icon caret-left icon caret-right instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads question-circle facebook circle twitter circle linkedin circle instagram circle goodreads circle pinterest circle

Writers and Editors (RSS feed)

The problem with FOSTA/SESTA (legislation to curb sex trafficking online)

FOSTA/SESTA. A new law intended to curb sex trafficking threatens the future of the internet as we know it (Aja Romano, Vox, 7-2-18) Trump signed into law a set of controversial bills intended to make it easier to cut down on illegal sex trafficking online. Both bills — the House bill known as FOSTA, the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act, and the Senate bill, SESTA, the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act — have been hailed by advocates as a victory for sex trafficking victims, but the law doesn’t appear to do anything concrete to target illegal sex trafficking directly, and instead threatens to “increase violence against the most marginalized.” And makes it a lot easier to censor free speech on small websites — as evidenced by the immediate ramifications the law has had across the internet, affecting such sites as Reddit, Craigslist, and Google.
Public Law 115–164—APR. 11, 2018, 115th Congress An Act To amend the Communications Act of 1934 to clarify that section 230 of such Act does not prohibit the enforcement against providers and users of interactive computer services of Federal and State criminal and civil law relating to sexual exploitation of children or sex trafficking, and for other purposes.
The Woodhull Freedom Foundation's constitutional challenge to FOSTA/SESTA Woodhull has filed a lawsuit against the legislation.
"Two highly controversial, harmful, and misleading bills, the House bill known as FOSTA, the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act, and the Senate bill, SESTA, the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (collectively known as SESTA/FOSTA) represent the most broadly-based censorship of Internet speech in the last 20 years. The law did not succeed at its disingenuously stated purpose – to end human trafficking for sex. That goal was a complete failure.
     "What SESTA/FOSTA did do was drive large swaths of constitutionally-protected speech off the Internet. Even the Department of Justice warned Congress about the overreaching provisions of the law before it was passed. But Congress went ahead and voted this massive travesty into law." You can read about Woodhull's lawsuit against the legislation here.

Specifically, FOSTA:
1. creates new criminal and civil liability for website operators who host third-party content that “promotes or facilitates the prostitution of another person,”
2. expands criminal and civil liability such that any speaker online who allegedly “promotes” or “facilitates” sex trafficking can be treated as though they are participating in “a venture” with those who are directly engaged in trafficking,
3. removes protections for websites whose users’ speech might be seen as in violation of the law,
4. applies to speech that occurred even before FOSTA was enacted. That means anyone who operates an online platform is now liable for online speech that occurred well before Congress passed the law – so it violates the Constitution’s prohibition on ex post facto laws.

Know Your Rights (Survivors Against Sesta site, archived) "Even though we have formally sunset as an organizing formation, we are still maintaining the instagram account @survivorsagainstsesta to amplify and promote SWer led actions and initiatives around the country/globe. Feel free to continue to send those requests for signal boosting to us via DM on that platform."
What Is Sesta/Fosta (sourced with permission by Hacking/Hustling). "Section 5 of the law states: ENSURING FEDERAL LIABILITY FOR PUBLISHING INFORMATION DESIGNED TO FACILITATE SEX TRAFFICKING OR OTHERWISE FACILITATING SEX TRAFFICKING. This Act also makes allowances for States Attorneys to specially prosecute these cases. It is a very vaguely worded law, but its specified targets are online platforms, websites, companies/corporations behind site hosting.
What has FOSTA/SESTA criminalized?
      "This bill has expanded liability for internet platforms which host content generated by third parties around holding that information. While the bill creates liability for those websites for “knowingly facilitating sex trafficking,” there is not clarity for what that means. It also allows more people to file civil suits against websites.
      "People who own/operate/maintain websites which host third party content, listservs, (and maybe apps? Jury’s still out… or hasn’t been bought in yet), which promote and facilitate prostitution are subject to a federal crime. What’s facilitating prostitution? Also unclear. The bill being vague is a part of the problem."

       "Individual workers are not directly in the line of fire because of SESTA/FOSTA."
More Evidence that FOSTA Benefited No One (Eric Goldman, Technology & Marketing Law Blog, 10-15-22) "FOSTA did not permanently reduce the volume of ads for commercial sex. The quantity bounced back after FOSTA, but distributed across more sites. ...as predicted for Congress, FOSTA scattered the ads worldwide rather than changing any of the underlying supply or demand factors.

    "FOSTA did not suppress commercial sex ads and it did not increase sex trafficking enforcement. The paper suggests that maybe FOSTA didn’t make things worse for women based solely on homicide and rape metrics, but (1) this ignores the impacts on male sex workers entirely, and (2) sex workers experienced many other physical, psychological, emotional, and financial harms due to FOSTA. The paper also does not model FOSTA’s detrimental impacts on speech, which continue to reverberate today.

Decriminalize Sex Work FAQs about the decriminalization of sex work.The Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) and the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA), signed into law, effectively suspend Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which stipulates that “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”

       In simpler terms, it allows user-generated speech, such as comment sections and discussion boards, to remain uncensored.
      SESTA/FOSTA amends Section 230 by suspending its protection in cases where online platforms are perceived to be promoting prostitution.
      Online providers can now be held liable for posts perceived to be advertising sex on their sites. State law enforcement can prosecute these cases at their discretion.
SESTA Bill Will Not Prevent Sex Trafficking But Will Silence Online Speech (National Coalition Against Censorship) "While the sponsors of these bills contend that they are aimed at stopping sex trafficking, neither bill actually helps sex trafficking victims confront their abusers and instead both focus on curtailing online speech. Even sex workers oppose the bills, which are likely to make consensual sex work more dangerous. The National Coalition Against Censorship joins with our allies in the free speech community to oppose this bill." See From Section 230 to The EARN IT Act and still controversial (blog post with links to more on this issue)

Sex trafficking law looms large over latest bid to weaken Section 230 (Cristiano Lima, Washington Posst, 2-10-22) "In 2018, Congress passed FOSTA-SESTA, a contentious measure that opened digital services up to lawsuits if they knowingly facilitated sex trafficking on their sites. Despite its aims, critics warned that the measure could have an unintended chilling effect on free speech and harm sex workers trying to safely communicate online.
     "Now, civil liberties advocates, human rights groups and tech industry leaders are again sounding the alarm that the new bill could endanger the people it’s seeking to protect.
     "The legislation, called the EARN IT Act, would create a commission tasked with issuing recommendations to platforms on how to best curtail child abuse on their products. It would open platforms up to liability under any federal and state civil laws, as well as state criminal laws, related to hosting child abuse material. (Section 230 allows for liability under federal criminal law.)

• "SESTA/FOSTA Explained (Decriminalize Sex Work) This group explains how FOSTA/SESTA endangers sex workers, keeps victims of human trafficking in danger, and censors free speech on the Internet.

[Back to Top]
Be the first to comment

What the 'Culture Wars' Are About

Subtopics: Row v. Wade, Obergefell v. Hodges, abortion, same-sex marriage, race and the 1619 Project, George Floyd, gun politics, separation of church and state, privacy, recreational drug use, homosexuality, censorship and banned books, climate change (in the wake of the 1997 Kyoto Treaty), pedophilia, gender identity, gay people, Trump and January 6th, academic freedom, teacher tenure, student rights, campus free speech, educational gag orders, whether the study of American history should be a "celebratory" or "critical" undertaking, separation of church and state, and orthodox Christian positions on premarital sex, contraception, out-of-wedlock childbearing, and divorce. Anything else?

Heather Cox Richardson (Letters from an American, 5-2-21) on Republican attitudes toward multiculturalism. 'On Friday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and 36 Republicans sent a letter to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona accusing him of trying to advance a “politicized and divisive agenda” in the teaching of American history. This is a full embrace of the latest Republican attempt to turn teaching history into a culture war....

     "The prime object of Republican anger is the 1619 Project, called out in McConnell’s letter by name. The project launched in the New York Times Magazine in August 2019 to coincide with the 400th anniversary of the first landing of 20 to 30 enslaved Africans at the English colony of Virginia....

     'The 1619 Project argued that the landing of the Black slaves marked “the country’s very origin” since it “inaugurated a barbaric system of chattel slavery that would last for the next 250 years.” ...The Pulitzer Center, which supports journalism but is not associated with Columbia University’s Pulitzer Prizes, produced a school curriculum based on the 1619 Project; Republican legislators in five states—Arkansas, Iowa, Mississippi, Missouri, and South Dakota—filed virtually identical bills to cut funding to any school or college that used the material.'
Why Republicans are obsessed with pedophilia, gender identity, gay people, and abortion (Robert Reich, 5-7-22) "Voters, don't be deflected by “culture war” messages intended to deflect the public’s attention from how badly big corporations and the super wealthy are shafting them. Americans won’t understand how these economic abuses all relate to record amounts of income and wealth at the top, and what must be done to reverse this imbalance (break up monopolies, enact a windfall profits tax, raise taxes on large corporations and the super wealthy, strengthen labor unions, reform campaign finance, stop corporate welfare, and so on).
      "Oh, and by focusing on pedophilia, gender identity, gay people, and abortion, Republicans don’t have to talk about Trump and January 6."
With Rising Book Bans, Librarians Have Come Under Attack (Elizabeth A. Harris and Alexandra Alter, NY Times, 6-7-22) Caustic fights over which books belong on the shelves have put librarians at the center of a bitter and widening culture war. The reporters spoke to two dozen librarians and library associations across the country for this article. For more on the topic, see Banned and challenged books with links to articles on

---Lists of banned and challenged books

---What you can do to fight book bans and challenges

---Academic freedom, teacher tenure, student rights, campus free speech, and educational gag orders.
The Next Culture War (David Brooks, NYTimes, 6-30-15) "Christianity's gravest setbacks are in the realm of values. American culture is shifting away from orthodox Christian positions on homosexuality, premarital sex, contraception, out-of-wedlock childbearing, divorce and a range of other social issues... [Many] conservatives are enmeshed in a decades-long culture war that has been fought over issues arising from the sexual revolution....Consider putting aside, in the current climate, the culture war oriented around the sexual revolution....Put aside an effort that has been a communications disaster, reducing a rich, complex and beautiful faith into a public obsession with sex. Put aside a culture war that, at least over the near term, you are destined to lose."
---Okay, David Brooks, Which Culture War Should We Fight? (Joe Rigney, The Federalist, 7-2-15) "Isn't the sexual revolution one of the main culprits (aided and abetted by presumptuous Supreme Court decisions that insist on removing these debates from the democratic process, with Roe and Obergefell at the top of the list)?... But we social conservatives, and especially those of us who are Christians, recognize deep connections among these issues, many of them having to do with what sex is for, what marriage is for, indeed what people are for."
---David Brooks on ‘The Next Culture War’ (Rod Dreher,The American Conservative, 6-30-15) Should Christians fight? Retreat? Brooks suggests a third way
After Obergefell: A First Things Symposium (Various authors, First Things, 6-15) How should we respond to the ruling by the Supreme Court in Obergefell v. Hodges that there is a constitutional right to same-sex marriage? What’s next? 
Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America by James Davison Hunter (published in 1992). An account of how Christian fundamentalists, Orthodox Jews, and conservative Catholics have joined forces in a battle against their progressive counterparts for control of American secular culture.The struggle to make sense of the battles over the family, art, education, law, and politics. On an increasing number of "hot-button" defining issues—abortion, gun politics, separation of church and state, privacy, recreational drug use, homosexuality, censorship—there existed two definable polarities.

     See recap of the discussion on Wikipedia. "The culture wars influenced the debate over state-school history curricula in the United States in the 1990s. In particular, debates over the development of national educational standards in 1994 revolved around whether the study of American history should be a "celebratory" or "critical" undertaking and involved such prominent public figures as Lynne Cheney, the late Rush Limbaugh, and historian Gary Nash." This Wikipedia entry is one of the most useful I've seen, including a wide range of references and useful discussions and explanations.
Deep Water: An Encounter with Whiteness (Deepa Iyer, Medium, 10-30-18) See also her Solidarity Is This about different aspects of the effects of white supremacist culture and From Silos to Solidarity: Learning from 2017’s Resistance Movements. We "must also sharpen our solidarity work: we must move beyond race as the single and sole organizing force to bring communities together; we must work within our own communities to lovingly challenge biases as we proclaim unity with other movements; and we must ensure that we are not caught in a cycle of rapid response and emergency postures that end up harming our own people and organizations."
Climate Science as Culture War (Andrew J. Hoffman, Stanford Social Innovation Review, SSIR, Fall 2012) "Today, there is no doubt that a scientific consensus exists on the issue of climate change....And yet a social consensus on climate change does not exist. Surveys show that the American public’s belief in the science of climate change has mostly declined over the past five years, with large percentages of the population remaining skeptical of the science."

     "The public debate around climate change is no longer about science—it’s about values, culture, and ideology. 'Climate change has become enmeshed in the so-called culture wars. Acceptance of the scientific consensus is now seen as an alignment with liberal views consistent with other “cultural” issues that divide the country (abortion, gun control, health care, and evolution). This partisan divide on climate change was not the case in the 1990s. It is a recent phenomenon, following in the wake of the 1997 Kyoto Treaty that threatened the material interests of powerful economic and political interests, particularly members of the fossil fuel industry."
Everything you wanted to know about the culture wars – but were afraid to ask (Andrew Anthony, The Guardian, 6-13-21) Politicians like to provoke them, academics like to analyse them. Yet most people don’t even know what they’re all about.The historian Dominic Sandbrook agrees that a culture war is under way but cautions against overstating its dimensions. He thinks that more often than not it’s a dispute between two sides of an educated elite. Scroll down for key flashpoints, mainly from UK viewpoint, but they include the murder of George Floyd and the European Union referendum (the issues surrounding Brexit were as often as not cultural at root).

 'Everything that gets labeled "far-left" in the US is common sense policy in the rest of the industrialized world. Guaranteed health care. Paid family leave. Government drug price negotiation. Gun control. It isn't radical. We're talking about the basics of a functioning society."
~ Public Citizen @Public_Citizen 

Be the first to comment