Hours after the announcement, everything from the mere discussion of sex work to client screening and safe advertising networks began getting systematically erased from the open internet. Thousands — if not hundreds of thousands — of women, LGBTQ people, gay men, immigrants, and a significant number of people of color lost their income. Pushed out of safe online spaces and toward street corners. So were any and all victims of sex trafficking that law enforcement might've been able to find on the open internet.
The Senate has passed the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act, or SESTA, and tacked-on FOSTA (Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act), by a vote of 97–2. Lawmakers did not fact-check the bill's claims, research the religious neocons behind it, nor did they listen to constituents. Significant organizations, including the Department of Justice, ACLU, EFF, and more had assembled to object to the bill both publicly and in letters to elected officials. In the process, law professors and anti-trafficking groups, along with sex work organizations, unearthed the bill's many alarming legal, constitutional, and human rights disqualifications.
It's dubbed the "anti-trafficking" bill for the internet, but it's really an anti-sex sledgehammer. The bill removes protection for websites under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, and makes sites and services liable for hosting what it very, very loosely defines as sex trafficking and "prostitution" content. FOSTA-SESTA puts into law that sex work and sex trafficking are the same thing, and makes discussion and advertising part of the crime. Its blurry interpretation of sex and commerce, as well as the bill's illogical, incorrect conflation of sex trafficking and sex work is straight out of a bad movie.
If only the politicians who voted this Morality in Media (NCOSE) mess into law had fact-checked it with Freedom Network USA, "the largest coalition of experts and advocates providing direct services to to survivors of human trafficking in the U.S." Freedom Network unequivocally states that protecting the rights of sex workers, and not conflating them with trafficking victims, is critical to the prevention of trafficking. They also have the data to back up the fact that "more people are trafficked into labor sectors than into commercial sex."
It's already an unmitigated disaster for free speech in America. Which was, of course, predicted. The Technology and Marketing Law Blog wrote that there's no mistaking that FOSTA-SESTA violates the First Amendment; it plainly stated that "this statute implicates constitutionally protected speech."
It's unconstitutional, but the damage is already being done. Despite the fact that FOSTA-SESTA isn't even law yet -- it could take anywhere from 90 days to until 2019 to take effect -- online companies, always dangerously prudish with their algorithms, or hypocritical with their free speech rhetoric, appear to be in a rush to proverbially herd sex workers (and all us people who talk about sex for a living) out of the airlock into places where no one can hear us scream.