MindGeek executives testify before ethics committee over allegations of illegal content on Pornhub

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By Luca-Caruso Moro, CTV News Montreal

OTTAWA -- MindGeek executives David Marmorstein Tassillo and Feras Antoon testified in front of Canada's federal ethics committee Friday over allegations of child pornography hosted on their flagship website, Pornhub.

“We're trying to create a safe environment for people to consume adult content, and we understand there are people out there that are trying to misuse these platforms,” said Tassillo, who responded to questioning for two hours on Friday.

On Monday, a young woman testified that she fell into a spiral of depression, drug use and self-harm after giving in to her boyfriend's demands that she send him a naked video of herself when she was in grade 7.

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The woman, Serena Fleites, alleged her boyfriend at the time pressured her to copy a video he had sent her from Pornhub, which showed a woman undressing "and showing herself off to the camera."

"I told him I wasn't really comfortable, so he continued to ask me every night after we got back from school," she claimed. "I would always tell him 'no.'"

According to her testimony, her then-boyfriend told her "if you truly love me, you'd send me something like that," and threatened to leave her. Under pressure, she sent him the video.

"He sent it to his friends, who sent it to their friends, who sent it to their friends."

She says she changed schools weeks later, only to have a new classmate send her a link to the video. It had been uploaded to Pornhub under the title "13-year-old brunette shows off for the camera," she alleged.

She said her grades plummeted, she became depressed, and she began to use drugs.

She claimed she reached out to Pornhub, pretending to be her own mother, to request the video be taken down.

Fleites testified that Pornhub took more than a week to respond to her request to take down the video, and weeks more to actually remove it.

Days later, she alleged, the video resurfaced on the Montreal-based adult-video platform.

"It should not be up to children and victims to request to have their content removed," said Alberta MP Arnold Viersen, who's been working on the Pornhub file for several years.

Fleites's words, which drew tears from several MPs, follow a class-action case launched in Quebec by an Ontario resident that alleges MindGeek has profited off of child sexual abuse material and non-consensual content since 2007.

American lawyer Michael Bowe, who also testified on Monday, alleged he was aware of "hundreds of accounts" from children and non-consenting adults who had images of them uploaded to Pornhub.

“Everyone can agree that a company should not be commercializing and monetizing rape, child abuse, and trafficked content,” he said.

MINDGEEK SAYS ‘IT'S IMPOSSIBLE TO KNOW IF SHE'S CONTACTED US’ WITHOUT AN INVESTIGATION

When lawmakers questioned MindGeek about Fleites's testimony, Antoon said "the first time [the company] heard the name 'Ms. Fleites'" was in September, years after Fleites, now 19, allegedly recorded the video.

Antoon said they first heard about Fleites's story when a New York Times writer reached out to them to confirm details of Fleites's story.

"Pause there, Mr. Antoon," said MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, interrupting the MindGeek executive, "because your company did hear from her when she asked for that content to be taken down. Is that correct?"

"No," responded Antoon. "For now, we only know her name and last name."

He said that "we've started an investigation and we do not have enough information to see if she ever contacted us or not."

Antoon said that with just a first and last name, "it's impossible to know if she's contacted us."

‘IF YOU HAVE JUST A MODICUM OF ETHICS, USE IT’: LAWMAKER

The website has a huge volume of material, with millions of videos uploaded every year.

A significant portion of those videos were removed in December, after Pornhub announced it would remove all "unverified" content from the site in an effort to remove unknown, non-consensual content.

Tassillo says the company has worked to integrate new technology and moderators to prevent unauthorized content on the site.

He told lawmakers that under Pornhub's current guidelines, any piece of content that is uploaded to the site "goes through several filters" before it’s made public.

To upload a video to Pornhub, users now need to be verified by the company, either by providing government-issued verification or through the company's partner-studio verification process.

“It’s not like a random person can upload something to the site and get paid for it,” said Tassillo.

In a statement, Pornhub wrote that under their new measures, users cannot download videos without the consent of the creators, and that “fingerprinting” technology prohibits videos that have been taken down from being re-uploaded.

The company has also hired a team of moderators to remove content and blacklist keywords associated with illegal photos and videos. Several non-profits have also been brought onboard to help flag content.

But lawmakers said that doesn’t go far enough.

“You [MindGeek] are not protecting our Canadian teenagers who get caught in this situation where their lives are turned upside down,” said Quebec MP Jacques Gourde.

“If you have just a modicum of ethics, use it.”

SAFEST ADULT PLATFORM IN THE WORLD: TASSILLO

Ontario MP Charlie Angus alleged Pornhub may be criminally responsible for the dissemination of child pornography.

Angus alleged the company may have violated section 163(3), which carries a potential jail term of up to 14 years.

“At any point, when you were promoting these links of 12-year-olds and runaway teens, was your conversation that you were actually breaking Canadian law?” asked Angus.

“The issue that we're talking about here is criminal behaviour, the Criminal Code, your obligations to protect people.”

Tassillo said it’s possible that people have been able to get around their security systems, but repeated that the company takes these breaches seriously.

“It is possible that people committing crimes are able to circumvent our systems, similar to security on a home or security at a bank,” said Tassillo.

“I truly believe, in my heart of hearts, that we are the safest adult platform in the world right now.”

-- With files from The Canadian Press

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