By Elliot Harmon
Electronic Frontier Foundation (3/8/18)
The U.S. Senate is about to vote on a bill that would be disastrous for online speech and communities.
The Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA, H.R. 1865) might sound appealing, but it would do nothing to fight sex traffickers. What it would do is silence a lot of legitimate speech online, shutting some voices out of online spaces.
This dangerous bill has already passed the House of Representatives, and it’s expected to come up for a Senate vote in the next few days. If you care about preserving the Internet as a place where everyone can gather, learn, and share ideas—even controversial ones—it’s time to call your senators.
The version of FOSTA that’s passed the House is actually a Frankenstein combination of two different bills, an earlier version of FOSTA and a bill called the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA).
How would one bill do so much damage to communities online? Simple: it would scare online platforms into censoring their users.
Online platforms are enabled by a law referred to as Section 230. Section 230 protects online platforms from liability for some types of speech by their users. Without Section 230, social media would not exist in its current form, and neither would the plethora of nonprofit and community-based online groups that serve as crucial outlets for free expression and knowledge sharing.
If Congress undermined these important protections by passing SESTA/FOSTA, many online platforms would be forced to place strong restrictions on their users’ speech, censoring a lot of people in the process. And as we’ve discussed before, when platforms clamp down on their users’ speech, marginalized voices are disproportionately silenced.
Censorship is not the solution to sex trafficking. This is our last chance: call your senators now and urge them to oppose SESTA/FOSTA.