Tony Ortega’s Legacy: Lies, Ruin and Lasting Harm

It has been a tumultuous week for the pro-human sex trafficking camp. Tony Ortega may no longer be the cheerleader he once was for the vile exploitation of women and underage girls during his days as a talking head for the Backpage crime syndicate, but as we’ve reported to our readers previously the dark reverberations of his disgusting rhetoric continues to infect the thinking of a dangerous number of new online enterprises. 

Tony Ortega infamously argued that hosting prostitution ads — ads which included an alarming number of threateningly coerced women and children —   on Backpage was done by mutual consent and therefore none of our business.

In reality it should be all of our business when websites profit off child sexual abuse. Be it in the form of pimps publishing advertisements selling vulnerable people for sex, or posting sexually explicit imagery of this same marginalized group for the entertainment of anonymous creeps online. 

Backpage started the ball rolling, flouting laws and deceptively trying to hide their tracks as they did so. Now it appears that this is exactly what Pornhub has been doing, according to the recent investigation by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof we first alerted you to last week. 

It is no exaggeration to say that Kristof’s piece draws a straight line from the exploitative actions of Backpage to Pornhub. In it he details how child sexual imagery is uploaded to the wildly popular sleaze sites. 

We here at the blog believe it should be required reading because it tells us not only how easy it is to find this material online but also because in a post-Backpage world it serves as the latest reminder of why we cannot permit online platforms to continue to operate the way they do without consequence.

Internet platforms like Twitter, Facebook and, yes, Pornhub, thrive on the ability of third-party users to upload material to their sites. On Pornhub, at least until Kristof’s columns ran, users could also download that material.

We’ve seen over the years how the likes of Tony Ortega have abused Twitter and Facebook, using these platforms to promote half-baked hate speech and religious bigotry. 

And now we are seeing that brazen misuse of the freedom of speech bleed into new Internet platforms seeking to cash in on the human trafficking sex trade industry.

Consider the following salient quote from Kristof’s argument against Pornhub, and ask yourself if the problem it describes sounds familiar.

Kristof writes: 

“Pornhub is like YouTube in that it allows members of the public to post their own videos. A great majority of the 6.8 million new videos posted on the site each year probably involve consenting adults, but many depict child abuse and nonconsensual violence. Because it’s impossible to be sure whether a youth in a video is 14 or 18, neither Pornhub nor anyone else has a clear idea of how much content is illegal.”

Neither the platform “nor anyone else has a clear idea of how much content is illegal.” If that sounds familiar to you it might be because this was – and is – the root of the case against Backpage. 

Tony Ortega wants you to believe all of this is none of your business; that what you don’t know won’t hurt you. The inescapable truth, however, is that it directly victimizes countless people and continues to ruin the lives many more. 

Backpage may be dead but is legacy of harm lives on. And Tony Ortega’s lingering, self-serving bullshit rhetoric now dressed up to defend the latest manifestation of cybersex peddling does nothing to alter that fact. 

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