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FOSTA-SESTA's real aim is to silence sex workers online

FOSTA-SESTA's real aim is to silence sex workers online

Postby smix » Wed Apr 11, 2018 8:49 pm

FOSTA-SESTA's real aim is to silence sex workers online
Engadget

URL: https://www.engadget.com/2018/04/11/fos ... x-workers/
Category: Politics
Published: April 11, 2018

Description: Under the cover of trafficking, sex workers are being silenced.
The US' latest attempt to silence sex workers and people working in the adult-entertainment industry has been a huge success. Just weeks after FOSTA-SESTA was passed, the bill has begun to chill free speech across the internet. A number of websites have had to either shut down or actively distance themselves from the notion that they support sex work. And the problem is only going to get worse as time goes on. If you're unfamiliar, the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act and the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act were two bills welded together on Capitol Hill. The legislation passed the House on March 21st and was signed into law by President Donald Trump today. Its job is to neuter the safe-harbor provisions contained in Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act 1996 with regards to sex. Historically, if you owned a platform, then you weren't responsible for the behavior of your users. An ISP couldn't be held liable if one of its customers sent threatening messages to someone else, because it would be too onerous to police. Subsequent case law enshrined its principles, with courts finding that companies like Google and Backpage.com were not liable for the actions of its users. Intentionally or not, the bill makes no distinction between human trafficking and legitimate, consensual sex work. As such, FOSTA-SESTA essentially makes platform holders liable for talk about sex on their platforms. As my colleague Violet Blue wrote, "Lawmakers did not fact-check the bill's claims, research the religious neocons behind it, nor did they listen to constituents." That's not to mention that FOSTA-SESTA contravenes the First Amendment's protection of free speech. The fallout has been dramatic, with the website Survivors Against SESTA documenting the litany of changes that have taken place. This includes the closure of sex-work directories like CityVibe and NightShift as well as the personals sections of websites like Craigslist. FetLife's kink-friendly social network is currently consulting with its users to determine its future plans. The FBI's seizure of Backpage.com has, again, helped blunt a useful avenue for sex workers to find work. It's not just the realm of adults-only websites and platforms that are now having to crack down on discussions of sex. Microsoft and Google have moved to alter their terms of service to prohibit offensive or inappropriate content and language. Not even private discussions are safe, with Microsoft reportedly claiming the right to examine your content to investigate complaints. More troubling is the fact that according to Motherboard, Google is purging adult content from private Drive accounts. Performers who sell clips of explicit material to users have lost videos and received complaints from customers. Even videos with relatively anodyne names have been wiped or left in place but made unable to play, a troubling infringement of personal rights. Even before the legislation was passed, however, the technology industry had begun to wage a war on sex workers. Last year, Patreon flip-flopped on moves to prohibit sex workers from earning money through the site. That wound up potentially harming a number of sex workers who were economically vulnerable and relied on the site for income. Similarly, Nook, Barnes & Noble's e-book publishing platform, began terminating the accounts of erotica writers without warning last summer. A common thread with many of these moves is to strip an often-marginalized group of its ability to make money. Twitter, meanwhile, stands accused of shadowbanning users who are engaged in sex work or the wider adult-entertainment industry. The practice essentially restricts people's messages and profile from being surfaced beyond their own network -- for instance, making sure their tweets cannot be seen in hashtags and preventing new people from discovering their account. Twitter vehemently denies engaging in the practice, and there is no concrete evidence that it does so. There is clearly something going on, however, as various adult performers have found their accounts censored. One of the more high-profile adult performers to believe that they have been shadowbanned is Stormy Daniels. On April 6th, she tweeted that it was now impossible to find her account even when searching for her username. There are tools, such as Nice Brains' Shadowban Checker, that purport to determine if an account has been shadowbanned. But even if Twitter isn't shadowbanning users, it is still doing its part to silence women within the sex industry. Accounts can either be marked by the users themselves or moderators as containing "sensitive content." Like the effects of a shadowban, these accounts won't appear in hashtags or searches, even if you look for their specific username. This sensitive-content filter is also activated by default, thereby erasing and silencing these individuals without having to give them an official ban. Some sex workers are attempting to protect themselves against the bill by building platforms beyond the reach of American authorities. One such outfit is Red Umbrella Hosting, an Iceland-based web hosting service founded by Melissa Mariposa. The company was founded in response to FOSTA-SESTA and offers judgment-free, anonymous and sex-worker-friendly hosting. Then there is Switter (Sex Work Twitter), a Mastodon service created by Assembly Four -- a collective of sex workers and technologists based in Australia. Switter was similarly launched in response to FOSTA-SESTA and Twitter's alleged shadowbanning practices. In a few short weeks, it has already acquired nearly 23,000 followers and is likely to become even more prominent in the future. And then there is Share Our Shit Saturdays, a project whereby sex workers, content creators and activists can provide signal boosts to others. The current efforts of sex workers to build alternative platforms are a good first step but not the end-all. While their ability to find work and receive payment remains in the hands of third parties, sex workers will always be vulnerable. A simple policy change at Patreon was enough to risk the livelihoods of thousands of individuals engaged in sex work. That's not to mention the uncertainties inherent in a shifting, increasingly right-wing political landscape where crackdowns can happen on a whim. Perhaps the sex-work community will need to build its own social media, advertising and payment platforms in order to truly control its own destiny.



Congress just legalized sex censorship: What to know
Engadget

URL: https://www.engadget.com/2018/03/30/con ... t-to-know/
Category: Politics
Published: March 30, 2018

Description: "Sex work" is not another word for trafficking.
One week ago, the worst possible legislation curtailing free speech online passed and sex censorship bill FOSTA-SESTA is on its way to be signed into law by Trump. Hours after the announcement, everything from the mere discussion of sex work to client screening and safe advertising networks began getting systematically erased from the open internet. Thousands — if not hundreds of thousands — of women, LGBTQ people, gay men, immigrants, and a significant number of people of color lost their income. Pushed out of safe online spaces and toward street corners. So were any and all victims of sex trafficking that law enforcement might've been able to find on the open internet. The Senate has passed the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act, or SESTA, and tacked-on FOSTA (Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act), by a vote of 97–2. Lawmakers did not fact-check the bill's claims, research the religious neocons behind it, nor did they listen to constituents. Significant organizations, including the Department of Justice, ACLU, EFF, and more had assembled to object to the bill both publicly and in letters to elected officials. In the process, law professors and anti-trafficking groups, along with sex work organizations, unearthed the bill's many alarming legal, constitutional, and human rights disqualifications. It's dubbed the "anti-trafficking" bill for the internet, but it's really an anti-sex sledgehammer. The bill removes protection for websites under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, and makes sites and services liable for hosting what it very, very loosely defines as sex trafficking and "prostitution" content. FOSTA-SESTA puts into law that sex work and sex trafficking are the same thing, and makes discussion and advertising part of the crime. Its blurry interpretation of sex and commerce, as well as the bill's illogical, incorrect conflation of sex trafficking and sex work is straight out of a bad movie. If only the politicians who voted this Morality in Media (NCOSE) mess into law had fact-checked it with Freedom Network USA, "the largest coalition of experts and advocates providing direct services to to survivors of human trafficking in the U.S." Freedom Network unequivocally states that protecting the rights of sex workers, and not conflating them with trafficking victims, is critical to the prevention of trafficking. They also have the data to back up the fact that "more people are trafficked into labor sectors than into commercial sex." It's already an unmitigated disaster for free speech in America. Which was, of course, predicted. The Technology and Marketing Law Blog wrote that there's no mistaking that FOSTA-SESTA violates the First Amendment; it plainly stated that "this statute implicates constitutionally protected speech." It's unconstitutional, but the damage is already being done. Despite the fact that FOSTA-SESTA isn't even law yet -- it could take anywhere from 90 days to until 2019 to take effect -- online companies, always dangerously prudish with their algorithms, or hypocritical with their free speech rhetoric, appear to be in a rush to proverbially herd sex workers (and all us people who talk about sex for a living) out of the airlock into places where no one can hear us scream.
Safety resources disappear overnight
Websites are removing content and communities wholesale, the result of FOSTA-SESTA making safer working conditions more difficult by criminalizing digital conversations about sex work, screening tools and discussions about how to be safe doing it. By way of its ambiguity, FOSTA-SESTA has begun the largest wave of censorship the open internet may ever see. Craigslist removed its entire Personals section. All these amazing moments can never happen again. As some may recall, Craigslist already voluntary closed its Erotic Services section in 2010 under pressure from conservative groups. This is despite a study from Baylor and West Virginia Universities, which found that Craigslist's erotic services page directly reduced female homicides in the US by 17 percent, "principally because sex workers were able to use the free advertising service to move into safer indoor environments and screen clients more carefully." Request for comment to Craigslist and our queries asking why Personals was removed ahead of the bill's signing were not responded to by time of publication. Within days, Reddit removed entire communities. Notably, its r/escorts and r/sugardaddy subreddits. We asked Reddit for comment about its pre-emptive removal of those subreddits, and how that lines up with the company's controversial philosophies regarding freedom of speech, but did not receive a response by press time. Right now, sites and safety resources are falling like dominoes. In short order, sex work networks NightShift, CityVibe, and furry personals site Pounced shut down entirely. Sites that facilitated safety in sex work including The Erotic Review, VeryfyHim, Hung Angels, YourDominatrix, and Yellow Pages shut down their discussion boards, advertising boards, and community forums. Other sites, like MyFreeCams, have changed their policies to ban any talk about transactions of any kind. FOSTA-SESTA's timing puts a dark spin on recent Terms enforcement by Google Drive and changes with Microsoft products. On the Survivors Against Sesta shutdown list of services, growing every day, Google Drive is listed as "deleting explicit content and/or locking out users." Google declined to comment on the record, but Engadget was assured via email from a source with knowledge of the situation that the enforcement wave on Drive has nothing to do with FOSTA-SESTA. Similarly, Microsoft released a Terms update this week that got the company put on the FOSTA-SESTA censorship list as well. A spokesperson for Microsoft told Engadget in an email that the changes are not related to FOSTA. Further, the spokesperson told us, "The recent changes to the Microsoft Service Agreement's Code of Conduct provide transparency on how we respond to customer reports of inappropriate public content."
Human canaries in the free speech coal mine
The hashtag #LetUsSurvive is a current rallying point on Twitter, directing attention to the sex work community's determination to get out of this insidious wave of conservative anti-sex silencing alive. To that end, sex work websites feature guides to self-censoring, the kind of thing you'd expect belongs more in Weimar-era Berlin than coming out of modern-day San Francisco. Sex workers are right to be scared. They're facing all this sudden and casually disastrous censorship as a threat to their safety and livelihoods, and are well aware that few are willing or brave enough to fight for their free speech and human rights. Even sex writers such as myself know this; any of us who've tried to make a living off anything relating to sex online has a list of products, services, banks and payment processors, social networks, companies, and business tools that everyone else takes for granted — that we are expressly prohibited from using. It has been a speech issue for a long time, one most people have turned away from as Instagram censors more nipples, as PayPal freezes and shutters the accounts of sex bloggers and book authors, Tumblr deep-sixes erotic artists, and more. Hateful gamers? No problem. Death threats toward women? Here's a form to fill out. MAGA racists terrorizing women and people of color off the platform? Gotta hear both sides. But expose a nipple in artwork, discuss non-reproductive sex ed, or talk about making sex work safer by screening clients? Now that's a misguided business plan guaranteed to create lasting cultural harm. Let's definitely keep Peter Thiel on the board. If you thought all that was bad enough, just you wait. FOSTA-SESTA is making us disappear before your very eyes — and it will affect you, too. Under FOSTA-SESTA, we'd most likely have no Stormy Daniels. That Stormy Daniels is making headlines while the absolute worst is happening to sex workers online is not lost on anyone. "In a titillating cross-section of lawmaking and scandal," wrote sex worker Morgan Claire-Sirene, "we have on one side Stormy Daniels suing 45 for unlawful payoffs and calling him to account publicly for his associates' threats against her, and on the other side, legislation that has already silenced common sex workers, with the overlaying intersections of race and class; good whores and bad whores; victims and perpetrators; and misinformation all around." Daniels is a perfect lens with which to view the exact way FOSTA-SESTA harms one of America's largest at-risk populations. Writer Ben Udashen points out, "The level of sex worker whose lives will be harmed by SESTA are not at the same level of fame and notoriety as Stormy Daniels"
"Daniels won't be caught up in a sting sending her to jail because she had to work as a streetwalker to help pay her rent and feed her children. Daniels won't have to carry a weapon to defend herself when she meets with a new client. "Most importantly, Daniels's children won't be woken up to the news that their mother didn't come home last night because she was murdered by a serial killer, a class of criminal who have always targeted sex workers from Jack the Ripper to the Green River Killer. Poor and working class sex workers, regardless of gender identity, will pay that price."

And for a short moment in history, the advent of the open internet reduced that horrible cost.
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Trump Just Signed SESTA/FOSTA, a Law Sex Workers Say Will Literally Kill Them

Postby smix » Wed Apr 11, 2018 9:13 pm

Trump Just Signed SESTA/FOSTA, a Law Sex Workers Say Will Literally Kill Them
Motherboard

URL: https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/arti ... w-sex-work
Category: Politics
Published: April 11, 2018

Description: The controversial Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) was framed as anti-trafficking, but it’s already harming consensual sex workers.
At 11 a.m. EST Wednesday, President Donald Trump signed a bill into law that’s already started hurting people in the consensual sex trade. The bill—a mashup of the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) and the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA), which is commonly referred to as the latter—passed Congress in March. It makes websites liable for what users say and do on their platforms, and many advocacy groups have come out against the bill, saying that it undermines essential internet freedoms. It could be months—or as late as January 2019—before FOSTA is enacted and anyone could be charged under the law. But even in the days immediately after the bill passed in Congress, platforms started scrambling to proactively shut down forums or whole sites where sex trafficking could feasibly happen. Fringe dating websites, sex trade and advertising forums, and even portions of Craigslist were taken down in the weeks following, while companies like Google started strictly enforcing terms of service around sexual speech. One of the websites key to the FOSTA debate was Backpage, a site where users posted advertisements, frequently for sexual services. Federal authorities seized Backpage on Monday, two days before Trump even signed it, demonstrating that the FBI never really needed FOSTA’s backing to indict the site to begin with. Lola, a community organizer with Survivors Against SESTA, told me in a Signal message that this is literally a life-or-death law for sex workers. “I know so many people who were able to start working indoors or leave their exploitative situations because of Backpage and Craigslist,” she said. “They were able to screen for clients and keep themselves safe and save up money to leave the people exploiting them. And now that those sites are down, people are going back to pimps. Pimps are texting providers every day saying ‘the game’s changed. You need me.’” FOSTA/SESTA is empowering abusive clients to exploit workers, Lola said, leading directly to more pimping and ultimately, more harm and potential for actual trafficking. “SESTA is putting people on the streets, where we face more violence and harassment and arrest and brutality by the police. SESTA is killing us.”



Pimps Are Preying on Sex Workers Pushed Off the Web Because of FOSTA-SESTA
Motherboard

URL: https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/arti ... rafficking
Category: Politics
Published: April 30, 2018

Description: "Sex workers are terrified:" Less than three weeks after the so-called anti-sex trafficking bill became law, the consequences are dire.
The last time Katie tried to leave her pimp, he beat her with a tire iron. “Time heals physical wounds,” Katie, whose name has been changed to protect her safety, told me over the phone. “I have been independent for years now and away from him, but I’m still mentally trying to get over, you know, everything he’s done.” In March, Congress passed the Fight Sex Trafficking Online Act (FOSTA), a controversial mashup bill packaged with the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) that was framed by proponents as being anti-sex trafficking. It punishes websites for discussions of prostitution and the sex trade, under the guise of anti-sex trafficking efforts. But because of this new law, exploitative and abusive people like Katie’s former pimp are swooping back into sex workers’ lives. They’re capitalizing on the confusion and fear this law has created, as online communities where sex workers found and vetted clients and offered each other support are disappearing. What are you going to do without me, now? exploiters say, flooding former victims’ inboxes and texts. You need me. According to sex workers I’ve spoken with, this is a common message. “Pimps seem to be coming out of the woodwork since this all happened,” Laura LeMoon, a sex trafficking survivor, writer, and co-founder and director of harm reduction nonprofit Safe Night Access Project Seattle, told me in an email. “They’re taking advantage of the situation sex workers are in. This is why I say FOSTA/SESTA have actually increased trafficking. I’ve had pimps contacting me. They’re leeches. They make money off of [sex workers’] misfortune.” For those who don’t have other alternatives, the coming weeks and months could see a return to a dark age, as more people are being pushed into street work, or into the extreme exploitation of traffickers and pimps. FOSTA is destroying the communities that supported sex workers with bad-date lists and emergency help, communication that literally meant life-or-death for some. “Make no mistake, if these bills pass, sex workers will die,” adult performer Lorelei Lee told me last month, before FOSTA became law. “I need you to know that is not hyperbole.” We know now that it wasn’t. Sex work blog Tits and Sass wrote last week that based on anecdotal reports, 13 sex workers have gone missing, two have been confirmed dead, and countless others have been assaulted and raped, as a result of being pushed offline and into the streets to find work.
*
FOSTA-SESTA, signed into law in early April, was framed as a way to curb sex trafficking online. It amends Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, and holds websites more accountable for what users say and do on interactive platforms. This sounds positive at the surface level—the harms of sex trafficking are well-known—but critics say the law is both too vague to help actual victims of trafficking, and too broad to avoid widespread harm to consensual sex workers. It limits how people talk about sex and sex work online, causing websites to shutter forums that host sex-based conversations preemptively. As general counsel of Cloudflare Doug Kramer put it, Congress didn’t bother to “do the hard work” to avoid this outcome. After President Donald Trump signed FOSTA into law, the harm that workers and advocates warned of in op-eds, interviews, and on social media has come swiftly and relentlessly. The fallout has been devastating for many. Multiple advertising forums have shuttered, and mainstream services like Craigslist personals and Google Drive started cracking down on sexual content. Even sites operated outside of the US have been impacted: In April, Cloudflare banned alternative, Australia-based social network Switter, and cited FOSTA as the reason. Perhaps one of the biggest blows, struck days before the bill even became law, was the seizure and shutdown of Backpage.com, a classified ads site and longtime poster-child-slash-scapegoat for the evils of sex trafficking. For sex workers, all of this marks the erasure of vital online communities. “I always say community is the best defense against trafficking, but I want to make it concrete for people who aren't in the sex trade and don't know just how vital community is to preventing trafficking,” Lola, a community organizer with Survivors Against SESTA, told me in an email. According to Lola, online communities provide all sorts of supports to sex workers. They help them address any immediate survival needs, such as finding shelter or food. They can provide warnings that a potential client is violent, or check in on their well-being, or help them find access to know-your-rights training. “SESTA has wiped clean essential spaces for all of that community, because it took away the online platforms and tools sex workers use to communicate,” Lola said. Even aside from making it harder for them to work, she said, it’s made workers an easier target for traffickers.
*
Katie, now in her mid-thirties, fell into sex trafficking when she was 16 and homeless. While walking around the city one day, a man in a nice car asked her if she needed a lift. She took up the offer—a moment that would unfold into 15 years of mental and physical abuse and isolation, with several different pimps. “I didn’t want to do it, but he beat me, and he knew I didn’t have anybody,” she said. “He beat me and I complied.” It was his way or no way, Katie said. Hers is a common situation for trafficking victims, according to Jessica Raven, executive director of Washington, DC-based advocacy group Collective Action for Safe Spaces. Raven told me over Twitter direct messages that one of the reasons FOSTA fails victims and survivors is because it doesn’t consider the root causes of trafficking, including youth homelessness and familial rejection of LGBTQ children. These are the factors that lead youth into homelessness and push them to engage in survival sex to access their basic needs. “Homeless youth are still going to be trafficked,” Raven said. “They’re just going to be picked up on the street and forced to sell sex on the street... The anti-trafficking movement has poured its resources into a strategy that relies on arrest, even if it means that youth in the sex trade—or sex trafficking victims—are arrested for what they do to survive.” Both Katie and LeMoon, as well as several sex workers and advocates I’ve spoken to in the past few weeks, have told me that the community is terrified. “Imagine losing your source of income over night,” LeMoon said. “What would you do? People tell us, ‘go get a real job then.’ Sex work is a real fucking job. It’s the oldest job there is.” Aside from doing immense harm to consensual workers, FOSTA and the shutdown of sites like Backpage will do little to help sex trafficking victims and survivors. Studies show that violence against women decreases when online advertising is available to sex workers. Even law enforcement agrees that Backpage helped authorities catch traffickers and get tips on criminal activity. Closing it permanently drives the problem further underground. “Pimps don’t go away because the internet is gone, and pimps don’t go away because you're not allowed on Backpage,” Katie said. “All they do is take the girls and put them back on the streets, and that’s even worse.”
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Bills targeting sex trafficking to lead to crackdown on anonymous posts?

Postby smix » Wed Apr 11, 2018 9:25 pm

Bills targeting sex trafficking to lead to crackdown on anonymous posts?
The Parallax

URL: https://www.the-parallax.com/2018/04/11 ... g-privacy/
Category: Politics
Published: April 11, 2018

Description: Two bills signed by President Donald Trump on Wednesday to fight the online facilitation of sex trafficking may end up limiting the ability of people to post anonymous comments on websites. The Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act, known as FOSTA, and the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act, or SESTA, make it illegal to knowingly assist or support sex trafficking. The companion bills, respectively passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in February and the U.S. Senate in March, target the advertising of prostitution online. They weaken Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, which protects online services from civil lawsuits for content posted by their users, by excluding sex-trafficking laws from legal immunity. Sites that don’t actively police user posts advertising prostitution and related services would open themselves up to criminal charges and to lawsuits from state attorneys general or victims of sex trafficking. The bills’ passage has already prompted several sites to crack down on some user-generated posts. Craigslist has since dropped personal ads. Kink-focused social network FetLife has prohibited escort and other services. Reddit has banned its escorts and sugar daddy communities. And the FBI has shut down Backpage.com, which was notorious for its escort ads. And it may well have much broader implications. Supporters of the bills argue that they are needed to fight Internet-facilitated sex trafficking. The Internet Association, a trade group that includes Google, Facebook, Amazon.com, and Microsoft, has supported FOSTA and SESTA, saying its members are “committed to combating sexual exploitation and sex trafficking online.” While criticism of the bills has largely focused on the censorship implications of a weaker Section 230, some the ripple effects of FOSTA/SESTA could extend to the banning of anonymous posts and extensive site self-policing of user-generated content. The expansion of criminal law under FOSTA and SESTA is so broad that it could implicate website operators, even if they “aren’t aware of any sex trafficking taking place,” says Elliot Harmon, an activist with the digital-rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation. “We expect to see platforms become more restrictive in what types of posts they allow in general, and that could certainly include removing features like private and anonymous messages.” Further action by websites and social-media services will depend on how courts interpret FOSTA/SESTA lawsuits—and determine what constitutes knowledge of sex trafficking on the part of site owners, adds Ryan Clough, general counsel at digital-rights group Public Knowledge. But he can “see a world in which fears around liability could potentially lead sites to restrict anonymous posting.” The legislation has some “ambiguity,” particularly related to the definition of “knowingly” facilitating prostitution, Clough says. “We are watching for a wide variety of different potential consequences related to how content is moderated and how platforms treat their users,” he says. “It’s still very much in flux.” Bijan Madhani, privacy counsel at trade group the Computer & Communications Industry Association, says the heavy burden FOSTA and SESTA might place on sites to police user-generated content may prompt them to crack down on user-generated content altogether. Craigslist, which embraces anonymous posts, didn’t immediately respond to questions about whether it would ever limit anonymity. Reddit, however, said it will “never” require users to provide their names, ages, and other personal information. “We give our community the choice to remain pseudonymous on our platform, which we believe fosters authentic connection, and makes Reddit unique and special to so many people,” a representative said by email. Other websites “may want to stay well within the bounds of what the law might consider them liable for, just to avoid any penalties or confrontations with authorities,” Madhani says. Supporters of the legislation say the implications aren’t so broad. SESTA is a narrowly crafted bill that gives law enforcement agencies “the tools they need to go after criminals who traffic women and children online,” Kevin Smith, spokesman for Sen. Rob Portman, the Ohio Republican and main sponsor of SESTA, said in an emailed statement. Only sites that knowingly facilitate trafficking should be worried about the legislation, because it continues the Communications Decency Act provision that protects sites that monitor user-generated content in good faith, Smith says. “We certainly hope companies are taking an honest look at their websites to ensure that they don’t become a hub for trafficking of women and children,” he added. “If they believe they can’t operate a website without knowingly facilitating sex trafficking, that would be a pretty damning admission.”
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New Legislation Forces Sex Workers Back to Streets and Strips Away Internet Freedoms in One Swoop

Postby smix » Mon Apr 16, 2018 11:47 am

New Legislation Forces Sex Workers Back to Streets and Strips Away Internet Freedoms in One Swoop
Alternet

URL: https://www.alternet.org/sex-amp-relati ... t-freedoms
Category: Politics
Published: April 15, 2018

Description: The SESTA-forced end of a Craigslist personal ads era means big problems for sex workers.
In our society, sex work isn’t considered “real work.” With the risks of physical harm and constant denigration from family, friends and critics, sex workers are rarely treated with dignity and respect and are often arrested because of unfair laws. They have come under attack in recent months after the passage of the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) in the Senate, and the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) in the House. A combination of both laws passed in the Senate on March 20 by a vote of 97-2. Senator Rob Portman introduced SESTA in the Senate and the House’s FOSTA bill passed in February. The bill was signed into law Wednesday, April 11 by President Donald Trump. Now, SESTA-FOSTA, or commonly called FOSTA, gives state attorney generals the ability to bring civil suits against violators of federal prostitution laws. Engadget reports SESTA-FOSTA could take anywhere from 90 days to until 2019 to take effect after the signing. These bills intended to stop digital platforms from facilitating human trafficking will inadvertently make the lives of sex workers who practice consensual sex work much more difficult. Experts from various organizations and on a variety of platforms have criticized these bills because online sites like RentBoy, where workers conduct business typically, will be penalized for ads that may be misconstrued as human trafficking advertisements. Platform owners could be prosecuted under the new law even if they were unaware of users promoting sex trafficking. Recently, FBI and a litany of other law enforcement agencies seized sex marketplace website Backpage.com on undisclosed grounds, reports Reuters. Some have come to believe that the site was seized after a prior 2017 lawsuit holding Backpage responsible for facilitating human trafficking of three young women and other accusations revolving around human trafficking and cases of pimping. Serving as a hub for LGBT sex workers, RentBoy had a reputation as a positive and charitable organization in the community prior to coming under attack in 2015 when Department of Homeland Security agents raided their offices for violating federal law by facilitating paid sexual encounters and money laundering. In August 2015, seven Rentboy.com employees were arrested for connecting male sex workers with clients and enabling illegal prostitution. Those involved, including CEO Jeffrey Davids, were charged with conspiring to violate the Travel Act by promoting prostitution. According to StopSESTA.org, a platform can face criminal and civil liability for sex trafficking at both the federal and state levels. This is so, because the new law has essentially expanded federal criminal prostitution law to cover those who use the internet to “promote or facilitate prostitution.” Sites like the aforementioned provide a safe way to screen potentially dangerous encounters and avoid legal persecution on the streets, but that has already changed. “The internet is a somewhat safe space for many of us, especially important if you are a full-service sex worker,” sex worker and cam model Suprihmbé wrote in 2017. “It allows us to set clear boundaries with clients and can increase our income potential depending on how well we wield our assets and market ourselves. We can spread out over a bunch of sites instead of just focusing on a singular profession and market (diversify our streams of income).” SESTA-FOSTA has forced major websites to hunker down and take precautions to avoid issues such as shouldering legal liability for content produced by their users. These companies can be sued, subjected to federal investigations and possibly be seized and shuttered like Backpage. Major Silicon Valley companies are capable of implementing sophisticated algorithms to monitor their services. However, as Gizmodo notes, smaller companies may not be able to keep up. And these elaborate algorithms could confuse victims of sex trafficking from sex trafficking facilitators. Craigslist and Reddit took steps to cleanse their sites of forums that may fall within the bill’s definitions just a few days after the bill was passed, reports The Daily Dot. For example, long-time sex worker forums such as r/Escorts, r/MaleEscorts, r/Hookers, and r/SugarDaddy have been banned on Reddit. “Any tool or service can be misused,” Craigslist wrote in a statement in wake of the banning. “We can’t take such risk without jeopardizing all our other services, so we are regretfully taking craigslist personals offline. Hopefully, we can bring them back someday.” Shuttering these types of classifieds will most likely lead to more violence against sex workers. A 2017 study by Scott Cunningham of Baylor University and John Tripp of Baylor found that female homicides fell nearly 1-17 percent after Craigslist opened personal ad sections in cities that did not have one in their area. There was also a decline in rape. Advocacy groups have rallied to combat what seems to be an elimination of sex work in general under the guise of ending rampant human trafficking in America. R.J. Thompson, managing director of the Sex Workers Project, said, “We are very concerned about the passing of the legislation because of the harmful effects on sex workers pushing online work back to street-based work, which has safety, violence and public health issues attached to it.” Thompson told the Independent Media Institute that the New York-based organization will help their clients by continuing to direct social and legal services as well as policy advocacy. A primary concern for the organization is improving safety planning, helping their clients avoid being criminalized further, better utilize their online harm reduction strategies and online communications about safety with potential clients. The Sex Workers Project, in conjunction with other activism organizations, are considering litigation against SESTA-FOSTA. “Sex workers and our allies have always been creative. Sex work is work that existed in every time, place and culture throughout human history—it’s not going anywhere,” said Thompson, who is a human rights attorney also a current sex worker and has previously turned to go-go dancing, escorting, stripping and porn to pay off student loan debt. “Our eventual goal is full decriminalization of all types of sex work—adult consensual sex work across every jurisdiction across the country.” But many believe that the SESTA-FOSTA goes beyond threatening sex work, it will threaten internet freedom as well. This bill may be another wrinkle in the ongoing net neutrality debate. A key component to SESTA-FOSTA is one that undermines Section 230 of the Communications and Decency Act. The law states “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.” Enacted in 1996, Section 230 protects online intermediaries that host free speech by protecting them against laws that may hold them accountable for their users’ content. This law is the primary reason we all can use social media, post comments on Amazon, have classified sections on Craigslist, etc. Without Section 230, nonprofit and community-based online groups that serve as vital organizations for free expression and knowledge sharing would also cease to exist in their current form. Writer Elliot Harmon stated that Section 230 balances between enabling the pursuit of justice and promoting free speech, meaning that a platform can be held responsible for their own actions and can still host user-created content without penalty. Sex workers, advocates and other groups are not the only people hitting back. The American Civil Liberties Union believes that the bill will only add gasoline to the fire. Section 230 will be undermined now that SESTA-FOSTA is law. Several things will occur once the law takes effect. One, a platform could begin censoring users to prevent any litigation against them. Two, platforms could stop hosting user content altogether. SESTA-FOSTA makes host sites solely responsible for criminally liable for user-generated content. This is all in an effort to give sex trafficking victims greater ability to sue those websites and give state prosecutors more power. It will essentially take blame away from the user who generated the content in the first place. The ACLU commended lawmakers for making changes to improve upon the bills. But even with the improvements on the earlier versions of the bills, the ACLU has opposed both measures:
“The risks to the vibrancy of the Internet as a driver of political, artistic, and commercial communication is real and significant. Moreover, there is little to suggest that current law could not be used to find and punish the bad actors who are truly facilitating online sex traffickers.”
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