Sex Workers Set Up Their Own Social Network In Response To FOSTA/SESTA; And Now It's Been Shut Down Due To FOSTA/SESTA

from the censorship-at-work dept

Just a few weeks ago we wrote about how a group of sex workers, in response to the passing of FOSTA/SESTA, had set up their own social network, called Switter, which was a Mastodon instance. As we noted in our post, doing so was unlikely to solve any of the problems of FOSTA/SESTA, because it’s perhaps even more likely that Switter itself would become a target of FOSTA/SESTA (remember, with FOSTA, the targeting goes beyond “sex trafficking” to all prostitution).

And, indeed, it appears I was not the only one to think so. The organization that created Switter, Assembly Four, put up a note saying that Cloudflare had shut down Switter claiming the site was in violation of its terms of service.

Cloudflare has been made aware that your site is in violation of our published Terms of Service. Pursuant to our published policy, Cloudflare will terminate service to your website.

Cloudflare will terminate your service for switter{.}at by disabling our authoritative DNS.

Assembly Four asked Cloudflare to clarify just what term it had violated and the company has now come out and noted that it reluctantly pulled the plug on Switter out of a fear that it would create criminal liability for Cloudflare under FOSTA/SESTA. Cloudflare was among the companies who lobbied against the bill, and they note that they disagree with the way the bill was drafted — but given the nature of the law, the company feels compelled to take this action:

?[Terminating service to Switter] is related to our attempts to understand FOSTA, which is a very bad law and a very dangerous precedent,? he told me in a phone conversation. ?We have been traditionally very open about what we do and our roles as an internet infrastructure company, and the steps we take to both comply with the law and our legal obligations?but also provide security and protection, let the internet flourish and support our goals of building a better internet.?

Remember, this was a site for sex workers to communicate with each other. It was purely a platform for speech. And it’s being shut down because of fears from the vague and poorly drafted FOSTA/SESTA bill. In other words, yet more confirmation that just as free speech experts predicted, FOSTA/SESTA would lead to outright suppression of speech.

I’ve seen some complaints on Twitter that Cloudflare should have stood up for Switter and not done this. I don’t think that’s reasonable. The penalties under FOSTA/SESTA are not just fines. It’s a criminal statute. It’s one thing to take a stand when you’re facing monetary damages or something of that nature. It’s something altogether different when you’re asking a company to stand up to criminal charges based on a law that is incredibly vague and broad, and for which there is no caselaw. Yes, it would be nice to have some companies push back and potentially help to invalidate the law as unconstitutional, but you can’t demand that of every company.

I am curious, though, how supporters of FOSTA/SESTA react to this. Do they not care that sex workers want to be able to communicate? Do they not care that social networks are being shut down over this? Do they not care about speech being suppressed?

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Companies: cloudflare, switter

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Comments on “Sex Workers Set Up Their Own Social Network In Response To FOSTA/SESTA; And Now It's Been Shut Down Due To FOSTA/SESTA”

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44 Comments
JEDIDIAH says:

Re: Re: Don't be so coy.

The simple fact of the matter is that sex work is illegal. That puts it in the same category as street drugs and wet work. Regardless of your stance on whether any of those should be illegal, it is perfectly consistent to discourage conspiring to do those things.

Speech as a sacred cow is triggered by political speech you hate by people you would like to see silenced. Trying to conspire about or sell stuff that’s illegal not so much.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Don't be so coy.

No, sex work is not illegal. Ever been to Vegas? Certain kinds of sex work are illegal, and some states have varying statutes on what is legal or not, but overall, no, it’s not illegal.

Perhaps you are confusing sex work with human sex trafficking? That is illegal. Full stop. Paying cash to have sex with a consenting adult is not.

Regardless of that fact, this law does not do anything to discourage conspiring to do those things. Conspiring to do illegal acts was already illegal without FOSTA/SESTA. What it does do is open up innocent websites to a lot of collateral damage. For instance, an anonymous commenter could post an illegal ad in the comments here on TD and regardless of the fact that TD is not conspiring or encouraging those acts, they could get fined and shut down under this idiotic law. All because someone else did something wrong, not TD.

Thad (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re: Don't be so coy.

The simple fact of the matter is that sex work is illegal. That puts it in the same category as street drugs and wet work.

Sure, if the only two categories are "legal" and "not legal".

It seems to me that you’re the one who’s being coy. Do you really believe that prostitution should be as high a priority for law enforcement as murder for hire? You’re either being disingenuous or there’s something seriously wrong with your priorities.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Don't be so coy.

There’s also the point that not everybody working in that industry is doing so willingly. I don’t often hear of people being forced against their will to peddle street drugs, but denying sex workers a voice where they may themselves be the actual victims of the crimes being committed is not a good thing. Part of the problem with such things being illegal is that abuse (and worse) is encouraged and the victims have nowhere to turn because in seeking help they have to confess to a felony (in the areas where it’s not legal, anyway).

Also, the fact is that we do want these things out in the open. It may distasteful, but having open forums that can be monitored by authorities to deal with illegal behaviour is far more desirable than forcing everything underground. The only effect of these rules is to make investigation more difficult.

Paul Brinker (profile) says:

Congressman cant be friends with stripper

I recall a case where a congressman was attacked for simply being Facebook friends with a stripper. He had to point out (quite clearly) that he represented everyone from his area, including the woman in question.

This law is written so badly, that the fact that shes a stripper could be used to shut down a congressman representing her. Its likely that now a days his staff would refuse to even talk to her over the internet.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Congressman cant be friends with stripper

The point is, the law doesn’t have to do all that: it’s so overly broad and vague and yet carries such ham-fisted penalties that people and organizations are falling all over themselves to self-censor. Because nobody wants to be the first one to discover that it DOES apply to their specific situation. Nobody wants to be the test case on a human trafficking law.

Paul Brinker (profile) says:

Re: Re: Congressman cant be friends with stripper

Non John seeking sites are shutting down. (aka places for workers to talk to each other).

Congressmen are always under attack for even thinking of taking to people who work in sex industries like my vary example above. So if you think a rival would not use a law like this in an attempt to gain advantage, then your just silly.

So yes, Facebook groups for sex workers rights are going to get shut down, and local politicians are going to guard themselves to discussion on the topic. Facebook might even be proactive and shut things down for them and not even deliver messages.

So yes, the situation is that bad. The law chills free speech.

Anonymous Coward says:

“I am curious, though, how supporters of FOSTA/SESTA react to this. Do they not care that sex workers want to be able to communicate? Do they not care that social networks are being shut down over this? Do they not care about speech being suppressed?”

No. They have neither the compassion nor the intelligence required to care. This is not an unintended consequence of FOSTA/SESTA either; this is exactly what they wanted to have happen.

ECA (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Lets ask..
How many Drug convictions could be Dropped if the person went to rehab, and the STATE PAID IT..

Over 40k per person, per year IN JAIL..
3=5 years in Jail?? Allot of money..
Pay a few Psych to Evaluate and Discuss their past, and BE AROUND to help them,…..LESS??

WHY HELP people when we can put them all in jail??
Why put them in Jail IF’ we can HIDE IT FROM BEING SEEN?? And take a CUT off the top, to keep the COPS AWAY..

Personanongrata says:

Moral Busybodies, Robber Barrons and Tyrants*

Do they not care that sex workers want to be able to communicate? Do they not care that social networks are being shut down over this? Do they not care about speech being suppressed?

Is it not apparent?

The supporters of FOSTA/SESTA only care about control.

They want to control with whom we may or may not communicate.

They want to control which people we may or may not interact, even in the most intimate/personal settings.

It is for our own good.

As CS Lewis so poignantly/presciently wrote in God in the Dock:

*
“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

https://just84465.weebly.com/uploads/5/0/5/9/50596861/god_in_the_dock.pdf

Ryunosuke (profile) says:

the problem is that there is not FEDERAL law against prostitution, hell, MOST Jurisdictions do not have a law against prostitution per se, they cloak it in laws like solicitation and such. And they cannot pass a Federal Prostitution law iirc, because it is an enumerated power reserved for the states, see: Nevada.

Now they because they cannot pass a Federal Prostitution law, they cloak it in catch phrases like “Human Trafficking.” Because we all can agree that Human Trafficking, Actual Human Trafficking, is deplorable, while the consensual act among two law abiding adults is very much less deplorable.

Chas (profile) says:

You People . . .

REALLY PISS ME OFF! If these laws are so evil (& they are), why in the hell did you wait ’till AFTER to jump up and down like whiney shits?!

If its that fucking important, get in front of it, fight it from the start, or spare the rest of us.

The people truly to blame are yourselves. the FOSTA/SESTA people didn’t just appear recently. These types have been around always and always will

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: You People . . .

You must be new. Mike has been hammering on FOSTA/SESTA since the beginning. In fact, if you look on “Filed Under” and click on the “sesta” tag you’ll see the countless articles published on the topic dating back to when the law was first drafted.

Do some research next time please.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Welcome

First of all, welcome to Techdirt. Based upon your comment it’s clear you’ve only just arrived, so welcome to the site.

The site has many, many articles, spanning a good many years and covering a great many topics, but two categories in particular seem like they’d be right up your alley, so in the interest of providing a warm welcome I figure I’ll save you the effort of hunting them down and provide a pair of links that will in turn provide you with hours of reading material.

Fosta stories at Techdirt

Sesta stories at Techdirt

Again, welcome to the site and may you find many an hour reading the articles and then getting involved with the TD community via commenting to be enjoyable.

Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

Don't They Care?

I am curious, though, how supporters of FOSTA/SESTA react to this. Do they not care that sex workers want to be able to communicate? Do they not care that social networks are being shut down over this? Do they not care about speech being suppressed?

These people are Being Seen To Be Doing Something, which for them is more important than actually making a difference. It’s a demand-side issue as demonstrated by the lack of SOPA-style resistance. People will be sure to start caring when it becomes their business, which will be when they fall foul of this law.

Till then, alas, it’s business as usual. As for sex workers communicating, one of the things these people are Being Seen To Be Doing is making the icky sex trade go away, at least where we can see it. That is really what it’s about: keeping up appearances.

It’s a shame, but until it becomes the problem of a quorum of website owners and users stories like this will continue to arise, freedom of speech be damned. Is it me or does this smack of an Al Capone-style takedown, where they couldn’t get him for racketeering, etc., so they went after him over tax evasion? I’m convinced this is about the Religious Right trying to enforce their ideas of morality on the rest of us. Okay, fine, but creating the power to muzzle individuals and groups over notions of morality is proving problematic now.

Anonymous Coward says:

going underground

The further underground sex workers are driven the more at risk they are.
I’m sure some of the people behind those laws are quite happy about that as they do not seem able to appreciate that anyone could do sex work voluntarily…
Even though it has advantages such as flexible hours, well above minimum wage rates etc.
The drawback for the worker) as always risk of injuries / disease / death in worst case from customers, easy spreading the word of who to avoid made avoiding some dangerous customers an option, as communication methods get SESTAed then it is harder to disseminate profiles of suspect clients amongst the workers and so risk rises

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