An investigation into the riskiest law on the internet
The porn industry is experiencing major turmoil, thanks to the internet. Photo / iStock
Here’s a fun board game to play with your friends (intoxicated, adults): pull out a smartphone with ‘safe search’ turned off and try to break the 34th rule of the internet. Rule 34, according to a long-standing legend, goes something like this: If it exists, or can be imagined, there is pornography on the Internet.
Tetris blocks? Yeah, absolutely.
Elves? The web has it.
Robots? Extraterrestrials? Goats? Paperclips ? Hang in there and Google them.
As puzzled gamers gradually discovered, however, there’s a new issue in the game – it can actually be more difficult to find anything / anything porn now than it used to be.
In the 13 years since a British teenager coined the term “Rule 34“Internet consumption patterns and the online porn industry have changed. Alien goat sex may still exist somewhere in the unfathomable depths of the Internet, but it is much deeper than before .
“I think we are witnessing the death of Rule 34,” sighs Ogi Ogas, a computational neuroscientist at Harvard and author of the first large-scale Internet pornography study. “It’s over there, if you want to find it. But it’s not easy.”
Ogas conducted his study – an analysis of over 55 million porn searches – in 2009 and 2010, at the end of what could go down in history as the golden age of Rule 34.
Like the mainstream media at the same time, the porn industry was in great turmoil, thanks to the internet.
Personal computers and faster internet speeds freed consumers from the embarrassment of interacting with a curious mailman or CCTV salesman, which meant they could chase whatever smut flavor they wanted. And thanks to the same technologies that powered these exciting new things called “web logs,” just about anyone with an Internet connection and an interested audience could produce it.
What attracts me to online porn is that it’s not that wild. It’s self-explanatory, and part of it is extreme. But it’s strangely very narrow. I wouldn’t describe it as diverse or creative.
There are few good censuses of porn sites from this era, alas: even the Ogas study looked at what users were looking for, not what they actually encountered. But some earlier “netporn” researchers have described a constellation of branches of increasingly specialized sites spread around every conceivable sexual identity and interest: “No theme is far enough apart,” a pair of researchers said in 2007. “No fetish too exotic.”
Whether they realized it or not, these academics were only echoing a British teenager who had come to similar conclusions a few years before: in a widely circulated web comic.
“Rule 34” reads the caption. “There is porn. No exceptions.”
But Morley-Souter, now 27 and using a slightly different name to avoid association with his famous law, has to admit that pornography and the internet have changed a lot in the 10-plus years that have followed.
At the end of the years, just as Ogas was finishing his study, the online porn industry began to consolidate – moving away from individual producers and distributors to massive, participatory aggregators called “sites”. of tubes “. To give you an exact idea of how big these sites are, consider this: Online pornography accounts for about 4.7% of all desktop internet traffic, and tube sites channel the vast majority.
Much like YouTube, from which they are derived, tube sites such as Xvideos (the 23rd most popular site on Earth) and Pornhub (the 37th) allow anyone to publicly download just about anything.
This sadly includes pirated porn stolen from websites that charge for videos; this practice has drained parts of the porn economy.
[Pornhub is] democratize the distribution of adult video content like YouTube has done with general video content.
Piracy has particularly affected small producers and distributors, according to Shira tarrant, the author of the new book “The pornography industryThe sites doing Calvin & Hobbes erotica or literal Tetris porn are, no coincidence, the same ones that can’t afford a full-time anti-piracy employee.
Equally damning, from a Rule 34 perspective, is the fact that tube sites centralize power and influence in the hands of a single company – something most casual consumers fail to realize.
Eight of the 10 biggest tube sites, including Pornhub, RedTube and YouPorn, are owned by MindGeek, an “information technology company” headquartered in Luxembourg. And MindGeek, leveraging its vast centralized treasures of content and user browsing data, has dictated exactly what types of porn are becoming and remaining popular.
Most tube sites recommend and promote specific tags, for example, which helps determine how we talk about sex.
They also decide what content to promote and what to bury, much like Amazon.com or Netflix. In addition to its curated homepage (seen by nearly 30 million people per month) and carefully crafted media and social media presences, Pornhub personalizes its content recommendations based on an algorithm, which tends to tone down any quirks or curiosities that people may bring. to that.
“What attracts me to online pornography is that it’s not that wild,” Tarrant said. “It’s self-explanatory, and some of them are extreme. But it’s weirdly very narrow. I wouldn’t describe it as diverse or creative.”
In a statement, Pornhub Vice President Corey Price denied that tube sites have played a role in standardizing or integrating online pornography: Porn is more diverse than ever, he said. he stated, and Pornhub in particular “democratizing the distribution of adult video content YouTube has done it with general video content.”
No one had been able to predict the range of sexual tastes and interests.
But the limited data available to us, at this point, suggests otherwise. In one of the most recent quantitative analyzes of online pornography, a team of five French researchers from several different institutions removed metadata – including tags describing content – from 1.7 million videos on porn sites. popular Xnxx and xHamster tubes. They found that while an extraordinary range of material technically exists, barely 5 percent of the tags available on sites cover 90 percent of their videos.
Creative content in quotes, on the other hand, exists in backwaters too obscure to be found even by a Google search.
In some ways, this new arrangement is not too surprising; if anything, it can better reflect the bell curve of contemporary human taste. In 2009, when Ogas started studying internet pornography, he was first stunned by the diversity and openness of the research:
“No one had been able to predict the range of sexual tastes and interests,” he said. But while the range may have been huge, Ogas quickly discovered that the average was generally what you would expect: conventionally attractive straight people, having vaguely adventurous straight sex.
In other words, the internet may have triggered a flood of previously untapped sexual expressions. But in fact, most of those supporting Rule 34 were just… splashing around.
“If you google for ‘skeleton porn’ or ‘sexy funeral director’ or ‘erotic stories about lumpy potatoes’ you will find results,” Ogas wrote in his 2011 book “A Billion Wicked Thoughts,” which results from his research. “But most of us don’t spend our time looking for this stuff.”
Leonard Delaney can unfortunately confirm it: he is the creator of that Tetris eroticism that you have heard so much about. Delaney has written and self-published over a dozen short stories with names like “Conquered by Clippy”. A few of them have gone pretty viral, but he still only averages $ 100 in sales per month.
Does Delaney think rule 34 is obsolete? Frankly, he’s not sure.
At first, he told the Washington Post, it struck him as “a mathematical certainty” that the rule becomes truer over time, as people are constantly producing new porn and new erotic stories. But on second thought, it’s not sure that things are new – they might just retread old topics and themes.
Delaney, for his part, is determined to uphold the law: his most recent story involves Microsoft’s racist chatbot, Tay. He has the ambition to one day write eroticism on slinkies and dead ends.
But Delaney’s white whale remains rule 34; he doesn’t think there is porn on the act itself. And as long as that doesn’t exist, he rightly observes, the whole debate is academic.