SESTA, FOSTA, And How To Make Sense Of The Acronym Soup
from the You-say-potato,-I-say-we-should-have-called-the-whole-thing-off dept
Here at Techdirt we’ve been slow to switch: so dug in were we for so long against the legislative scourge known as SESTA that we’ve been reluctant to call it anything else. Even after its ghastly provisions became law ? in some ways, because its ghastly provisions became law ? we’ve been reluctant to change what we called this vehicle of censoring doom. After all, we said for months that SESTA would be awful, and now here it is, being awful. If we called it something else people might be confused about what we had been complaining about.
The problem is, it’s not technically correct to continue to call this legislative outrage SESTA, and doing so threatens to create its own confusion. SESTA didn’t become law; FOSTA did. When we react to those legislative changes, and cite to their source, we are citing to the bill called FOSTA, not the bill called SESTA. SESTA itself no longer exists in legislative form ? FOSTA’s enactment mooted it ? and it’s confusing to complain about a law that isn’t actually one, or ever going to be one, because even if you can convince someone that it’s terrible, they’ll never be able to find in any law book what it is they should be upset about.
It’s FOSTA that now haunts us from the U.S. Code. But what’s confusing is that while FOSTA is the enacted legislation now hurting us, SESTA was the proposed bill we had warned would. All the legislative history is with SESTA (well, most of it anyway), but all the legislative power is with FOSTA.
So what happened? What’s up with the two names? Why the shift? Basically this:
SESTA was a terrible bill proposing to gut Section 230 that had been rumbling around the Senate for a while. There were some hearings and proposed amendments, but by and large it remained a bill full of terrible, Internet-ruining proposals. Eventually, when it looked like it might be picking up enough steam to pass, an alternate bill got floated in the House: FOSTA. It still played SESTA’s game, but it did so with different language that presumably would have resulted in something less Internet-ruining.
For what it’s worth, not everyone thought this was a great strategy. Some thought that it would be better to do nothing but try to nip the whole idea behind SESTA in the bud, but others thought it might be better to go with a “devil you know” strategy if passage of something seemed inevitable, because then hopefully it could at least be something a little less awful.
FOSTA was still pretty bad, although it had some hearings and amendments to try to make it less so. But then, all of a sudden, the legislative sausage-making machine went berserk and spit out something even worse. The result was a Frankenstein monster of a bill, still called FOSTA, which combined the worst of its own proposals with the worst of the SESTA bill percolating in the Senate. This new FOSTA bill soon passed the House, and shortly thereafter it’s the bill that passed the Senate. Notably it was not the original SESTA bill that the Senate voted on, because if the Senate had tried to pass anything different from what the House had passed the reconciliation process between the two bills might have delayed the ultimate passage of either. Perhaps that delay would have spared us this horror, but such a fate was not something the law’s Internet-undermining champions wanted to risk.
So here we are, stuck with this garbage on the books, legislation so awful it can’t even be labeled coherently. But giving name to something always makes it easier to fight. So from here on out, we’ll be calling it FOSTA.