Politicians Who Said SESTA Was Needed To Takedown Backpage Claim Victory Over Backpage Takedown… Without SESTA
from the say-what-now? dept
From the very beginning of SESTA and FOSTA, its backers kept insisting that the bill was necessary to takedown Backpage.com. Indeed, Senator Rob Portman, in announcing SESTA, entitled his press release “Senators Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Hold Backpage Accountable.” And he’s spent the past six months pointing to Backpage as the reason we absolutely needed SESTA. At launch, his quote was the following:
For too long, courts around the country have ruled that Backpage can continue to facilitate illegal sex trafficking online with no repercussions. The Communications Decency Act is a well-intentioned law, but it was never intended to help protect sex traffickers who prey on the most innocent and vulnerable among us.
Except, as we pointed out multiple times, that’s not at all what courts have said. What they’ve said is that CDA 230 immunizes the site from certain types of liability. But as two recent courts — not to mention the DOJ shutting down Backpage on Friday — have made clear, nothing in CDA 230 immunizes Backpage from illegal activity that it directly engaged in.
So you’d think that maybe, just maybe, Senator Portman would recognize that SESTA was a giant unnecessary boondoggle that puts a ton of people and speech at risk. But, nope. Instead, he’s released a statement praising the action and pretending that SESTA will “hold online sex traffickers accountable.”
?I?m pleased that Congress has taken additional steps by passing my SESTA legislation to let sex trafficking victims seek justice and allow state and local law enforcement to swiftly prosecute websites that violate federal sex trafficking laws. This bipartisan measure will make it easier to hold online sex traffickers accountable, and I look forward to seeing President Trump sign this bill into law next week.?
Except not a single thing in SESTA holds online sex traffickers accountable. Indeed, it does the exact opposite of that, in that it makes it that much more difficult for law enforcement to track down actual sex traffickers. Prior to SESTA, websites (including Backpage) frequently worked with law enforcement to help them track down those using their platforms for illegal activity. Under SESTA, no site will be willing to assist law enforcement in such a manner, because doing so will provide evidence of “knowledge” and thus, potentially, criminal liability. This sweeps the problem of sex trafficking under the rug, which might make Senator Portman feel better, but does nothing to tackle the actual problem, and makes it that much more difficult to find and prosecute actual traffickers, let alone find and rescue victims held against their will.
Still, at least Senator Portman acknowledges that SESTA/FOSTA has not been signed into law yet. That basic fact apparently escaped Representative Mimi Walters, who provided the amendment that attached SESTA to FOSTA in the House. She actually took to Twitter to claim that Backpage was shut down because of her amendment:
That’s pretty incredible, considering her bill hasn’t been signed into law yet. You would think that a Representative would know that her own bill wasn’t a law yet, wouldn’t you? Or does Congress not work that way? Anyway, SESTA/FOSTA is not the law yet, and it clearly wasn’t used to take down Backpage. And, of course, what was Rep. Walters’ reason for pushing SESTA in the first place? The need to take down Backpage. So, not only is she not admitting that her law (which she said was necessary) was not, in fact, necessary, she’s now living in a fantasy world where her law must have helped, despite it not yet being a law.
Can we elect better people to Congress please?
Then we have Senator John McCain. His wife has been at the forefront of the anti-Backpage campaign for many years. Indeed, many people I spoke to on Capitol Hill said that it was John and Cindy McCain’s support for SESTA that made the bill viable in the first place. So it’s no surprise that Cindy McCain was quick to tell the media how good the seizure is, calling it a “good day.” And then the Senator put out the following statement celebrating the takedown, but oddly insisting it proves why SESTA was needed.
The seizure of the malicious sex marketplace Backpage.com marks an important step forward in the fight against human trafficking. This builds on the historic effort in Congress to reform the law that for too long has protected websites like Backpage from being held liable for enabling the sale of young women and children. Today?s action sends a strong message to Backpage and any other company facilitating online sex trafficking that they will be held accountable for these horrific crimes.
But, considering that Backpage was taken down prior to SESTA becoming law, how can McCain honestly claim that the law protected Backpage from being held liable? It did not. It only protected them from liability for actions of third parties. It has never protected the site from liability for its own actions. And the takedown on Friday proved that. So it’s quite bizarre for McCain to pretend otherwise.
Either way, all of this is yet more evidence that SESTA was never truly about going after Backpage. That was all just a convenient excuse to gut Section 230 of the CDA and pave the way for changing some of the fundamental open parts of the internet, closing them off and putting up more and more gatekeepers. That those who supported SESTA and insisted it was necessary to take down Backpage are now pretending otherwise just underlines that fact.