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The primary target are websites, apps, messageboards, and other digital publishers, which have deeper pockets.To reach them, Congress had to carve a hole in Section 230, which has governed the internet for 22 years.It protects web platforms from being sued in civil court or criminally charged by state prosecutors for third-party (i.e., user-posted) content.(It doesn't apply for federal crimes.) Section 230 says that unless they create the content in whole or part, these platforms shall not be treated as the speaker of such content, and good-faith efforts at content moderation (like banning ads that explicitly mention illegal acts or auto-filtering out content that contains prohibited words) do not change this.The bill, euphemistically known as the "Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act," or FOSTA, was passed by the House of Representatives in late February.
Consider it one of the first—but certainly not the last—casualties of new legislation passed by the Senate this week 97-2.This is because the core of FOSTA makes it a federal crime to "promote or facilitate the prostitution of another person," punishable by up to 10 years in prison, plus fines.For promoting the prostitution of five or more people, the penalty is 25 years, and the same if promoting someone's prostitution "contributed to sex trafficking." Sex workers don't have to worry about being punished for posting their own ads, but they could run afoul of the law if working in pairs or helping a colleague place an ad.But while doing nothing to realistically fight sex trafficking, it manages to muck up all sorts of other serious things.FOSTA will "subject websites to criminal and civil liability when third parties (users) misuse online personals unlawfully," Craigslist explains in the brief notice that now appears in place of potential partners if you try to go to a personals listing .And on Thursday, Reddit banned several sex-related subreddits, including r/Escorts, r/Male Escorts, and r/Sugar Daddy.Reddit said the purge was enforcing its new content policy, which bans "transactions for certain goods and services," including "paid services involving physical sexual contact." But frequenters of these subreddits say they were forums for sex-work news, tips, questions, and camaraderie, not places where sex workers advertised their services."Any tool or service can be misused," Craigslist said a statement."We can't take such risk without jeopardizing all our other services, so we are regretfully taking craigslist personals offline. To the millions of spouses, partners, and couples who met through craigslist, we wish you every happiness!Under FOSTA, this won't apply when paid sex is concerned.That's why sites are scrambling right now to prohibit any content that could get them held liable. Department of Justice has urged against passing FOSTA, calling it unconstitutional and saying that it would make prosecuting sex traffickers harder.