In early April, Donald Trump signed a controversial law that creates higher standards and penalties for websites that are “facilitators” of prostitution. In addition to being removed from the internet, those responsible for managing such services can be sentenced to up to 25 years in prison.
In an attempt to combat sex trafficking, the US Congress passed two legislative packages, SESTA and FOSTA. However, representatives of the sex industry have already pointed out that such measures can encourage what they try to combat, leading these practices into clandestinity. In addition, the laws are very vague in their design, so they can also achieve legitimate discussion and publication services, which end up being used for spicy purposes by its users.
The SESTA and FOSTA acts modify a session of a set of laws passed in 1996, the “Communications Decency Act”. One of its main points is what exempts the directors of communication services from the responsibility for the content published by the users. Such a point remains valid, except when the issue in question is the facilitation of prostitution.
With the new laws, the government can hold managers accountable for the misuse of online personals and withdraw services from the air altogether. That’s the justification used by Reddit and Craigslist, to remove the personals section. For example, Reddit said they did not want to see the integrity of the platform threatened when user unlawfully uses online personals for criminal acts, such as prostitution. In a statement, the social network demonstrated a veiled criticism of the actions but demonstrated that it had no choice but to meet US government standards.
One of the major concerns of adult industry workers is that as a result of these laws their work becomes less and less secure. In an article on the topic, Wired reported that VerifyHim, the tool that helps sex workers avoid abusive clients and describes itself “the biggest dating blacklist database on earth,” also said that it is “working to change the direction of the site.” Kate D’Adamo, a partner with the Reframe Health and Justice, says VerifyHim has been a particularly vital safety and screening mechanism for sex workers.
Another platform to stand against the law was Cloudflare, which shut down its content delivery network services to an alternative and decentralized social media platform called Switter. Based in Australia and developed by the Assembly Four organization, Switter has hosted thousands of sex workers and their fans and clients after they were expelled or preemptively banned from their own Internet platforms because of FOSTA.