President Donald Trump signed a terrifying and deeply destructive bill on Wednesday that purports to protect sex trafficking victims, but that endangers sex workers’ safety and threatens free speech online.
The law, the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA), broadly holds online platforms responsible for any content determined to be related to sex trafficking. Sex worker advocates and internet freedom activists have warned that it will result in sweeping censorship, as well as shut down online platforms where sex workers advertise and vet clients from the safety of their own homes.
The law—a combination of a Senate bill, Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA), and a House bill, FOSTA—has already resulted in considerable self-censorship, even before becoming law today. In anticipation of the bill’s signing, Craigslist closed its personals section, and Reddit shuttered several sex work-related subreddits. Additionally, Google Drive reportedly began deleting explicit content, and Microsoft changed it’s terms-of-service to ban “inappropriate content.”
The bill has also contributed to a hostile political climate that has led sex worker advocacy organizations to reconsider whether it’s legally safe to continue offering harm-reduction services. Amid all this, Backpage, a popular venue for sex workers to advertise, was seized and shut down by the Department of Justice.
Sex workers have been reeling as they see popular online ad venues and resources for vetting clients taken away overnight. Now, with the bill actually becoming law, we’re about to see its disastrous impact in full force.