Sex Work

Anti-Porn Groups Target Websites' Ability to Accept Credit Card Payments

We've seen this before...

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Taking a page from their crusades against Craigslist and Backpage, anti-sex-work campaigners are calling for credit card companies to stop doing business with porn websites.

In a new letter to credit card companies, activists throw around phrases like sex trafficking and child abuse while positioning their request as a common-sense plea to stop exploitation. "The letter was sent to 10 major credit card companies, including the 'Big Three', Visa, MasterCard and American Express," reports the BBC. Signed by groups from the U.S., the U.K., India, and elsewhere, it asks these companies to immediately stop doing business with Pornhub and other online porn platforms.

The groups suggest that since it is impossible to "judge or verify consent" in online porn content, "let alone live webcam videos," we should treat all online porn as if it's recorded rape.

A Pornhub spokesperson told the BBC that the letter is "not only factually wrong but also intentionally misleading" and that these signatories were simply attempting "to police people's sexual orientation and activity." The spokesperson added that Pornhub has "a steadfast commitment to eradicating and fighting any and all illegal content, including non-consensual and under-age material," and "any suggestion otherwise is categorically and factually inaccurate."

This isn't the first time activists have gone after the ability of websites to process payments related to sex work. When Craigslist and later Backpage were the moral panic's big targets, advocates including Illinois sheriff Tom Dart lobbied companies to stop doing business with these websites—even though government officials and advocacy groups had earlier asked Craigslist and Backpage to accept credit card payments because they thought it would make tracking customers easier.

Dart went so far as to threaten credit card companies that did business with Backpage, prompting Visa and Mastercard to temporarily suspend their services. (This was later ruled unconstitutional.) In the wake of this, Backpage began accepting Bitcoin and personal checks for classified-ad payments. Federal prosecutors (which seized Backpage in 2018 and are still fighting to send its founders to prison) and folks like Sen. Kamala Harris (who tried twice, unsuccessfully, to convict Backpage leaders when she was attorney general of California) have framed the shift to Bitcoin as an attempt to hide illegal activity; they paint the personal checks as an attempt at money laundering.

Even worse, mistakenly shared memos from federal prosecutors (which a judge has ruled inadmissible, despite their exculpatory nature) show that the federal government strategized about how check or cryptocurrency payments could be used in a money-laundering case against Backpage several years before Dart would use unconstitutional means to ensure that the company had to accept these methods if it wanted to make money.

"They won't stop at Backpage," we warned here back in 2017. And they certainly haven't. Since then, every tactic activists used to demonize (at the expense of sex workers, trafficking victims, and free speech) has been expanded into broader internet territory.

They said the 2018 law FOSTA would carve out an exception to Section 230 (which is basically the internet's First Amendment) only to stop sex trafficking; now they say Section 230 carve outs are needed to fight everything from gun violence to terrorism to revenge porn to people being mean to conservatives to not removing ads that Joe Biden doesn't like.

They said Backpage was just especially bad and needed special consideration; since then, they've used the same logic in cases against Facebook, Craigslist, and Mailchimp—and in legislation aiming to kill encrypted communications entirely.

Now they're pushing to frame all adult-content platforms—including those, like webcams, that make sex work safer and put that performers in more control—as sex-trafficking venues and to bully credit card businesses into dropping their business. Right now they're pressuring them privately, but don't be surprised when the politicians join in. Backpage and small sex-work ad sites were the test case. Censoring the rest of the internet is the goal.