Tall billionaire Bill Ackman pulled strings behind that massive Pornhub dump

When you're super rich, all it takes is a few text messages to set off far-reaching change.

Sylvain Gaboury/Patrick McMullan/Getty Images

Last December, in the face of a quick but intense moral reckoning, Pornhub nuked millions of unverified videos overnight. Choosing the nuclear option seemed extreme, especially for a site that has for so long thrived off the fruits of unverified labor. Now we’re learning that the decision to do so was heavily influenced by one very powerful man: Bill Ackman.

After reading a tell-all about Pornhub’s woes in The New York Times — a piece that largely brought the issues at hand to the general public’s attention — Ackman was outraged, thinking of his own children being taken advantage of in this way. And so, according to a new report from Institutional Investor, he started making phone calls.

Ackman is a very influential figure in the contemporary business landscape, with enormous investments in companies like Universal Music Group. He’s the creator of Pershing Square Capital Management, one of the largest hedge fund management groups in the United States, with more than $13 billion in assets under management.

Ackman loves to use his money as a direct form of power — often in the form of activist campaigns. He essentially forced Wendy’s to sell Tim Horton’s in 2006, for example. Somehow, even after all these years of shoving businesses around with his assets, Ackman’s behind-the-scenes power here is awe-inspiring and terrifying.

All it took was a few calls — Ackman barely needed to get up out of his desk chair to send Pornhub spiraling. After reading the NYT piece, Ackman reportedly took note of all the publicly listed companies that processed payments for Pornhub. So he sent a text message to Mastercard CEO Ajay Banga: “Amex, Visa and MasterCard should immediately withhold payments or withdraw until this is fixed. PayPal has already done so.”

Banga’s response was swift, according to Institutional Investor. “We’re on it.” Within just a few days, both Mastercard and Visa had indeed suspended payment processing through Pornhub, joining the likes of American Express.

With no options for payment processing left other than cryptocurrency, Pornhub decided to take down any and all videos that might be problematic for payment processors. According to Laila Mickelwait, a human rights activist who has long worked against Pornhub, says: “It wasn’t until Bill really laid on the pressure and said, ‘Do the right thing,’ that they did.”

The far reach of cold hard cash — It’s difficult to say just how much influence Ackman had on Pornhub’s final decision to mass-delete those videos. His texts and calls are just a few dominos in a very long line of them. But his powerful connections — and piles of money — make his domino much heavier than most.

In speaking to Institutional Investor, Ackman acknowledged his part in all this and then went a step further to say it’s a big shareholder’s job to do just that. “A tweet can move the needle,” he says, something we know all too well from Tesla Technoking Elon Musk.

Ackman continues to push for investors to influence companies to act more responsibly. While we’re all for corporate responsibility, an even better solution might involve wealth not being hoarded by just a handful of people. Just an idea.