Monday 1 November 2010

Pornography: Statistics Laundering

In my blog Lies, Deception and The (My) Truth I talked about how we are bombarded by information that we do not always check, that we just don't have the time to check and collectively, we end up spreading around "information" which may turn out to be inaccurate if not false.

Facts are not decided by how many people believe them. Truth is not determined by how loudly it is shouted.
- sign at the Rally to Restore Sanity, October 30, 2010, Washington DC

Out of personal interest, I thought to write something about pornography and ended up with so much material, I figured I'd have to split it into several entries. However, something else happened as I was doing my research. In my efforts to find "reliable sources" of "factual information", I ran into a bizarre mishmash of circular referencing: site A's references point to site B; site B references point to site A. I also found nebulous references or many times no references at all. If I did find a supposedly original source, the methodology of putting together the stats was never explained and the source of the data, if given at all, was some sweeping all encompassing designated source like Google or Yahoo or even a news outlet like ABC. No specifics were given.

In other words, I'm sitting here with a strong impression based on some fairly conclusive proof that everybody and anybody who discusses this topic is freely spouting off facts and figures of a doubtful veracity. Those sources offer no scientific methods of data analysis, certainly nothing which anybody would consider of the rigorous examination one would find in a university study. As I said in Lies, Deception and The (My) Truth, the incident of superstition that we may scorn in previous, backward cultures seems to be very much alive today. With the advent of the Internet and communication for everyone, we seem to be collectively spreading more misinformation than ever under the guise of facts.

Statistics on Pornography
I go to Google and type in "statistics on pornography", I end up with over 2 million links. Your page will probably be different so bear with me.

Safe Families
Their references for their stats point to Top Ten Reviews.

Family Safe Media
Their references for their stats point to Top Ten Reviews.

The Lighted Candle Society
Their references for their stats point to Top Ten Reviews. In some cases their references are Family Safe Media which got its stats in turn from Top Ten Reviews

Top Ten Reviews
I find the web site Top Ten Reviews and the article being quoted. This article titled Internet Pornography Statistics starts out by making this statement:

The following top 10 list has been compiled using credible sources.

The article ends by showing

Sources: Statistics are compiled from the credible sources mentioned below. In reality, statistics are hard to ascertain and may be estimated by local and regional worldwide sources.

ABC, Associated Press, AsiaMedia, AVN, BBC, CATW, U.S. Census, Central Intelligence Agency, China Daily,, Comscore Media Metrix, Crimes Against Children, Eros, Forbes, Frankfurt Stock Exchange, Free Speech Coalition, Google, Harris Interactive, Hitwise, Hoover's, Japan Inc., Japan Review, Juniper Research, Kagan Research, ICMEC, Jan LaRue, The Miami Herald, MSN, Nielsen/NetRatings, The New York Times, Nordic Institute,, PornStudies, Pravda, Sarmatian Review, SEC filings, Secure Computing Corp., SMH, TopTenREVIEWS, Trellian, WICAT, Yahoo!, XBIZ

This looks impressive and would lead me to believe everything I've just read is true. The problem is that there are no links to any of these sources. How do I know that the author of these stats actually consulted any of these sources? Just how am I going to verify any of this?

Online MBA
This web site which seems to have no religious affiliation appears to deal with education at a MBA level. True?

Their article The Stats on Internet Porn offers their take on the statistics including specific sources. This image file, a JPG shows in very, very small print at the bottom a list of sources. The 2nd source cited is the article from the site Top Ten Reviews. The 3rd cited source refers to an organization called SafeFamiles.Org however as mentioned above, the Safe Families references point back to the site Top Ten Reviews.

MBA's very last reference points to a BBC article. Unfortunately I can't quite make out the URL and can't find the specific article however in searching BBC site, I do find an article which may be related.

'Shady' porn site practices put visitors at risk - June 11, 2010
Visitors to porn sites are at serious risk of being exploited by cyber criminals, a study has suggested. ...International Secure System Lab, which led the study.

As seen above, this BBC article references a study done by some organization in Vienna. Digging around, I find the entire study as a PDF:

Is the Internet for Porn? - An Insight Into the Online Adult Industry
International Secure System Lab, Vienna, Austria

According to the Internet Pornography Statistics [16], 42,7% of all Internet users view pages with pornographic content. From the male portion of these users, 20% admittedly do it while at work.

Footnote #16 : Internet Filter. Internet Pornography Statistics., 2006.

The statistics which appear in the above study, point to Footnote #16 which refers to Top Ten Reviews.

Top Ten Reviews
The web site Top Ten Reviews sports the motto "We Do the Research So You Don't Have To".

Wikipedia: Top Ten Reviews
TopTenReviews (TTR) is a website which aggregates reviews for software, hardware, web services, music, movies and video games from other sites and publications. Founded by Jerry Ropelato in 2003, TTR is, as of May 2008, one of the most popular sites of its kind by size and traffic, with the largest online database of media reviews. ... Some of its major competitors include Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic.

Sounds impressive. I have a feeling of confidence. I feel as if I'm dealing with a sure source of information. However, let me come back to this specific article on pornography statistics:

Internet Pornography Statistics by Jerry Ropelato

Okay, I read the stats but as I said at the start of this article, I can find no corroborating evidence on the Internet. I do, however, find this article which talks of Jerry Ropelato.

Forbes: Sex, Lies And Statistics by Seth Lubove, Nov 23/2005

(supposed) statistic: Children in the U.S. now typically get their first exposure to porn at age 11.

[People got their] porn statistics from Internet Filter Review, a Web site that recommends content-blocking software. It is run by tech entrepreneur Jerry Ropelato of Huntsville, Utah, who pens antiporn screeds, such as "Tricks Pornographers Play," and publishes curious and uncredited stats (for example, "17% of all women struggle with pornography addiction"). - The "stat" about 11 year olds is found here on Ropelato's web site.

"Most of the statistics there have come from literally hundreds of sources, all reputable," Ropelato insists. He says he got the age-11 item from The Drug of the New Millennium, a book about the dangers of porn self-published in 2000 by Mark Kastleman, a self-professed former porn addict in Orem, Utah, who counsels other porn fiends. "I don't remember where I got that from," Kastleman says breezily. "That is a very common statistic." And there the trail goes cold.

What? This isn't a statistic; it's a made up number. What the heck?

Jerry Ropelato is the author of an article purporting to give accurate statistics about pornography. This article is so widely quoted, it isn't funny. However, not only are the specific sources not furnished with the article, the Forbes reporter in investigating just one of them turns up a source which is so questionable, anything Mr. Ropelato has written would be suspect.

Child pornography is a $20 billion a year business: unsubstantiated
The Wall Street Journal: The Numbers Guy
This columnist investigates numbers that is the facts and figures which we read. He attempts to track down their sources and verify that the numbers are, in fact, accurate.

Measuring the Child-Porn Trade - April 18, 2006
Texas Republican Joe Barton says that child pornography is a $20 billion a year business. This is repeated by the New York Times. The reporter traces the number to a report to the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children which got its numbers from the consulting firm McKinsey & Co. A rep from McKensey said they got the number from a report by End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes, an international advocacy group. That report quoted the FBI. The FBI said they never said that.
I heard more about the number that was the subject of last week's column -- the claim, which I couldn't verify, that the child-pornography industry generates $20 billion in annual revenue. In a 2004 report, the Council of Europe, a Strasbourg, France-based human-rights watchdog, attributed the number to Unicef. But Allison Hickling, a spokeswoman for the United Nations child agency, told me in an email, "The number is not attributable to Unicef -- we do not collect data on this issue."

I told Alexander Seger, who worked on the Council of Europe reports, that the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Unicef, both cited in Council reports, said they weren't the source for the $20 billion figure. He said the Council won't use the number in the future, and added in an email, "I think we have what I would call a case of information laundering: You state a figure on something, somebody else quotes it, and then you and others [quote] it back, and thus it becomes clean and true. ... Perhaps this discussion will help instill more rigor in the future."

A blogger hashes through the same story. More than one person recognized the fallacy of the $20 billion.

Debunking: German waitress loses benefits for not taking job in brothel
An author, Jennifer Cody Epstein writes an article about attending a talk given by Gloria Steinem. Ms. Steinem's speech is about the global sex trade. During this talk Ms. Steinem, as supporting evidence recounts the story of a 25 year old German waitress who sees her unemployment benefits in Germany reduced because she refuses to accept a job in a brothel.

One of the comments to the above article by Ms. Epstein points out that this story is not true and gives the link the Snopes' investigation. The article by Snopes explains the original story, how laws were changed in Germany and how one newspaper as a hypothesis, speculated on possible outcomes to the changes to said laws in the country. This hypothesis in being repeated was turned into fact. Of course, when the source of the information is somebody as notable as Gloria Steinem, who is going to question the veracity of the story?

Irene Graham
Statistics Laundering: false and fantastic figures by Irene Graham
Ms. Graham, who lives in Australia, is against censorship. Her article is about the alarming and sensational statistics about child pornography and how these false and/or misleading statistics distort the public's perception of the problem and so in effect, hinder its ability to properly assess the nature of the threat and develop effective and proportionate solutions. Unlike Mr. Ropelato, she has thoroughly documented her sources. Now I have a high degree of confidence in the materials I'm reading.

Published Statistics:
Worldwide pornography revenue in 2006 was $97.06 billion. Of that, approximately $13 billion was in the United States.

Pornography grosses:
  • more than all the receipts from professional sports and legitimate entertainment combined.
  • more than the U.S. film industry.
  • more than the music industry.
  • more money than ABC, CBS, and NBC combined
  • more money than Microsoft, Google, Amazon, eBay, Yahoo!, Apple, Netflix, and EarthLink combined.
The Truth: From Forbes.Com back in 2001:
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.

According to Adult Video News (AVN), an industry trade magazine, Americans spent just over $4 billion to buy and rent adult videos last year. This figure is baseless and wildly inflated. From there, the numbers get even more obscure.
the sum total is about $2.9 billion.
The industry is tiny next to broadcast television ($32.3 billion in 1999 revenue, according to Veronis Suhler), cable television ($45.5 billion), the newspaper business ($27.5 billion), Hollywood ($31 billion), even to professional and educational publishing ($14.8 billion).

When one really examines the numbers, the porn industry--while a subject of fascination--is every bit as marginal as it seems at first glance.

XBIZ - July 25/2012
Poll: Porn Revenues Exceed $5 Billion According to Industry Survey By Dan Miller
The majority of industry insiders place annual gross revenues in the $5 billion-plus range worldwide.

Fox News - Aug 9/2013
From 'Deep Throat' to 'Lovelace:' How the porn industry has changed By Hollie McKay

Experts estimate that revenue for the adult entertainment industry has declined over the last decade amid the piracy war, from a peak of roughly $13 to $14 billion in 2005 to just about $5 billion now. In 1972, industry revenue stood at around $7 million.

"I think we have what I would call a case of information laundering: You state a figure on something, somebody else quotes it, and then you and others [quote] it back, and thus it becomes clean and true."
- Alexander Seger, Dept. of Crime Problems, Council of Europe, April 2006

People are passing around information without doing any fact checking. These people may have the best of intentions but they are inadvertently contributing to the general buzz of misinformation floating around in the public space. Even reputable organizations are doing this and when the supposed source may be another reputable organization, who is going to doubt the veracity of the information?

I cannot rely on what others tell me; I cannot rely on what I find on the Internet. Lies, damn lies and statistics: I must double check, triple check my points to ensure I have best understood an issue. Irene Graham pointed out very aptly that we cannot properly address an issue if misinformation prevents us from properly assessing the issue.

Pornography: My investigative series



Michael Whiteacre said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you for this article, which I intend to promote high and low.

Emily said...

This is incredible. I recently did a paper and presentation about the pornography industry and had the same WTF moment as you did. I did some digging and found the Forbes articles about the real value of the industry. I also kept finding that every site with "statistics" ended at Top Ten Reviews, which provided little helpful information. Thanks for putting this out there!