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Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Pornhub's removal of as many as 10 million videos Monday — a content-removal earthquake on a scale the web has rarely seen before — sent tremors through a tech industry built on user-generated content.

Driving the news: Following a New York Times expose of underage and nonconsensual content on Pornhub, Mastercard and Visa stopped providing service to the site.

What's happening: Pornhub built a vast adult library by opening its platforms to uploads from anyone, but now it's removing all videos except those from verified users — commercial partners or participants in its model program.

By the numbers: On Wednesday the site reported a total of under 3 million videos — down from a pre-takedown tally of 13.5 million videos (per Motherboard).

Between the lines: Some observers saw the porn platform's new restriction as a harbinger of how the web might change if Congress, as it has threatened, removes a key liability protection for online platforms, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

  • Every major online platform — Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, TikTok and beyond — is built on a foundation of material posted by the public.
  • "If you wonder what the internet would be like without Section 230, Pornhub’s response to losing its payment processors offers a pretty good preview. 'Verified' content only; everything else disappears," tweeted Platformer's Casey Newton.

Yes, but: Section 230 resolved an ambiguity in the law by letting platforms moderate their content without assuming the liabilities of being a "publisher" of that material.

  • It protects platforms from civil suits but not from criminal prosecution.
  • It doesn't say anything about user verification.

Other legal experts argue that without 230, a company like Pornhub might choose to police its content as little as possible, in order to more credibly claim a role as a conduit for content belonging to others rather than a publisher.

Pornhub also faces a lawsuit involving 40 plaintiffs who say the service hosted nonconsensual videos of them that originated on the GirlsDoPorn site. GirlsDoPorn shut down after it was fined $13 million in January.

  • The new case could test whether Section 230 still applies in this situation, per ArsTechnica. A 2018 law known as SESTA/FOSTA carves out an exception in Section 230 for offenses involving sex trafficking.

Go deeper

Jan 28, 2021 - Podcasts

Rep. Ro Khanna on top tech priorities, including Robinhood and Section 230

Big Tech is something all Americans use and most Americans complain about, no matter their political affiliation.

Axios Re:Cap goes deeper into the Biden administration's top Big Tech priorities, plus discussion of Section 230 and Reddit day trading with Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.).

Jan 29, 2021 - Technology

Big Tech is outsourcing its hardest content moderation decisions

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Faced with the increasingly daunting task of consistent content moderation at scale, Big Tech companies are tossing their hardest decisions to outsiders, hoping to deflect some of the pressure they face for how they govern their platforms.

Why it matters: Every policy change, enforcement action or lack thereof prompts accusations that platforms like Facebook and Twitter are making politically motivated decisions to either be too lax or too harsh. Ceding responsibility to others outside the company may be the future of content moderation if it works.

Updated 22 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Liz Cheney: Americans deserve better than choice of Biden or Trump

Rep. Liz Cheney talks with Lesley Stahl on CBS' "60 Minutes." Photo: CBS News

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) told CBS' "60 Minutes" in an interview broadcast Sunday that Americans "deserve better than having to choose between" President Biden's "disastrous" policies and former President Trump, "who violated his oath of office."

Why it matters: Cheney made the remarks after CBS' Lesley Stahl put it to her in the interview that Republicans feel that her joining the House select committee in charge of investigating the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol riot helps "keep the focus on Trump instead of on the shortcomings of the Biden administration."