This is a profile blogpost about the TikTok Observatory, a Mozilla Technology Fund awardee.
Online pornography, like other forms of cultural production, is increasingly subject to processes of platformization. While research has focused on the diffusion of online pornography and its broader implications, less attention has been paid to the algorithmic infrastructures through which platforms distribute and manage pornographic content, and how this might reiterate socially embedded views and perspectives. To fill this gap, we consider how Pornhub, currently the leading porn platform, establishes the gender identity of its users, and how this affects the structure of the platform and the distribution and recommendation of content within it. We collected data about 1.600 variations of Pornhub’s homepages, as well as data about 25.000 videos suggested to 10 accounts with differing self-declared gender identities. Through this data and an analysis of the signup procedure, we underline how Pornhub segments, distributes, and manages content based on the profiling of its users, increasingly following the logics of the platformization of content. Findings point to how Pornhub’s algorithmic suggestions and the structure of the platform concur to reiterate a heteronormative perspective on sexual desire, sexuality, and gender identities.
The paper has involved eight authors, from various disciplines. The technical improvement needed to address the fairly simple technical tasks have influenced our roadmap greatly, by stabilizing and re-engineering the tool named Guardoni, initially developed for this research.