Craigslist Wiped Its Personal Ads in Response to Sweeping Anti-Trafficking Bill

Illustration for article titled Craigslist Wiped Its Personal Ads in Response to Sweeping Anti-Trafficking Bill
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Craigslist personals are gone. No more “w4m” or “m4m” or even “strictly platonic.” This famous little corner of the internet shut down in response to the Senate voting to pass the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA), a law ostensibly meant to prevent sex trafficking but that puts sex workers in danger and, as we’re now seeing, curtails free speech online. (The House version of the bill, the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA), passed in February.)

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On Thursday, Craigslist began serving visitors to all of its seven different personals sections with a notice announcing the closure. It reads:

US Congress just passed HR 1865, “FOSTA”, seeking to subject websites to criminal and civil liability when third parties (users) misuse online personals unlawfully.

Any tool or service can be misused. We can’t take such risk without jeopardizing all our other services, so we are regretfully taking craigslist personals offline. Hopefully we can bring them back some day.

To the millions of spouses, partners, and couples who met through craigslist, we wish you every happiness!

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Craigslist already closed its adult services section back in 2010 following pressure from state attorneys general around alleged sex trafficking ads.

SESTA, which is expected to be signed into law by the president, amends federal law to criminalize websites if they assist or facilitate sex trafficking. The law amends Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act—which protects online platforms from liability for third-party content—in other words, it gives Twitter and Facebook immunity for your tweets and status updates. SESTA, however, allows for websites to be held liable for hosting content related to sex trafficking.

But filtering out anything possibly related to sex trafficking is an enormous undertaking. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit digital rights organization, has warned that this bill is likely to force websites to use automated filters that tend to flatten distinctions between things like sex trafficking and consensual sex work. That’s part of why sex worker advocates stand in opposition to SESTA. The bill could eliminate not only sex workers’ online advertising platforms, but also online resources for sharing vital health tips, like around safer sex practices and swapping information about dangerous clients.

Sex workers and advocates for a free and open internet warned that SESTA would have sweeping consequences. What just happened at Craigslist is a preview of what’s to come if the president signs this bill.

Senior Staff Writer, Jezebel

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DISCUSSION

I would very much like to have a clear answer to the following: if the argument is that it is too difficult to isolate sex trafficking activities from other consensual sex work, is it Jezebel’s position that therefore we preference consensual sex work over victims of online sexual trafficking? Because, to be really blunt, I have read all of the articles on this and I have to find one that makes any suggestion whatsoever as to how a bill could be drafted that would address online sex trafficking. It seems to me that the repeated position expressed is that it is not possible to do in light of how user content is currently monitored (or not) on the web and therefore nothing realistically can be done. I also have to point out that the repeated failure to acknowledge- not as an aside and without immediately ‘whataboutism-ing’ the entire topic- the real harm from sex trafficking.

The insistence that sex workers not be ignored is frankly jarring in the way that the reality of sex trafficking, statistics about its prevalence, what happens to these victims, difficulties and challenges in locating them and prosecuting when trafficking is done online, etc. seems to be completely erased- yes ignored, irony, I know - in these articles.

Jezebel’s treatment of this topic is in my view extremely dismissive and outright disrespectful to victims of sex trafficking and the their families. Please stop operating in a binary victim approach. Acknowledge sex trafficking victims. Stop changing the subject to only about sex workers.