Estimating how much money the online porn industry makes is difficult, not least because of definitional problems. What counts as “adult content”, for example? And most of the dominant companies are privately held. Current revenue estimates for the US range from $9bn to $97bn a year. The latter figure looks excessive, but a conservative estimate is $15bn. That makes it bigger than not only Netflix ($11.7bn) but also Hollywood as a whole ($11.1bn) and Viacom ($13.3bn). In other words, online porn is huge.
This has been an open secret in the technology industry for aeons. Many years ago, I was asked by a film producer to provide an outline for a television series that would explain the internet to the average viewer. I suggested that the first episode should be filmed in the server farm of a major online porn provider, to make the point that smut entrepreneurs have always been early adopters of the latest communications technology. When I said this to the producer and his colleagues, ice formed on their upper slopes and I never heard from them again. But the point still stands: the porn industry remains a masterful exploiter of digital technology.
The biggest sites have names such as YouPorn or Pornhub and are unabashed about what they provide. But in fact most of them seem to be owned by a holding company called MindGeek, whose website is a masterpiece of assured blandness. It tells us that it has more than 1,000 employees and six offices worldwide, providing services that include search-engine marketing, web hosting, advertising and “media content delivery”. All of which is doubtless true, but nowhere on the site is there any reference to what “content” is “delivered” or hosted on any of its properties.
In reality, MindGeek companies are brilliant exponents of the user-surveillance technology invented by Google and now also practised by Facebook – but with a critical difference. Google and Facebook employ the technology to build user profiles that their real customers – advertisers – pay for. In contrast, the porn companies see their viewers as potential customers: they closely monitor their consumption of “free” porn to infer what kinds of content they will be prepared to pay for. And then they specify and commission “premium” videos based on what they have learned from this surveillance.
So, in a way, the porn industry has transformed itself into a centre of excellence in data analytics. In that sense, it’s a less dishonest industry – or at any rate one that is much more transparent than Google or Facebook in terms of revealing what kinds of data it collects.
The national lottery was [on the 22nd December] accused of breaking its ban on political funding after giving a large grant to a second controversial transgender lobbying group.
The Big Lottery Fund (BLF) will pay £494,000 to “empower trans leaders and organisations” in “facilitation, media and influencing”. The money is being handed to the advocacy group Stonewall for distribution to other activists, creating a “network of leaders” to lobby for change. Stonewall was central to the campaign for contentious changes to gender laws.
Last week The Sunday Times revealed the lottery had awarded £500,000 to the trans advocacy group Mermaids, which campaigns for children to be allowed prohibited sex-change hormones. More large sums to trans lobbyists are thought to be in the pipeline.
The award to Mermaids, which triggered a backlash, is now under review by the BLF. It is today criticised by a coalition of academics and feminists, who have written to this newspaper calling for a public inquiry into the 25-fold rise in children seeking NHS help with gender issues over the past decade.
The group says it is “concerned” about the role played by Mermaids — which has been accused of bullying doctors, promoting falsehoods and pressuring parents to support life-changing medical interventions for their children — and “welcomes” the review.
One of those who organised the letter, Debbie Hayton, who is herself transgender, said of the Stonewall grant: “The rules say lottery money should not be used for ‘political activity’, but giving lobbying groups a grant for ‘influencing’ is funding political campaigning by another name.”
The BLF said: “We do not fund political activities.”
[The activism of Morgan Page, who now works for the advocacy group Stonewall on its “transgender leadership programme”] may not assuage those feminist concerns. In 2012, amid some controversy, she ran a workshop [in Canada] called Overcoming the Cotton Ceiling. The “cotton ceiling” is a term used by some trans lesbian women to criticise biological lesbian women for refusing to have sex with them because they have penises.
The organiser, Planned Parenthood Toronto, insisted that “sexual consent was absolutely paramount . . . the workshop was never intended to promote overcoming any individual woman’s objections to sexual activity”.
When The Sunday Times revealed last week that the Big Lottery Fund (BLF), which awards grants from the national lottery, had given £500,000 to Mermaids, a trans group that advocates sex-change treatment for children, there was an outcry — and an immediate review.
News of this second grant for a partisan lobbying operation will trigger further questions about the lottery’s approach.
Other Stonewall trans leaders include Aimee Challenor, a former Green Party deputy leadership candidate who was suspended, then resigned, after using her father as her election agent, even though he had been charged with imprisoning, raping and torturing a 10-year-old child. He was later sentenced to 22 years in prison.
Challenor claimed to have known nothing of the crimes, which took place in the attic of the house they shared. Stonewall has since promoted Challenor to secretary of its trans advisory group, according to her Twitter feed.
Stonewall said the new lottery project was “designed to help trans people from all walks of life reduce both the discrimination they face and the fear of violence that is still a daily reality for many”.
David Davies, the Tory MP for Monmouth, said: “Nobody objects to grants designed to provide services to LGBT people. But my concern with grants explicitly described as being for ‘influencing’ is that the lottery is taking a clear position at one extreme of what is a highly contested political debate.
“That is explicitly prohibited by their own rules which say that ‘political activity’ cannot be funded.”
The grants to Mermaids and Stonewall may be traceable back to an event last year held by the LGBT Consortium, an umbrella body for most of the sector’s charities and lobbyists, with the BLF’s portfolio development director, Gemma Bull.
“Basically the pitch was that public donations to LGBT organisations have gone down dramatically since equal marriage, so the lottery needs to step in,” said one person who was there.
A few months later Bull went on an LGBT leadership course run by Stonewall and this year was named as an LGBT role model by the organisation OUTstanding.
Early this year the lottery paid for the LGBT Consortium to hire a new staff member, Matt Halliday, to draw up grant applications and work on a new funding model. Halliday left in July in apparent dismay. He tweeted that he had “written to the funders of my project with a report on my project and the things I’ve seen” but neither he nor the consortium would comment last week. The BLF said it had received no report from Halliday.
It appears that neither the Mermaids nor Stonewall awards were considered at the highest levels. One former staff member said only the largest grants went to the BLF board to be scrutinised by external figures. Projects of £500,000 or less were approved by heads of funding, the 12 or so people who are part of the BLF’s middle to senior management.
They “would typically have up to 165 different funding applications to consider in a three-hour meeting”, the former officer said, which meant a little more than a minute on average for each grant. “They would make their decision based on three to four sides of A4 submitted by the funding manager responsible for assessing the application. The vast majority just went through on the nod.”
A senior BLF manager disputed this, saying a maximum of 25 applications were considered at each meeting and the paperwork ranged from 1-10 pages.
The former officer said levels of scrutiny had deteriorated in recent years because of problems with a computer system: “In order to cope, they cut down a lot of the questions they asked applicants including, crucially, on safeguarding. You used to have to describe in detail what the safeguarding risks were and how you’d address them. But now you only have to tick a box saying you’ve considered safeguarding.”
The review of the Mermaids grant could prove important in setting parameters for political grants in the future. Passions are high on both sides: MPs have weighed in and the charity’s supporters have adopted the Twitter hashtag IStandWithMermaids.
Even before its recent spending spree, the BLF was the ninth largest funder of LGBT causes in the world, according to the Global Philanthropy Project, and its money has been pivotal in the creation of a powerful UK trans lobby.
The LGBT Consortium says 89% of all funding for LGBT organisations comes from official sources, including the lottery. Further large grants are expected: the consortium has promised a “very exciting announcement” next month.
In the northeast, Northumberland Domestic Abuse Services, which has received £756,000 from the lottery since 2012, faces closure by March after a new funding bid was turned down. Provided by the charity SixtyEightyThirty, it helps about 1000 people a year and is the county’s only specialist domestic abuse service to offer support and counselling for children.
A charity for male victims, Abused Men In Scotland, came within weeks of closure after losing its £419,000 lottery grant. It was bailed out at the 11th hour last month by a new funder, the Crerar Trust, which gave £29,000 to keep it going.
Dame Esther Rantzen’s national helpline for the elderly, The Silver Line, which has received just under £11m from the Big Lottery Fund since 2013, was told this year that funding would end. Rantzen said the charity was “secure for the moment” but its situation “isn’t easy”.
Jim Al-Khalili talks to astronomer Jocelyn Bell Burnell.
Jocelyn Bell Burnell forged her own path through the male-dominated world of science – in the days when it was unusual enough for women to work, let alone make a discovery in astrophysics that was worthy of a Nobel Prize.
As a 24-year old PhD student, Jocelyn spotted an anomaly on a graph buried within 100 feet of printed data from a radio telescope. Her curiosity about such a tiny detail led to one of the most important discoveries in 20th century astronomy – the discovery of pulsars – those dense cores of collapsed stars.
It’s a discovery which changed the way we see the universe, making the existence of black holes suddenly seem much more likely and providing further proof to Einstein’s theory of gravity.
Jocelyn Bell Burnell was made a Dame in 2008 and a year later became the first ever female President of the Institute of Physics.
Claudia busts some myths in neuroscience. She meets scientists attending the British Neuroscience Association’s Christmas symposium on Neuromyths. She talks to Professor Chris MacManus about myths around left and right and how we use the different sides of our brain. She discusses with Duncan Astle from Cambridge University about the brain myths that have been used in education in primary schools. Cordelia Fine from Melbourne University discusses the myths about the differences between male and female brains. Anne Cook from the BNA talks about some historical myths which have been busted but why others still persist. Emma Yhnell from Cardiff University talks about whether brain training really works.
We have received a range of correspondence in relation to a proposed grant to Mermaids, expressing both concern and support regarding this organisation. We’re grateful to those who have taken the time to write to us, and in light of the nature and volume of the communication we have received, we have decided to undertake a review of this grant.
A transgender charity that campaigns for children to be given prohibited sex-change treatment has been awarded £500,000 by the national lottery.
The payment to Mermaids has angered MPs, feminists and women’s organisations, who accuse the charity of bullying doctors, promoting falsehoods and using “emotional blackmail” to pressure parents to support life-changing medical interventions for their children.
Mermaids will use the money to create a network of 45 groups nationwide.
David Davies, the Tory MP for Monmouth, called for the grant, which has been approved but not yet paid, to be halted pending an investigation.
“I am absolutely horrified that the Big Lottery Fund are handing out a fortune to this aggressive organisation,” he said. “What they are doing is utterly wrong.”
The chief executive of Mermaids, Susie Green, who took her son for a now illegal sex-change operation in Thailand when he was 16, believes medical intervention is “absolutely vital” for children unhappy with their biological sex. Her view is disputed by NHS gender specialists who say intervention is not always right.
Mermaids also wants to overturn an NHS ban on under-16s being treated with cross-sex hormones, which cause permanent body changes and compromise fertility; those taking them require lifelong medical support. Clinicians say children are too young for such a step.
Green has said the refusal by the NHS to give children the hormones can make them “self-harming and suicidal”, and claimed attendees at the main clinic that treats gender-dysphoric youngsters, the Tavistock Centre, in north London, have a “48% suicide attempt risk”. The clinic says the true rate is less than 1%.
In evidence to MPs, Mermaids singled out a doctor at the Tavistock as “anti-trans” and demanded it conduct “a thorough audit of staff and their views”. The charity criticised the clinic for “media quotes that emphasise [the] uncertainty and complexity” of gender questions.
Green, an IT consultant, has no medical training. Responding on Twitter to an NHS psychiatrist who accused her of “making stuff up”, she wrote that “you need to f*** off. You know nothing.”
In the absence of NHS treatment, Mermaids has referred parents to a private GP, Helen Webberley, who prescribed cross-sex hormones to children as young as 12. Mermaids recommended Webberley even after she was convicted of operating an illegal gender clinic.
The number of children seeking NHS treatment for gender dysphoria has risen by 700% in five years. Michele Moore, of the Patient Safety Academy at Oxford University, blamed Mermaids and other groups for the rise, as they were “not just supporting transition but promoting it”.
Stephanie Davies-Arai, of the parents’ group Transgender Trend, accused Mermaids of blackmailing parents and said: “Funding this agenda will lead to more young people who regret such life-changing harms to their bodies.”
Announcing the lottery grant on a private Mermaids Facebook group, Green said the charity was “very excited [by the] amazing news” but was “not allowed to publicise [it] externally”.
The Big Lottery Fund, a quango chaired by the former Tory MP Peter Ainsworth, said: “We are in the process of awarding [Mermaids] £500,000 over five years to increase localised support. If concerns are raised we will always look into them. However, we do not see any reason not to fund this.”
Green said Mermaids did “vital work” and that her claims on suicide were supported by the advocacy group Stonewall.
Few students ever dream that they’ll sue their high school. But that is exactly what several of my peers and I had to do.
Our school is Boyertown Area High School in Boyertown, Pennsylvania, and my reason for suing was to restore the bodily privacy we used to enjoy in locker rooms and restrooms on campus. Now, we have asked the Supreme Court to review our case.
I’m OK with the school district’s desire to hear voices other than mine on this issue. But I have a voice, too — and Boyertown officials have little interest in my perspective. They didn’t even bother to tell me or the other students that they changed school policy to allow students to choose their locker rooms and restrooms based not on their sex, but on their beliefs about their gender.
The moment I walked into our girls’ restroom and found a boy standing there, I turned and fled — the school’s surveillance video caught me running out. I tried to get the attention of administrators to explain to them how uncomfortable — how scared — I felt sharing the girls’ restroom with a boy. They wouldn’t listen. The principal simply wrote down my concerns on a Post-it note and said he’d contact me soon. He never did.
My parents were no less shocked by this new policy. Boyertown officials kept it a secret from them, too. The administrators never sent home a memo saying that, from now on, our school locker rooms would be open to students based on what sex students believed themselves to be.
Instead, our parents first learned of the policy when I found the boy in the girls’ restroom, and when others, like my classmates identified in the suit as Joel Doe and Jack Jones, were changing clothes in the boys’ locker room and looked up to find a girl changing clothes beside them.
Hollywood movies and TV shows try to make that kind of moment seem funny. But in real life, it’s embarrassing and unnerving. Locker rooms and restrooms are supposed to be a refuge for students, and adults, too, for that matter. As a woman, I go through those doors looking for privacy — not to find a guy looking back at me as I’m changing my clothes.
As a former foster child who bounced around through the system, I know what it’s like to be seeking an identity and trying to come to terms with who you are. As a black girl who grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood, I know what it’s like to be treated unfairly, picked on, and made fun of by insensitive people. I won’t accept anyone being bullied or discriminated against — and that absolutely includes my classmates experiencing gender dysphoria. They deserve our love and support. Even so, my privacy shouldn’t depend on what others believe about their own gender.
Why is it so hard for school officials to understand that young girls care about the privacy of their bodies? It’s natural for us and our parents to worry about who might walk in on us in a vulnerable moment. The school bureaucracy has no right to say my privacy is irrelevant.
I had once lost my voice in the foster care system. And I was once again losing it in my own school: School officials withheld information from me and my parents, then silenced me by ignoring my concerns. Fortunately, my parents also taught me to speak up for myself, and I found my voice through this lawsuit.
I recently graduated from Boyertown Area High School, so I’m not taking this stand just for myself. I’m speaking for my friends and my little sister, all of whom are having their privacy interests ignored by their own school — a school that should be protecting everyone’s privacy. That’s not fair to them. And whether school administrators intend it or not, their secrecy and silence create the distinct impression that they aren’t really interested in fairness at all.
Schools can and should be compassionate in supporting students who experience gender dysphoria. So should other students. But a truly fair and genuinely compassionate policy doesn’t have to be kept secret from students and parents. And an effective policy would be one that secures the privacy of every student — which is nothing more than what every parent and student has a right to expect.
Alexis Lightcap is a 2018 graduate of Boyertown Area High School in Boyertown, Pennsylvania. She and other students have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear their student privacy lawsuit through their attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom.