SESTA / FOSTA and Sex Work

I oppose SESTA / FOSTA. For the past five years, I’ve worked for the world’s leading digital civil liberties organization, the Electronic Frontier Foundation. EFF led the resistance to the bills before they became law and continues to challenge them in the courts. Importantly, the bills undermined both Internet freedom, as well as the safety and independence of sex workers. Highlighting the intersection of those interests will be crucial to reversing the dangerous trend they represent.

SESTA & FOSTA carved gaping exceptions in the protections of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which is a critical pillar on which the contemporary Internet rests. It provides immunity from liability based on third-party (user) generated content, enabling platforms to publish controversial speech without suffering legal risks. If that immunity is rescinded—as SESTA & FOSTA did in particular contexts—platforms will be forced to police user-generated content, which will ultimately lead to censorship.

This is not a hypothetical fear. Organizers of groups such as BAWS and SWOP have explained that Backpage going offline, which coincides with SESTA & FOSTA becoming law, has led to a resurgence of traditional pimping and has ultimately only undermined the very women that SESTA & FOSTA purported to support.

Previously, users of forums like Backpage were able to leverage those platforms to stay safe by examining clients before meeting them in often vulnerable situations. In the wake of those platforms predictably forcing them offline in response to threats of potential liability, those workers have been placed at greater risk. People have endured—and been killed by—violence targeting sex workers that could have been prevented if sex workers enjoyed free speech online.

Support decriminalization of sex work