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YouPorn's cringey revenge porn video is a step in the right direction

Similar to PornHub, this porn site is making it easier to report non-consensual pornography.

Andrew Brookes/Getty Images

The tantalizing video starts out playfully enough. A smiling woman takes off her shirt while the cameraman, presumably her boyfriend, expresses his approval.

When he asks her to take her pants off, she hesitates. "I don't know, I don't like that you're filming this," she says. "I'm afraid someone is going to see."

After the cameraman promises her that no one else is will see the video, she relaxes. Seemingly reassured, she nearly begins unbuttoning her pants. Suddenly, she stops.

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"What the f--- do you think you're doing?" she says, looking straight into the camera. "I'm talking to the person who is watching this. You know this is revenge porn, right?"

The video is titled "Ex-girlfriend doesn't know that I shared this!" and was created in partnership with the pornography hosting site YouPorn and The Danish Women's Society as part of a new #AskFirst campaign to curb revenge porn. You can view the video on YouPorn's site and YouTube, but be warned that it's not safe for work.

The video is difficult to watch. Not because it's particularly heart-wrenching but because it is so earnest in its intentions. And the internet can be a very trying place.

In the middle of the video, the woman asks the viewer, with tears welling in her eyes, "You know I'm a human being right? That I have feelings? Can you imagine what I'm going through? What victims of revenge porn go through every single day? And you are just sitting there, watching this, sharing this. You don't even care."

While her questions are valid, the video lives on YouPorn. YouPorn is one of the world's most popular porn sites and it also hosts hardcore videos and live sex streams. Type "ex girlfriend" into the site's search box and you'll find a flurry of crowdsourced videos with titles that cast doubt on whether or not these were posted with the consent of all parties involved.

I also find it difficult to imagine any visitor who willingly clicked on this particular video, one with such a clear revenge porn-esque title, would have any moral hangups about what they're doing.

And internet trolls will unfortunately be quick to discount and mock any PSA that contains the faintest whiff of moralizing -- especially when it comes to behavior some people have no apparent qualms over. (In a 2016 incident known as "Celebgate," nude photos of female celebrities were stolen and posted on Reddit. The page was viewed more than 250 million times and garnered 100,000 followers. People were openly tweeting that it was the best day on the internet.)

The internet has form for making a joke out of a well-intentioned public information video. In 2004 the Motion Picture Association released an anti-piracy video warning viewers against illegally downloading movies. It has been parodied mercilessly online.

But to YouPorn's credit, it's raising awareness about a damaging issue. Though it has no way of knowing which videos truly fall under the definition of revenge porn as they are uploaded, it is willing to remove them when they're reported. And reported they should be, since revenge porn is estimated to affect one in 25 Americans, according to a 2016 study by the Data and Society Research Institute. Young women especially, are likely to be victims.

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YouPorn launched its #AskFirst campaign in an attempt to curb revenge porn.

YouPorn

"We will not tolerate revenge porn and is in direct violation of our terms of service," YouPorn wrote in an email to CNET. "We believe this campaign will open up the dialogue, while setting a standard across all industry sites."

Revenge porn is generally defined as sexually explicit images or footage that was first obtained with consent (such as between intimate partners) and later distributed without consent.

The more accurate term, though, is "non-consensual pornography" (NCP). This term allows for content obtained without consent (like with a hidden camera or a recording of a sexual assault), as well as doctored images and AI-generated deepfake videos.

Non-consensual porn also makes room for different relationships and intentions. Since revenge porn doesn't necessarily have to come from a vengeful ex or lover, perpetrators can be people who have had no prior relationship with their victims, but are exploiting them for blackmail or money. The man behind Celebgate, for example, hacked into iCloud accounts merely to humiliate his victims and gain internet infamy. For stealing and distributing nude photos of female celebrities, he was sentenced to 18 months in prison.

In the US, 38 states and DC have laws prohibiting revenge porn, according to Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, a non-profit organization that advocates for the criminalization of NCP and online abuse. In these states, NCP ranges from a misdemeanor to a felony and sentencing varies accordingly.

In addition to the campaign video, YouPorn set up a dedicated page where victims can request videos to be taken down specifically because the content is non-consensual.

The reporting tool is nothing new, and another pornography video site, PornHub, launched a similar removal request page in 2015. (Note that both PornHub and YouPorn are owned by the same company, MindGeek.)

"We celebrate any initiative that gives victims of non-consensual pornography a way to get the content removed," wrote Carla Cain-Walther, the communications director of C.A. Goldberg, PLLC to CNET. The firm is a law firm that specializes in internet privacy and sexual consent.

"Frankly all major adult sites should at this point, as well provide more assistance to victims to get the content taken off mirror sites."

Though it should have come sooner, I welcome this dedicated page. It'll hopefully make it easier for victims of NCP to initiate removing content explicitly on the grounds that it's revenge porn and not because of, say, a copyright issue.

Before NCP laws were enacted, one of the ways to remove revenge porn was through the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). It's a roundabout method that doesn't always succeed, especially in cases where the victim didn't take the photo or film themselves and therefore isn't considered the rightful copyright owner.

In cases where it is applicable, a DMCA takedown can work. As Margaret Talbot of the New Yorker put it, "Using copyright law to combat revenge porn is a bit like using tax law to go after Al Capone, but copyright is one of the only restrictions that the Internet respects."

We don't know how effectively or how quickly YouPorn's process will work for victims. Bigger tech companies such as YouTube, Google and Facebook have much more money and resources but still fail to remove videos that depict murders, harmful conspiracy theories and suicide in a timely manner. And once a video's been online once, it's difficult to stop it from proliferating and being reuploaded on other, less compliant, sites. There is also no way to remove content that has already been downloaded to a private computer.

But while YouPorn's bait-and-switch video might do little to deter any awful person truly seeking revenge porn out of his or her own volition, YouPorn is at least providing one tool that moves us one step closer to a legitimate solution. It's making it clear that consent is important and required from every participant at every step of the way, including distribution.

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