Controversial new bills passed by Congress to stop human sex trafficking may have much broader implications for anyone who uses websites like Craigslist to meet potential dates. The classified advertisements website recently took down their personal ads pages, saying the new laws could create liability for them and jeopardize their service.
This could very well lead to similar moves by online dating options like Tinder, Grindr, Bumble or even Match.com. More broadly, the legislation could affect a list of other familiar websites, like Facebook, Yelp or YouTube.
SESTA and FOSTA
The Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) passed by the Senate and the House’s Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) seem, on their face, inarguable. Who wouldn’t support cracking down on these horrible people who steal our loved ones and sell them off to scoundrels who use them as sex slaves? However, it is the language in these bills that websites like Match.com find concerning.
The quiet passage of FOSTA amid the chaos in Washington was called “one of the most significant pieces of internet legislation of the last two decades.” by Lawfare.
The intent of the bill is to hold online platforms to the same civil liability as offline outlets face for enabling illegal sex-trafficking by posting ads from third parties.
While some anti-sex trafficking advocates support FOSTA, internet freedom advocates say it would “endanger…free expression and innovation online.” Others say the legislation is a “piecemeal approach” that needs to be broader and more balanced so that online platforms could remain immune from liability if they take reasonable efforts to moderate content and stop unlawful uses of their services.
The bill was championed by the Republican Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Bob Goodlatte of Virginia. He celebrated the impact that the bills are already having.
— Bob Goodlatte (@RepGoodlatte) March 23, 2018
On the other hand, Democratic Senator, Ron Wyden of Oregon said it was a step backward. He was one of the original authors of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which the new bill amends.
Today we take a real step backward, backward, and down a path we will regret.
— Ron Wyden (@RonWyden) March 21, 2018
Wyden predicts that the failure of technology companies to live up to their moral responsibility, as evidenced by a recent stream of news about social media platforms like Facebook, Russian fake news trolls, and Cambridge Analytica, has created a climate that could completely change the internet as we know it. Indeed, the social media world is already changing rapidly.
“Sites like Facebook, Youtube, and Tumblr … have an undeniable role to play in fostering a civil environment,” he said from the Senate floor. “Their failure to do so could very well mean the internet looks very different ten years from now.”
Soon, people looking for relationships may have to resort to old-fashioned methods like… going to a bar. The horror! Can a society so reliant on the internet for a sense of human contact revert to such an old-timey way of life?
In the noble effort to combat human trafficking, there will be collateral damage affecting everyone.
According to Steven W Thrasher, from the Guardian, the bill’s passage would be an “economic assault” on vulnerable minorities and endanger the lives of consenting sex workers.
“This is a particular economic assault on people who are queer, trans and/or formerly incarcerated who have been locked out of other forms of earning income,” says Thrasher.
However, it doesn’t just apply to these groups:
“More people should care about sex workers’ rights. But if you think none of this applies to you because you’re not queer or into kink or sex work, think again: the US Congress wants to further regulate sex by way of the internet, and most people’s modern sex lives interact with the internet,” says Thrasher.
Trafficking experts say the law could backfire by making it harder to track down and arrest sex traffickers.
See more in the excellent video from What’s Trending below:
Featured image: cell phone from Pexels/ CCO License