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Unlikely Allies Help Pornhub in Shutdown Over Utah Law

Pornhub has gained unlikely allies, in the Free Speech Coalition (FSC) and American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), in its fight against Utah’s age-verification laws. On May 2, 2023, Utah passed a statewide law that requires adult websites to verify the age of users visiting the site from a Utah-based device.

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The goal of those fighting back isn’t for kids to be surfing Pornhub, though. While this bill was passed as an effort from Republican lawmakers in Utah to prevent minors from accessing adult websites, there are reasons that laws like this are a bad way to go about solving the issues they’re aimed at, which we’ll get into down below.

However, in retaliation for the bill, Pornhub went dark in Utah on the same day the age-verification bill passed. The site blocked access for anyone trying to visit it from a device with a Utah-based IP address. When Utah residents attempt to access Pornhub, they are now redirected to a short video from adult performer Cherie DeVille, along with a brief note explaining that the law is “not the most effective solution for protecting” the safety of kids online. DeVille goes on to explain why Pornhub is blocked for Utah residents in more detail and also suggests a better solution, such as using device verification to allow access to adult websites.

Of course, Utah residents can get around both the Pornhub block and the age verification laws by using a VPN to mask their location. As a result, search queries for VPN have spiked in recent days and have become a popular search term in Utah specifically. In addition to Pornhub, the FSC and ACLU have also opposed the age-verification law.

Why Pornhub and its allies are protesting Utah’s law

Pornhub, the FSC, and the ACLU all oppose Utah’s age-verification law due to the number of concerns such a law raises. Additionally, these protests are also attempting to stop the spread of these age-verification laws. An age-verification law for adult websites was first passed by Louisiana in 2022, and now more than a dozen states have introduced copycat age-verification bills. So far, such bills were passed in Arkansas, Mississippi, and Utah, though Utah is the only one that has begun enforcing it. The FSC has been tracking data on these bills and outlined why it opposes them.

The FSC’s three major reasons for opposition to the bills are that they are ineffective, unconstitutional, and dangerous. As mentioned above, these laws are ineffective because users can easily bypass them with the use of a VPN. Also, they don’t account for websites that aren’t strictly adult websites, such as social media, where minors can still access adult content. Meanwhile, they are dangerous to adults because uploading one’s ID to a website, as the Utah law requires, comes with many security risks, such as data breaches and identity theft.

Additionally, being able to track who is visiting adult websites with their ID is also very dangerous from a privacy perspective, including the possibility of being extorted or blackmailed through threats of exposing one’s browsing data. Danger can also arise if children or adults who wish to get around the verification opt to visit less reputable sites that don’t follow the age verification laws, where they are more likely to be exposed to illegal and harmful content.

The FSC has even filed a lawsuit against Utah over the bill, along with Utah-based erotica author D. S. Dawson and several companies with adult websites. The FSC claims that such a bill is a violation of the First Amendment’s protection of free speech. Adult content is an expression of free speech, and age verification laws can be seen as an attempt to restrict that expression.

Again, this doesn’t mean that the FSC or ACLU don’t care about protecting children from adult content. They are very much for protecting the safety and interests of children. However, these organizations are simply pointing out that there are better, safer, and far more effective ways to do this.

(featured image: anyaberkut/Getty Images)

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Rachel Ulatowski
Rachel Ulatowski is a Staff Writer for The Mary Sue, who frequently covers DC, Marvel, Star Wars, literature, and celebrity news. She has over three years of experience in the digital media and entertainment industry, and her works can also be found on Screen Rant, JustWatch, and Tell-Tale TV. She enjoys running, reading, snarking on YouTube personalities, and working on her future novel when she's not writing professionally. You can find more of her writing on Twitter at @RachelUlatowski.