The bill passed today 388-25 by the U.S. House of Representatives marks an unprecedented push towards Internet censorship, and does nothing to fight sex traffickers.
H.R. 1865, the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA), allows for private lawsuits and criminal prosecutions against Internet platforms and websites, based on the actions of their users. Facing huge new liabilities, the law will undoubtedly lead to platforms policing more user speech.
The Internet we know today is possible only because of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which prevents online platforms from being held liable for their users’ speech, except in certain circumstances. FOSTA would punch a major hole in Section 230, enabling lawsuits and prosecutions against online platforms—including ones that aren’t even aware that sex trafficking is taking place.
If websites can be sued or prosecuted because of user actions, it creates extreme incentives. Some online services might react by prescreening or filtering user posts. Others might get sued out of existence. New companies, fearing FOSTA liabilities, may not start up in the first place.
The tragedy is that FOSTA isn’t needed to prosecute or sue sex traffickers. As we’ve said before, Section 230 simply isn’t broken. Right now, there is nothing preventing federal prosecution of an Internet company that knowingly aids in sex trafficking. That includes anyone hosting advertisements for sex trafficking, which is explicitly a federal crime under 18 U.S.C. § 1591, as amended by the 2015 SAVE Act. The website that produced the most discussion around this issue, Backpage.com, is reportedly under federal investigation.
Our 1st and 2nd amendment are under full scale attack.
On the upside, this could sink FB