Did Pornhub Block Russian Users?

Russia's invasion of Ukraine prompted sanctions that have blocked banking access, restricted air travel, and banned ... porn?

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Image via Twitter screenshot

Claim

Pornhub "sanctioned" Russia after its attack on Ukraine by blocking Russian users from accessing the site.

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Origin

On Feb. 25, 2022, shortly after more international sanctions were announced to punish Russia for its unprovoked attack on Ukraine, a rumor started circulating on social media that the adult website Pornhub had also announced its own “sanctions” on the country by blocking Russian users from accessing its site. According to the rumor, Russian users who attempted to access Pornhub were blocked from its content and instead shown the Ukrainian flag:

This was the text of the rumor: 

“The sanction nobody is talking about. Russian users who attempted to visit pornhub were quite literally cockblocked by a message that told them that the content has been stopped along with a Ukranian [sic] flag and message of Ukranian [sic] support.”

There’s zero evidence to support these claims. A spokesperson for Pornhub told us: “This is completely false. We have not blocked anyone from Russia.”

While we encountered a few messages posted in the immediate aftermath of Russia’s attack that joked about the potential impact of a Pornhub ban, the above-displayed account appears to be the first to have spread this rumor as if it were a genuine news item. It’s odd, then, that this account included a generic logo for Pornhub in its tweet and not screenshots showing the alleged image of a Ukrainian flag and message of support. 

Furthermore, several Twitter users attempted to access Pornhub via a VPN, a Virtual Private Network that allows them to set their location to Russia, to test the claim. Samantha Cole, a reporter for Motherboard, posted on Twitter:

We used the same method to replicate the experience a user in Russia would have while accessing Pornhub, and came up with the same results. We did not encounter a Ukrainian flag or a message of support, nor was our access to the website blocked.

After being asked to sign into a VK.com account (VK is a Russian social network similar to Facebook), we were able to access the site from an IP address located in Moscow, Russia.

Here’s a screenshot showing our Moscow IP address and a censored (by us) version of the page we were greeted with upon accessing Pornhub. 

While Pornhub has not banned Russians from using the site, Russia once banned its own citizens from using Pornhub, though only for a short time.

In 2016, Russia’s Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media implemented new rules that prohibited Russian citizen’s from having access to Pornhub and YouPorn, telling people to “try and meet someone in real life.” A few months later, Pornhub found a way to appease Russia’s media regulator and started asking users to connect via their VK accounts in order to verify that they 18 years of age or older.  

Sources:

Henley, Jon. “What Sanctions Have Been Imposed on Russia over Ukraine Invasion?” The Guardian, 28 Feb. 2022. The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/feb/28/what-sanctions-imposed-on-russia-over-ukraine-invasion-putin.

“How Pornhub Made Peace with Russian Censorship by Integrating with the Country’s Biggest Social Network.” Meduza, https://meduza.io/en/feature/2017/07/11/how-pornhub-made-peace-with-russian-censors-by-integrating-with-the-country-s-biggest-social-network. Accessed 28 Feb. 2022.

Mendelsohn, Tom. “Russia Bans Pornhub, YouPorn—Tells Citizens to ‘Meet Someone in Real Life.’” Ars Technica, 16 Sept. 2016, https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2016/09/russia-bans-pornhub-youporn-tells-citizens-to-meet-someone-in-real-life/.

“Russia Has Lost All Access to Porn. And Things Have Got Very Odd.” The Independent, 23 Oct. 2017, https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/news/pornhub-youporn-russia-blocked-premium-vladimir-putin-meet-people-in-real-life-a7308391.html.

Walters, Greg. “Russians Now Need a Passport to Watch Pornhub.” Vice, 10 July 2017, https://www.vice.com/en/article/kzgkv3/russians-now-need-a-passport-to-watch-pornhub.