Reddit wasted no time in closing down several sex work-related subreddits in response to the passing of the FOSTA (Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act) bill in the US yesterday.
The bill, which amends section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, claims that it aims to help protect the victims of sex trafficking. It states that section 230 “was never intended to provide legal protection to websites that unlawfully promote and facilitate prostitution and websites that facilitate traffickers in advertising the sale of unlawful sex acts with sex trafficking victims.”
However, as many other publications have pointed out, it’s a law that could have a chilling effect on any discussion of sex work online at all, which is ultimately bad for anyone involved, as well as a worrying clamp down on free speech.
Unfortunately, as many people tried to point out before the bill passed, it will do little – if anything – to genuinely help combat sex trafficking. Indeed, the reverse is true for a wide variety of reasons, not least of which is that sites like Backpage allow for some form of contact with victims of sex trafficking, as illustrated neatly in the embedded Twitter thread below by ErikaG, an anti-trafficking attorney based in the US.
My boss always says that if there was an easy way to end trafficking, we would have already done it already. #SESTA sounds like a solution, but it's not. It will just push trafficking more under ground and make it harder for us to find victims!
— ErikaG (@egonz15) March 21, 2018
With the bill passed in the Senate and House of Representatives, it’s expected to be signed into law by President Trump shortly.
For its part, Reddit will be far from the only platform to be affected by this change, though we’ll have to see exactly how some react in terms of clamping down on sex work-related discussion. It’s still not law. Yet.