The battle for sex worker's rights online: Proposed SESTA-FOSTA law in USA

By Azia Keever for GenderIT.org 01 November 2018

An unexpected duo, tech bros and sex workers, banded together in February in opposition to two bills meant to curb online sex trafficking. Despite their efforts, the bills, Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) and Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA), were incorporated into a conglomeration of the two, called the FOSTA-SESTA package. With a bipartisan approval of 388-25 in the House of Representatives and 97-2 in the Senate, the bill is now on its way to President Trump to be signed.

The bill was set in motion as prosecutors realised sites like Backpage, a popular alternative to Craigslist known for advertisements of sex, could not be prosecuted under the previous state of the Communications Decency Act. According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the bill “marks an unprecedented push towards Internet censorship.”

The bill allows third party platforms to be held accountable for the content of their users. So social media sites like Facebook, apps like Instagram, feeds like Twitter— all are now being highly incentivised, by fear of prosecution, to censor the voices of their users.

The bill undermines an integral legislation to the free flow of ideas on the internet: Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act passed in 1996. For the most part, this section made sure platforms could not be held liable for their users' speech. The original bill was introduced in August of 2016 by Republican Ohio Senator Rob Portman in an effort to make it easier to sue Backpage.com, a popular Craigslist alternative that had a bustling online community of adult advertisements, for counts of prostitution advertised on their website by sex workers on their site. Sex worker activists assert the bill is not conducive to finding trafficking victims and will only throw the sex industry and trafficking market deeper underground.

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