". . . and having done all . . . stand firm." Eph. 6:13


A ‘Watershed’ Moment: Pornhub Blocks Access to Utah in Response to Age Verification Law

May 3, 2023

In response to a Utah law set to go into effect Wednesday requiring pornography sites to verify the age of users in order to block access to minors, MindGeek, one of the world’s largest pornography companies, has blocked all Utahans from accessing their flagship site Pornhub, along with a number of other porn sites owned by the company. In light of MindGeek’s move, experts are pointing to a potential sea change that could occur in internet safety for minors if more states follow Utah’s lead.

In March, Utah Governor Spencer Cox (R) signed SB 287 into law, a bill that requires “a commercial entity that provides pornography and other materials defined as being harmful to minors … to verify the age of individuals accessing the material.” The bill also stipulates that publishers and distributors of porn will be held liable if they do not comply with the requirements.

Michael Toscano, executive director of the Institute for Family Studies, extolled the Utah governor and legislature’s efforts in enacting laws designed to protect minors from obscenity.

“Utah has put itself forward as a leader for governing the internet on behalf of the American family,” he said on Tuesday’s edition of “Washington Watch.” “Under the leadership of Governor Cox, he has decided that he was going to challenge the powers of Big Tech and Silicon Valley and Big Porn with a raft of legislation that would require these companies to verify the age of its users before admitting access. And it’s sending shock waves across the country. Legislatures across the country are looking at it, as well as on the federal level. It’s a remarkable watershed in the history of this country.”

The legislation is part of a growing nationwide push to implement laws designed to protect minors from being exposed to sexually explicit material online. In January, Louisiana enacted an almost identical law to Utah’s. Four other states (California, Virginia, Arkansas, and Mississippi) have also enacted bills restricting minors’ access to porn and social media sites. In addition, 21 other states have introduced legislation addressing the issue.

Toscano applauded the efforts of the Utah legislature despite protests from pornography industry lobbyists.

“[These] brave men and women were uncowed by the lobby, the lobbyists that were whispering in their ear, telling them that this would be an invasion of privacy or that this would be too burdensome for their companies and legislation,” he observed. “Good policy is a matter of balancing interests, and the legislators in Utah decided that they were going to balance their laws in favor of American families, and I think that was the right choice.”

Haley McNamara, vice president of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, echoed Toscano’s support for the Utah law and for MindGeek’s response to block their sites statewide in a statement to The Washington Stand: “Even better for children in Utah!”

She went on to note that “age verification for pornography is not a new technology or idea. There is an entire existing industry of age verification technology and standards that respect privacy. … Our laws have long held that those who distribute harmful material to minors are liable for any harm they cause, and the internet should not be different. Just as one must show an ID to enter, or make a purchase in, an adult bookstore or theatre, one should have to demonstrate he or she is an adult to access online pornography.”

McNamara continued, “Pornhub says that it’s a site only for adults, so why would it fight to stop Utah’s law to enact age verification to prevent minors from accessing its site unless it knows its traffic and profits will be impacted once minors aren’t on there?”

Toscano was equally suspicious of MindGeek’s stated reasons behind shutting off their sites in the state.

“They’re acknowledging that a very large share of their traffic comes from underage users,” he concurred. “Pornhub is worried, as one of its senior officials admitted online [this week]. It’s worried that its traffic could decrease in Utah by 50%. And part of that concern is from their perspective that its age verification is enough of a block for people to decide not to go on a porn site. But it also is an admission that many of the people that are going on their site are underage to begin with. This is obviously a bad thing, and it’s only a sign of the effectiveness of this legislation that Pornhub has decided that it was going to play hardball by withdrawing its platform altogether from Utah.”

Studies show that minors are a significant portion of those who view online porn. A report from Common Sense Media found that up to 73% of minors between 12 and 17 had watched internet smut.

Toscano further underscored that policymakers can do more above and beyond age verification in order to combat the porn industry from exploiting children.

“They should actually enforce the existing obscenity law,” he emphasized. “The existing obscenity law does not permit websites or any other producers of media to provide underage Americans with obscene content. The problem is a lack of enforcement. And I think what you see from Pornhub is [they realize] that Utah is very serious. And so they’re withdrawing. And I encourage other states to do the same thing and to show that they are serious about this obscenity problem.”

Dan Hart is senior editor at The Washington Stand.