After Congress passed the controversial Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act 2017 (FOSTA) to curb online sex trafficking, several websites took to their platforms to make drastic changes in the type of content their users can post. Just two days after the new law took effect, Craigslist shut down its highly-popular “personals” section, which allowed users to seek romance, companionship, or even paid escorts online.
Without being told their personals section violated any of the terms of FOSTA, Craigslist voluntarily deactivated the service to prevent the possibility of future litigation. Under the new law, websites that allow third parties to post content will no longer avoid repercussions for what their users post if the content promotes or facilitates illegal activity. After Backpage.com shut down, sites like Craigslist and Reddit took extra precautions to ensure their users do not post ads for illicit sexual conduct.
Updating the Communications Decency Act
For years, websites like Craigslist have received protection under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which states that no website “shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another content provider.” FOSTA amended the bill so that such websites can be liable for the actions of their users. Under FOSTA, a site like Craigslist could face criminal penalties and civil actions for allowing users to post classified ads depicting child sex trafficking victims.
Supporters of the law claim that the Communications Decency Act never intended to protect websites doing business with sex traffickers. They believe that websites will think more carefully about the type of content they allow on their platforms.
Opposition to the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act
Although well-intentioned, several groups oppose FOSTA, including the American Civil Liberties Union. Many tech groups believe that the law’s broad reach could lead to unintended consequences for free speech online, particularly for smaller companies whose resources are no match for giants like Facebook and Twitter.
Sex workers also largely oppose the law as it puts them in jeopardy. They widely relied upon sites like Craigslist personals to directly communicate with and screen clients. Sex workers used the information they received through Craigslist to run background checks on potential clients and report hostile clients to their community. Now, avenues on which they depended to conduct work safely are disappearing due to FOSTA.
The government has made it a priority to crack down on child sex trafficking operations, particularly when they involve children. Any person or organization suspected of having ties to such operations may be investigated by the state or federal government.
Don’t wait until the cops come to you. If you believe you may be a suspect in a human trafficking case, the Law Office of Gabriel & Gabriel is available to help you understand the legal challenges that lie ahead. Contact our office by calling 561-622-5575 for a free criminal defense consultation.