The dark side of the internet (and a glimpse of its bright side too)

Screenshot of the GoFundMe Campaign

For Serena K Fleites, horror struck at 14 years of age– courtesy of trusting someone, the internet and netizens. Her then boyfriend had asked her to share a naked video of herself. The video ended up on Pornhub. Her mental healthspiraled, she tried to commit suicide twice, abused drugs, sold her body, and became homeless. In 2020, after her story was published, the same netizens came to her rescue – a glimpse of what the internet could be.

On Friday, the New York Times dropped a bombshell – “The Children of Pornhub”. The author, Nicholas Kristof, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winning journalist published the harrowing reality of Pornhub being complicit towards content on child rape thriving on its platform, going on to say that ‘Pornhub is capitalizing on such indecent acts via monetization of their videos’.

 From the article, one line rings heavily:

“…… (Specific searches)…… leads in each case to more than 100,000 videos. Most aren’t of children being assaulted, but too many are.”

Another line exposes the extent people go towards making such videos:

“I came across many videos on Pornhub that were recordings of assaults on unconscious women and girls. The rapists would open the eyelids of the victims and touch their eyeballs to show that they were nonresponsive”.

In the detailed article, Kristof publishes accounts of several victims – it is easy to notice the signs of mental abuse they have received, and continue to receive via the unsolicited incidents. For many, those who try to make a positive change are often dragged again into reliving the horror as the videos keep on resurfacing on the internet.

Regarding possible solutions, Kristof says he does not see “any neat solution, but more pressure and less impunity would help”. He calls on card networks such as Mastercard, Visa, and American Express to suspend cooperation with Pornhub, and commends PayPal on already doing so. On Monday, news reports said Mastercard and Visa would investigate financial links with Pornhub after NYT published that videos on Pornhub depict child abuse. He also suggests three other steps:

1.) Allow only verified users to post videos.

2.) Prohibit downloads.

3.) Increase moderation.

While that has been the dark side, the same internet that sought to destroy Serena’s and other victims’lives has also shown them a ray of hope. A GoFundMe initiative “Serena and Child Victims of Pornhub Support Fund” has been able to collect USD 43,015 of their $50,000 target.

Kristof, on Facebook, said that ‘Serene Fleites is no longer homeless. She has moved into a long-stay hotel, which has been financed by the GoFundMe set up by readers’.

For Serena, it is a respite, which means she can perhaps now follow her dreams of becoming a vet technician.

But that does not put an end to the problem faced by other thousands of women, especially young girls who are too ‘young’ to cope with such abuses. In recent years, Pornhub has increased moderators, and is actively taking problematic content down – but that isn’t proving enough. Each year, thousands of videos either of minors or those published without consent are being published on the site for users to view or download.