance for the posting of illegal content on its platforms, and has instituted the most comprehensive safeguards in user-generated platform history. We have banned uploads from anyone who has not submitted government-issued ID that passes third-party verification, eliminated the ability to download free content, integrated several leading technological platform and content moderation tools, instituted digital fingerprinting of all videos found to be in violation of our Non-Consensual Content and CSAM Policies to help protect against removed videos being reposted, expanded our moderation workforce and processes, and partnered with dozens of non-profit organizations around the world."

"Any insinuation that MindGeek does not take the elimination of illegal material seriously is categorically false," the MindGeek rep stressed.

Visa CEO's Full Letter

This is Visa CEO Alfred F. Kelly, Jr.’s letter announcing the suspension of Visa acceptance for MindGeek’s TrafficJunky ad network:

On Friday, July 29, a federal court issued a decision in ongoing litigation involving MindGeek, the owner of Pornhub and other websites. In this pre-trial decision, the court denied Visa’s motion to be removed from the case on a theory that Visa was complicit in MindGeek’s actions because Visa payment cards were used to pay for advertising on MindGeek sites, among other claims. We strongly disagree with this decision and are confident in our position. 

I have been a business leader long enough to know that court cases can take years. I also recognize that it is not customary for an executive to weigh in on legal matters in advance of a final ruling. This situation, however, is different, and as CEO – and a father and grandfather –  I feel compelled to speak out. 

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.

With respect to MindGeek specifically, we suspended sites that contained user-generated content in December 2020 and acceptance on those sites has not been reinstated. Despite what you may have read in recent days, you cannot use your Visa card on Pornhub.   

The legal decision, with which we disagree, has also created new uncertainty about the role of TrafficJunky, MindGeek’s advertising arm. 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.

Visa has longstanding rules and processes designed to uphold the integrity of our network. We have taken this opportunity to reiterate and reinforce our requirements with respect to legal transactions with all acquiring institutions – those institutions that bring merchants to our network and hold direct relationships with them. We have made it clear that acquirers and merchants who are unable to meet our standards and requirements are not welcome on our network.

It is Visa’s policy to follow the law of every country in which we do business. We do not make moral judgments on legal purchases made by consumers, and we respect the rightful role of lawmakers to make decisions about what is legal and what is not. Accordingly, Visa can be used only at MindGeek studio sites that feature adult professional actors in legal adult entertainment.

As I’ve said, Friday’s news concerned a pre-trial decision before Visa has presented any evidence. We look forward to shining a light onto the lengths Visa goes to ensure the integrity of our people and network.

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