The Federal Attack on Sex Workers’ Rights Is a Threat to Everyone’s Free Speech

(Photo: <a href="https://flic.kr/p/8fKQd2" target="_blank">Matt Zulak</a>)(Photo: Matt Zulak)

On March 23, Craigslist decided to do away with personal ads. Last week, Microsoft announced plans to make it illegal to get naked on Skype. The company is also out to ban any “offensive language” from Xbox and Office. Reddit has changed its content policy as well: Now the site explicitly forbids users from advertising paid services including “physical sexual contact” on its platform. And it’s not just the big names that are making such urgent amendments. Pounced.org, a dating website for those into Furry Fandom, just shut down.

While some companies acknowledge it and some don’t, this trend appears to be spreading in anticipation of a sweeping piece of federal legislation that could soon become law. Enter FOSTA, or the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act. The bill intends to amend Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA), which prevents online intermediaries from being held liable for their users’ actions. The legislation was passed by the House of Representatives in late February. By late March, the Senate had voted to advance the measure (SESTA). It just needs Trump’s signature to be passed. Needless to say, tech companies and Internet freedom activists aren’t pleased.

Section 230 has governed the Internet for the past 22 years, which is why major platforms like Craigslist, Reddit and Microsoft have been able to host content that toes the legal line. But that kind of immunity became a significant point of contention in 2016, when the CEO of an online classifieds ad company called Backpage.com was arrested for helping facilitate child sex trafficking. A judge eventually dismissed the case, ruling that Section 230 ultimately protected the company. The law prevented the prosecution from going after the company, so politicians decided to go after the law instead.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit organization designed to defend civil liberties in the digital world, says FOSTA will force online platforms to become “much more…

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