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.)
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!
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.