Sex, Lies and Porn Statistics

The latest newspaper to jump on the burgeoning anti-porn bandwagon is the Sunday Times, which recently put its name to a “symposium” on the “dangers to children of online pornography” in conjunction with the Tory Think-tank Policy Exchange:

The Sunday Times is organising a symposium on the dangers to children of online pornography.

The aims of the event, which will take place at the Policy Exchange in London tomorrow, are to raise awareness of the issues surrounding online pornography and provide a forum for a range of experts to discuss the growing crisis caused by its easy access for children.

Keynote speakers include:

Gail Dines – author of Pornland and Professor of Sociology at Wheelock College, Boston will be talking about why the UK needs a public health campaign to educate people about the dangers to their children of online pornography.

John Woods – consultant psychotherapist at the Portman Clinic in London will give a new paper entitled: ‘Child abuse on a massive scale: the effect of unfettered pornography on our children.’ John is the author of Boys Who Have Abused: Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy with Victim / Perpetrators of Sexual Abuse…

… The event will be concluded by a panel discussion chaired by Sunday Times associate editor Eleanor Mills, with Claire Perry MP; Gail Dines; John Woods; Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group and Diane Abbott MP.

So, not exactly the most balanced panel discussion there.

Without wishing to expend too much time debating personalities it’s nevertheless worth noting that just a few days before this event, Dines appeared as an ‘expert’ witness for the US Department of Justice in the latest stage of Free Speech Coalition et al. v Holder, in which the constitutionality of the Federal 2257 regulations on record-keeping by producers of sexually explicit materials. There’s an interesting if not entirely unbiased account of Dines’ appearance in court on Day 4 of the current trial, which you can read for yourself here but of much more interest are the events of Day 7 of the same trial, which ended with Judge Michael M Baylson dismissing much of Dines’ testimony because:

… though the statistics she had testified to were valuable, she was very biased against the adult industry and he felt that her position that all content-makers were “only in it for the money” was incorrect.

Sticking with Dines for the moment, there is also a fascinating series of three articles written by a former student/paid assistant, Beth Brigham, which provides a very interesting and, at times, disturbing perspective on Dines and her work – again, judge for your self by reading part 1, part2 & part 3.

As for John Woods, the News International version of the press release for this even sensibly omits the claim that “Woods is the leading global expert”, which appears in the Facebook version posted at the Anti Porn Men Project.

Apart from the book mentioned in the press release, which was published in 2003, Woods’ entire published output to date appears to consist of a play (2001) and a single paper in a PubMed indexed journal (2006) which presents a fictional account of a teenage girl’s treatment for self-harm and antisocial behaviour – there is another book due in December 2013 on the Portman Clinic’s approach to forensic group psychotherapy that lists Woods as a co-author.

Yes, he does work at The Portman Clinic, which is part of an NHS Trust and has links to UCL, but I wouldn’t take that as a recommendation – so did Valerie Sinason who, in 1994, published a collection of essays on Satanic Ritual Abuse in which she claimed to have treated actual victims of SRA. In 1996, the Department of Health commissioned a report on SRA from Sinason and Dr Robert Hale (also of The Portman Clinic at the time) on for the report to be canned four years later, after three rejected drafts:

…Once again, however, allegations of ritual abuse have turned out to rest on very little. A year ago, Valerie Sinason appeared on Radio 4′s Today programme claiming she had “clinical evidence” of babies who had not been registered at birth being involved in ritual abuse. The implication was that the babies had been conceived and raised secretly for use in rituals that sometimes ended in their sacrifice.

Most experts poured scorn on these claims and pointed out they could do serious harm by their very outlandishness – by making the whole of child abuse seem less likely and easier to dismiss. But they gained a measure of credence because Ms Sinason had been commissioned by the Department of Health, together with a colleague Dr Robert Hale, to write a report detailing her findings, which was submitted to the department last July.

I contacted the health department to ask what had happened to Ms Sinason’s report and ask for a comment. What I received, by e-mail, was one of the longest and most carefully worded statements I can remember receiving.

The health department said, in summary, that they had received the report by Dr Hale and Ms Sinason, submitted it to peer review and returned it to the authors with reviewers’ comments. They had no plans to publish it. They also cited separate research that they had commissioned from Professor Joan La Fontaine of the London School of Economics, who found “no independent material evidence” to support allegations of “Satanic child abuse and devil worship”.

The coup de grace came in the final paragraph:

“In the Government’s view, the conclusion of the study they commissioned by Professor La Fontaine … has not been rendered invalid by Dr Hale and Valerie Sinason’s study.”

In other words, the claims about Satanic abuse are a load of tosh. To my knowledge, this is the first official declaration by a government department to this effect. ”

The Independent Newspaper – 21st February 2001

This same article also includes a very telling comment on Sinason from Prof. Joan La Fontaine:

“It is not surprising to me that patients who are having treatment by Valerie Sinason would produce stories that echo such topical issues as the recent trial for receiving internet pornography and the publicity for the film Hannibal. There is good research that shows the “memories” of abuse are produced in and by the therapy.”

Nevertheless, Sinason continues to promote her claim that Satanic Ritual Abuse is real and that she has treated ‘survivors’ of such abuse to this day, most recently by contributing the opening chapter to a book (2011) entitled, “Ritual Abuse and Mind Control: The Manipulation of Attachment Needs“.

So, the mere fact that someone works for an otherwise well regarded NHS Trust is no guarantee that they’re not also a raging crackpot and Woods, like Sinason, is a Freudian psychotherapist, so he operates at the grossly unscientific bordering on crackpot end of psychiatric medicine – frankly I’d no more trust a Freudian’s opinion on the dangers of internet pornography than I’d trust a Medieval Alchemist to run a modern chemical plant.

But enough of that for the moment because my real interest here was piqued, as usual, by the sudden appearance of another bunch of bullshit statistical claims, and it actually another of the panellists at the Sunday Times’ anti-porn pep rally, Diane Abbott, that set the ball rolling by claiming that:

Porn is the biggest driver of traffic to Google.

Bullshit – as this graph from Google Trends conclusively demonstrates.

gtrendsjun2013

In cases it’s not entirely obvious, the three most common keywords associated with searches for porn and other adult entertainments  – “sex”, “porn” and “xxx” – were overtaken by keyword searches for “Youtube” in early 2007 and by “Facebook” in the summer of 2008. Five years on, searches for “Facebook” outstrip any of the major porn-related keywords by an average of 9 to 1 and “Youtube” by 3 to 1, making Facebook by far the biggest driver of traffic to Google.

This is not difficult research, in fact if you go on to the Google Trends homepage and click the ‘Explore’ link, one of the first things you see is a list of the top Google search terms, the first eight of which ( “Facebook”, “Youtube”, “Free”, “Google”, “You”, “Yahoo”, “Hotmail” and “Video”) all rank significantly higher than searches for “Sex”. “Video”, in eighth place, has an index score of 20 while “Sex” has an index score of just 11, and remember “sex” is not a porn-specific terms so searches that include ‘sex’ as a keyword could easily have been seeking anything from biology texts and journal papers, to anti-discrimination legislation, to songs by James Brown, George Michael, Salt ‘N’ Pepa, Kings of Leon, Ian Dury and many other recording artists.

The next thing to pop into my Twitter timeline, courtesy of Gordon MacMillan of BrandRepublic and the Sunday Time newsdesk was a claim that 1 in 4 internet searches are for adult material, accompanied by the following graphic, which was scanned from the Sunday Times:

STGenXXX

Yes – more bullshit.

A brief Twitter conversation with Gordon revealed that Sunday Times were citing Business Insider as their source  and from there I was quickly able to identify Business Insider’s source as an infographic published originally in 2010 by a website called OnlineMBA.com, which as the name suggests, provides information about MBA courses.

So, straight away what we are looked at here is another piece of PR-Reviewed ‘research’ and on seeing the infographic I immediately recognised where Online MBA had got their information – from Jerry Ropelato’s ‘Internet Filter Review’ website*, the Internet’s leading source of bullshit made-up porn statistics, as demonstrated conclusively here at the Ministry a mere three weeks ago – nd if you don’t read any of the other links in this article, please do read this one.

* One of the four ‘statistics’ in the Sunday Times graphic is not from Ropelato’s site, the claim that “36% of the Internet is pornography”, which I will come back to before the end.

The infographic does list several sources other than Ropelato’s sites but all of these ‘sources’ have taken the figures quoted in their articles from Ropelato’s ‘statistics’ and, thus far, I’ve only been able to trace 3 of the 14 items in the infographic back to a genuine original source.

So, let’s go through a few of  claims on the infographic and I’ll show you where (and, crucially, when) they come from and tell what little I have been able to discovered about the sources of these figures.

1. 12% of the websites on the Internet are pornographic

The earliest traceable appearance of this claim is on Ropelato’s Internet Filter Reviews site, as you can see from this Wayback Machine snapshot of his “statistics” page taken in December 2004 – it should be noted that Ropelato has updated his ‘Internet Statistics’ page on just two occasions since 2004, once in 2007 and most recently in February of this year. However, the 2013 version of this page still claims that 12% of websites on the Internet are pornographic and (laughably) that this amounts to just 4.2 million websites, the same figure as in 2004 – at least the producer of the OnlineMBA infographic tried to provide an updated estimate (24.6 million) for the total number of websites that amount to 12%.

You’ll note, if you click the link, that the 2004 version of Ropelato’s ‘statistics’ does not cite any sources at all, so what we have here is bona fide zombie statistic from back in the days when MySpace was the rising star in social media and no original source, which makes it completely worthless.

2. Every second… $3075.64 is being spent on pornography and 28,528 internet users are viewing porn.

For this one we need to go back to 2007, where it originally appeared on Ropelato’s site as a claim that worldwide pornography revenues amounted to $97.06 billion in 2006.

Yes, it’s another Ropelato original, in addition to it making a prominent appearance in the Sunday Times graphic, and it’s based on an estimate of global porn revenues that is quite obviously a complete load of hogwash.

Of the $97 billion in alleged revenues, $73 billion is accounted for by just three countries; China ($27.4 billion), South Korea ($25.73 billion) and Japan ($19.98 billion) and there are a couple of very obvious problems with these figures.

For starters, pornography is illegal in China although there is, of course, an illicit trade in online porn, one that is subject to periodic crackdowns of the kind that conveniently provide the Chinese authorities with an excuse to shut down a few non-pornographic websites the don’t much like. For that reason there are simply no figures, official or unofficial, for the size of the Chinese porn industry other than this one which is entirely unsourced, most likely because Ropelato has pulled out of his own arse.

The only remotely credible sex-related economic statistic relating to China that I’ve managed to find that dates to around 2006 is an estimate that the country was generating around $6.9 billion a year in revenues from the manufacture of condoms and sex toys.

As for South Korea, Ropelato’s figures put the per capita spend of the Korean population on pornography at an eyewatering $526 a year – yes, over $500 worth of paid-for porn per year for every man, woman and child in South Korea, another country in which all pornography is flat out illegal and in which possession of any pornographic material carries a maximum two year prison sentence.

Again, there are no figures anywhere for the scale of the porn trade in South Korea, because porn is illegal, and the severe restrictions on pornography in both countries is something that is clearly reflected in Western porn markets, where genuine Chinese and Korean porn videos are about as common as rocking horse shit – most videos tagged as either Chinese or Korean on US-based porn tubes are either US productions using Chinese-American and Korean-American performers or mislabelled J-Porn.

Japan does have an active porn industry, of course, but after what you’ve just read in relation to Ropelato’s figures for China and South Korea, do you seriously think that the Japanese porn market was really 66% larger than that of the United States?

But what about the US market, which Ropelato puts at $13.33 billion in 2006?

Well there we do appear to have an independent contemporary source (December 2005) with broadly similar numbers:

New statistics for the year 2005, which will be released by AVN in its January, 2006 issue, show that the adult industry will have generated approximately $12,615,000,000 for this past year.

Approximately $4,280,000,000, which accounts for 34 percent, is attributable to video sales and rentals, according to the study. Sources for that study include AVN, Kagan Research, Juniper Research, the New York Times, Forbes and the Free Speech Coalition.

Another 20 percent, or $2.5 billion, was generated by adult Internet sales. Meanwhile, the third largest segment, exotic dance clubs, generated approximately $2 billion, or 16 percent of the market.

Except… you see that figure for adult Internet sales, well six month earlier AVN published this report:

The adult Internet is now a $2.5 billion business with as many as 4.2 million adult websites and 372 million adult Web pages, according to the latest statistical reporting from Top10REVIEWS’s Internet Filter Review.

Based on analyses from multiple Internet filtering programs and databases, the IFR concluded that the entire adult entertainment industry is worth about $57 billion around the world and $12 billion in the U.S. alone. That’s more than the combined revenues of ABC, CBS, and NBC ($6.2 billion).

Adult videos continue to be the big moneymakers at $20 billion, according to IFR, with escort services next at $11 billion, magazines at $7.5 billion, cable and pay-per-view broadcasting and the adult Internet at $2.5 billion each, and adult CD-ROMs at $1.5 billion. The adult Internet is now a $2.5 billion business with as many as 4.2 million adult websites and 372 million adult Web pages, according to the latest statistical reporting from Top10REVIEWS’s Internet Filter Review.

“With peer-to-peer file sharing, children can download a free triple-X-rated movie full of hardcore pornography,” said Top10REVIEWs analyst Jerry Ropelato. “What’s more, even if you have an Internet filter installed, most likely the filter will let this material right on through.”

Yes, it’s Ropelato again – and the $57 billion figure is his 2004 ‘estimate’ of the size of the worldwide porn market.

Okay, so maybe the $2.5 billion internet sales figures are a bit dodgy – that still leaves $10 billion from other sources doesn’t it?

Maybe, but then maybe not as this 2001 article from Forbes Magazine points out…

Take for instance the New York Times Magazine: It ran a cover story on May 18 called “Naked Capitalists: There’s No Business Like Porn Business.” Its thesis: Pornography is big business–with $10 billion to $14 billion in annual sales. The author, Frank Rich Frank Rich , suggests that pornography is bigger than any of the major league sports, perhaps bigger than Hollywood. Porn is “no longer a sideshow to the mainstream…it is the mainstream,” he says.

The idea that pornography is a $10 billion business is often credited to a study by Forrester Research . This figure gets repeated over and over. The only problem is that there is no such study. In 1998, Forrester did publish a report on the online “adult content” industry, which it pegged at $750 million to $1 billion in annual revenue. The $10 billion aggregate figure was unsourced and mentioned in passing.

For the $10 billion figure to be accurate, you have to add in adult video networks and pay-per-view movies on cable and satellite, Web sites, in-room hotel movies, phone sex, sex toys and magazines–and still you can’t get there.

Do read the whole article, but the upshot of it is that using estimates based on credible mainstream sources, Forbes arrived at a figure of between $2.6 and $3.8 billion in revenue for the entire US adult entertainment sector in 2001 rather than the $10-14 billion claimed by the New York Times and the $4 billion in adult video sales claims by AVN – and there seems little reason to suppose that the accuracy of AVN’s figures had improved much by the end of 2005 given their apparent reliance on Jerry Ropelato for their estimate of online revenues.

6. 25% of all search engine requests are pornography related. That’s 68 million a day.

This is the third statistic from the Sunday Times graphic that traces directly back to an unsourced claim by Jerry Ropelato and, in fact, both claims date all the way back to 2004.

To give you an idea of just badly out of date these figures are 272 million internet searches a day (68 million x 4) gives an annual figure of 99.8 billion searches a year, globally. For 2012, Google alone reported that it has received 1.2 trillion search requests over the year of which, based on Ropelato’s figures, 300 billion would be porn related.

That’s 821 million porn related searches a day on Google alone – making masturbation the world largest participation sport by an absolutely phenomenal distance – and yet collectively the top three porn related search keywords generate less than a third of the amount of search traffic than that generated by people searching for Facebook.

It’s just not credible, but then none of Ropelato’s search engine figures are.

Going back to his 2007 batch of statistics, Ropelato give the following figures for 5 common ‘adult’ search terms based on what he claims to be data for 2006 – this is around the time that Google first exceeded a 50% share of the search engine market:

- Sex: 75.6 million searches

- Adult Dating: 30.3 million searches

- Porn: 23.6 million searches

- Sex Toys: 15.9 million searches

- Adult DVD: 13.7 million searches

Google’s search trends data for these same search terms for 2006 looks like this:

gtrends2006

These are relative figures but as you can see the traces for ‘sex’ (blue) and ‘porn’ are somewhat in proportion relative to Ropelato’s figures – Google’s average rating for ‘sex’ in this graph is 86 with ‘porn’ at 41 where Ropelato’s data would put the equivalent rating for ‘porn’  at 27.

The other three search terms are, however, nowhere near being close to those cited by Ropelato – ‘adult dating’ should have a rating of 34-35 according to Ropelato’s data but Google puts it a just 3 – so either Yahoo and MSN were search engines of choice for people looking for a casual shag back in 2006 or Ropelato’s data is shite, and this equally true for both ‘sex toy’ and ‘adult DVD’ and for the rest of the searches on Ropelato’s 2007 list. ‘Teen Sex’, for example, is supposed to have generated almost 14 million searches in 2006 but Google’s average rating for this same year is just 2.

Having destroyed three of The Sunday Times’ four headline claims, I’ll leave Ropelato’s figures and the OnlineMBA infographic there for now but if you wondering why Ropelato even publishes these bullshit statistics the answer is simply that he’s in the net nanny business. Alongside his dodgy stats, Ropelato’s site publishes reviews and recommendations for Net Nanny software from which he generates an income. All his reviews have a ‘buy now’ link that redirects through an affiliate programme, so having scared his marks shitless with his dodgy, woefully out of date and mostly unsourced stats, he gets a piece of the action from every punter he panics into a sale.

That brings us finally to the one headline figure cited by the times that doesn’t originate with Ropelato, the claim that 36% of the internet is pornography. So where does that one come from?

More than one third of web pages are pornographic

Optenet Study Highlights Need to Secure Young People Online as it Confirms Increase in Pornography, Violence, Terrorism and Illegal Drugs Purchase in Web Content

• Pornography makes up 37% of the total content on the Internet

• Websites related to online role-playing games (RPGs) have grown by 212%

• Websites that contain violence (+10.8%), terrorism content (+8.5%), and illegal drugs purchase (+6.8%) continue to grow

Miami – June 16, 2010 – Predominant content on the Internet is pornography, which makes up 37% of the total number of Web pages online, according to a new study published by Optenet, a pioneer and global leader of enabling SaaS offerings and delivering “on-premise” security solutions.

The report, which includes a representative sample of approximately 4 million extracted URLs, shows that adult content on the Internet as well as illegal content such as child pornography and illegal drug purchase has undergone a significant increase of 17% in the first quarter of 2010, as compared to the same period in 2009.

About the Study

The data contained within the Optenet report is accumulated and compiled from a database of hundreds of millions of URLs, in which network computer threats and security threats are analyzed and updated continually in real-time by experts in Web content, who directly link to the security systems of Optenet’s clients.

Yes, it’s a press release from June 2010 issued by a company that develops and sells internet content filtering systems and, yes, the actual ‘study’ mentioned in the press release has never actually been published, independently evaluated or peer reviewed, so there is absolutely no way of checking the validity or accuracy of any of its claims.

Nevertheless there is one very obvious red flag in the press release, the claim that this 37% figure derived from a ‘representative sample’ of 4 million URLs drawn from data generated by content filtering systems which, if nothing else, are notorious for their ability to erroneously block non-pornographic content because of the generally crude methods employed by most of these systems.

And as for the claim that Optenet’s URL blacklist is “analyzed and updated continually in real-time by experts in Web content, who directly link to the security systems of Optenet’s clients”, well the company states on its website that it has 150+ employees, which I would take to mean “more than 150 but not so many as to give us a better looking round number to quote” like perhaps 200 or 250. In short, nothing like the army of employees the company would actually need to proactively monitor a constantly growing database of hundreds of millions of URLs in real time like the press release claims.

Interestingly, Optenet lists mobile phone operators O2, Orange and Vodafone amongst its customers, so you can get a fair idea of just how effective the work of their ‘real time experts in Web content’ is from this latest report on  from the Open Rights Group and their collection of dodgy blocking stories.

Interestingly, because O2 allows you to check their policy settings for individual websites online, I’ve also just discovered that the Ministry is currently blocked by O2′s parental controls and that it has apparently been classified by the company as a ‘health site’. I did click the button that asks for a reclassification but, frankly, I don’t think I’ll hold my breath, although I suppose I should be grateful that they’ve not put me down as a terrorist.

So is more than a third of the internet actually pornography – no, and if you think Optenet’s press release is credible then I’ve got the deeds to a bridge that I’d really like to talk to you about.

There are no clear or accurate statistics on the amount of porn that’s out there on the internet or on how many internet searches are made that are looking for porn or even on the size of the global porn industry, and its because of the absence of any reliable data and because far too many journalists are, today, failing to any kind of fact-checking, that bullshitters like Jerry Ropelato have been able to pollute the public debate around online censorship and pornography with grossly exaggerated and woefully out of date zombie statistics, most of which are, at best, unsourced and unverified and, at worst, outright fabrications.

If Google and the other tech companies that are currently taking heat from politicians, newspapers and anti-porn campaigners genuinely want to make a difference and improve online safety, they could make a useful start by putting their money in to some actual research in an effort to sweep away the bullshit statistics and provide the public with an honest, unbiased and empirically sound assessment of the actual risks involved in using the Internet.

And that’s it for now… well almost.

There are three invitations I’d like to make based on what you’ve just read:

1. I’d like to invite Diane Abbott to publicly withdraw her claim that pornography is the bigger driver of traffic to Google. It’s not true and in the interests of having an honest debate on these issues, I believe Diane should acknowledge that fact.

2. I’d like to invite the Sunday Times to withdraw all four of the headline claims made in their ‘Generation Porn’ graphic, particular the three that I’ve traced back to Jerry Ropelato.

3. In this article I’ve provided links to the three different versions of Ropelato’s Internet Statistics page that he’s published since 2004, all captured using Freezepage and having done the hard work of both capturing that information and demonstrating it wholesale inaccuracy and unreliability, I’d like to invite the editors of all of the UK’s national newspapers to take copies of all three files and circulate them to their journalists and sub-editors with a clear instruction to use that information to exclude Ropelato’s outdated, misleading and, in some cases, wholly fabricated “statistics” from all future copy.

And, of course, should anyone want to talk to me about the research that went into this article – and believe me there is more including clear evidence of Ropelato listing a ‘source’ in the 2007 version of his statistics page who was citing a statistic they had originally obtained from Ropelato’s website – then comments are open and the email and twitter links are in full working order.