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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 20, 2021 - Technology

Why domestic terrorists are so hard to police online

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Domestic terrorism has proven to be more difficult for Big Tech companies to police online than foreign terrorism.

The big picture: That's largely because the politics are harder. There's more unity around the need to go after foreign extremists than domestic ones — and less danger of overreaching and provoking a backlash.

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
35 mins ago - Economy & Business

Scoop: Red Sox strike out on deal to go public

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The parent company of the Boston Red Sox and Liverpool F.C. has ended talks to sell a minority ownership stake to RedBall Acquisition, a SPAC formed by longtime baseball executive Billy Beane and investor Gerry Cardinale, Axios has learned from multiple sources. An alternative investment, structured more like private equity, remains possible.

Why it matters: Red Sox fans won't be able to buy stock in the team any time soon.