One of the world’s largest online pornography sites, Pornhub, announced Utah users are being blocked because of a new state law.

Starting Wednesday, pornography websites will be required to verify that users in Utah are at least 18 years old under SB287, passed unanimously by the 2023 Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Spencer Cox.

The law also spells out that such a site that “fails to perform reasonable age verification methods” to ensure users aren’t under 18 years old can be sued for “damages resulting from a minor’s accessing the material.”

The governor welcomed the company’s decision to stop Utahns from using the site.

“In Utah, we care about our kids. The vast majority of Utahns would agree that companies should be held responsible for knowingly distributing pornography to minors,” Cox said in a statement to the Deseret News.

“The very least we can do as a society is to ask companies to verify the age of those viewing the pornography they produce and distribute. This unanimous, bipartisan legislation provides multiple ways to satisfy that requirement,” he said.

“However,” the governor added, “I fully support Pornhub’s decision to remove their content in Utah.”

Pornhub was described in a New York Times opinion piece in 2020 as a company that “monetizes child rapes, revenge pornography, spy cam videos of women showering, racist and misogynist content.”

The piece featured a young woman who said her life was changed after videos she made for a boyfriend at age 14 were posted to the site. Last year, the law firm representing her said Visa suspended ad payments on Pornhub and other sites owned by MindGeek.

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The sponsor of the Utah legislation, Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, pointed to recent Louisiana legislation as a model and expressed surprise at Pornhub’s action.

“(I) did not expect it at all,” Weiler told the Deseret News. He said he believes Pornhub, which began verifying ages when a similar law in Louisiana took effect at the beginning of the year, will end up complying with Utah’s law.

“It’s already illegal in all 50 states for children to view porn,” he said. “Businesses who sell tobacco, vaping products and alcohol online already age verify. Utah’s new law only requires adult sites to make reasonable efforts to confirm that the consumers of their content are adults.”

Age verification for online pornography sites was also imposed in Germany last year, and the United Kingdom is expected to do the same.

Pornhub posted a message on its site to Utah users, asking them to contact their lawmakers “before it is too late” about the new requirement and “demand device-based verification solutions that make the internet safer while also respecting your privacy.”

The message, which is accompanied by a video, claims “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.”

Instead, the company said “the best and most effective solution for protecting children and adults alike is to identify users by their device and allow access to age-restricted materials and websites based on that identification.”

Pornhub said that until what it called “a real solution” is available, “we have made the difficult decision to completely disable access to our website in Utah.”

The company claimed Utah’s new requirement will drive web traffic “to sites with far fewer safety measures in place” because “mandating age verification without proper enforcement gives platforms the opportunity to choose whether or not to comply.”

Louisiana, the first state to require age verification to access pornographic sites online, has created a “digital wallet” that allows a driver’s license to be used for identification without sharing personal data.

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Weiler said Utah’s law was based on Louisiana’s, and that he’d have to study both more to determine if there are other differences. But he said “tweaks are likely needed. Ironically, no one from that industry reached out to me during the session — or since.”

Weiler has been tweeting out angry comments and backlash he’s received after Pornhub blocked access to the website in Utah. One individual wrote to Weiler that he was “disturbed by the lack of freedom we have in this state.”

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Salt Lake County Councilwoman Aimee Winder Newton, who also serves as the governor’s senior adviser and director of the Office of Families, offered her support.

“Wow — people are really passionate about this website. I’m sorry you are getting the backlash. I appreciate that you are trying to protect our kids,” she tweeted to Weiler.

All Utahns next year will have to show some form of identification to use social media under other new laws passed last session that are intended to give parents greater control over their children’s social media use but have also raised privacy concerns.

Contributing: Kyle Dunphey

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