Pornhub blocks its content in Utah to protest state's new age verification law

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - JANUARY 06: A sign hangs at the Pornhub booth at the 2023 AVN Adult Entertainment Expo at Resorts World Las Vegas on January 06, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
A sign hangs at the Pornhub booth at the 2023 AVN Adult Entertainment Expo at Resorts World Las Vegas on Jan. 6. (Ethan Miller / Getty Images)
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Pornhub, the pornography website, has blocked anyone in Utah from accessing its content in a protest against the state’s online age verification law that took effect Wednesday.

The law, which was signed by Republican Gov. Spencer Cox in March, requires companies that publish pornography or adult content considered harmful to children to verify a user is an adult. Companies that fail to "perform reasonable age verification methods" can be held liable, according to the law.

Pornhub went dark in Utah on Monday. Those who tried to access the site were instead met with a video message by adult performer Cherie DeVille, who questioned the law’s efficacy and said the company has made the decision to “completely disable” access to content until lawmakers develop a "real solution."

“While safety and compliance are at the forefront of our mission, giving your ID card every time you want to visit an adult platform is not the most effective solution for protecting our users, and in fact, will put children and your privacy at risk,” DeVille said.

The law does not specify how companies must verify a person's age, but state Sen. Todd Weiler, who sponsored the bill, said it would not require a user to provide identification each time they visit an adult site.

Companies cannot comply with the law by having internet users self-attest to being 18 or older, as many websites with pornography and other adult content already do, according to Weiler. But he said the law was intentionally left "open-ended" to allow websites to use methods including hiring third-party age verification services or using digital identification cards from a state-approved application.

DeVille, the adult performer in Pornhub's video message, said the new law will drive users to websites that have fewer safety measures in place and suggested Utah instead use “device-based verification." That method uses a specific device, such as a smartphone or laptop, to verify a person’s identity and allows access to age-restricted materials on that particular device.

Pornhub's response to the law was "ridiculous," Weiler said.

"I think this is a strategy," he said. "They're going to try to put the pressure on me and other legislators to repeal this, and I don't think that's going to work."

Weiler, a Republican, said the law is similar to others that require age verification to purchase alcohol, cigarettes or vaping products. It doesn't prevent adults from viewing pornography but instead mandates they first confirm their age, he added.

“You should be able to have to prove that you are an adult to view pornography, because it’s illegal for children to view it and it’s illegal for adults to show it for children,” Weiler said.

Cox signed the bill into law in March, making Utah the second state to require age verification to access adult content online.

Asking companies that distribute pornography to verify users' age is the "least we can do as a society," Cox said in a statement provided by his office.

"This unanimous, bipartisan legislation provides multiple ways to satisfy that requirement," Cox said. "However, I fully support PornHub’s decision to remove their content in Utah.”

Similar legislation passed in Louisiana last year requires websites that publish a “substantial portion” of adult content to verify a user’s age or face potential legal action.

Pornhub complied with the Louisiana law, and its traffic there dropped 80%, a spokesperson for the site said. Those users are likely still seeking adult content, but on websites that have fewer safety measures, the spokesperson said.

According to the Free Speech Coalition, a trade association that advocates for the adult entertainment industry, Mississippi, Arkansas and Virginia have also passed Louisiana-style laws, while Montana is exploring a similar step. The laws have come under criticism from civil liberties groups, who have said some legislation could violate Americans’ fundamental freedoms by restricting access to information they have the right to see.

Utah's age verification law was one of two bills signed by Cox aimed at protecting children from potentially harmful online and social media content. The second law requires anyone under 18 to get parental consent to join social media platforms, the first legislation of its kind in the nation.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.