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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.

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