Sex Workers Fighting Back Against SESTA/FOSTA With Their Own Social Network... And Plan To Expose Politicians

from the don't-fuck-with-sex-workers dept

One of the most vocal groups in opposition to SESTA/FOSTA were sex workers, who spoke out about how the bills would put their lives at risk and how it would put the lives of trafficking victims at risk, often making it more difficult for victims to find information on how to get help or to protect themselves. Indeed, there are already reports of information sites shutting down entirely. But it's also interesting to see that sex workers are continuing to fight this -- including reports of a Google Doc making the rounds where sex workers can expose members of Congress who have used their services:

Of course, who knows how accurate such a list would ever be, but it will be interesting to watch if we suddenly learn of elected officials who voted for SESTA/FOSTA suddenly being outed for making use of sex workers. I mean, it certainly wouldn't be the first time an elected official claiming to crack down on sex work was found to have been making use of the services he was moralizing against.

Perhaps more interesting, though, is that a group of sex workers have apparently attempted to set up their own social network, called Switter. It's a Mastodon Instance (Mastodon being the fairly well known open source decentralized social networking platform that allows anyone to set up an individual "instance" which can then choose -- or choose not -- to federate with other Mastodon instances). The stated reasons for Switter are to prepare for the possibility of Twitter banning accounts of sex workers and to have more control over their social media space. As I write this, the site claims to have about 12,000 signed up users.

Of course, I'm not sure that this actually solves any of the problems of SESTA/FOSTA -- and, indeed, this may put a target on the backs of those who set up Switter. Depending on how one reads the law (and, again, part of the problem is that SESTA/FOSTA's drafting is terrible, with lots of vague terminology and little clarification), it's possible that prosecutors could argue that Switter itself violates SESTA/FOSTA. I mean, here's a key provision in the bill:

Whoever, using a facility or means of interstate or foreign commerce or in or affecting interstate or foreign commerce, owns, manages, or operates an interactive computer service (as such term is defined in defined in section 230(f) the Communications Act of 1934 (47 U.S.C. 230(f))), or conspires or attempts to do so, with the intent to promote or facilitate the prostitution of another person shall be fined under this title, imprisoned for not more than 10 years, or both.

Is Switter "promoting or facilitating the prostitution of another person"? You can see how a prosecutor could make an argument that it is. And while the site is apparently based in Australia, giving it potentially some protection from US laws, the US government isn't exactly known for caring about such jurisdictional issues. Of course, if cases were brought against the people running Switter, you would think they would potentially have pretty strong First Amendment arguments for why SESTA/FOSTA is unconstitutional. If they were just setting up a community around sex work, and suddenly faced liability, there are some clear implications for freedom of expression -- once again, highlighting some of the many constitutional concerns of SESTA/FOSTA that its drafters and supporters still refuse to take seriously.

Filed Under: fosta, sesta, sex workers, social networks, speech, switter

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  1. identicon
    techie, 5 Apr 2018 @ 1:04am

    Re: Austria, not Australia

    These rules don't apply on the domain name.
    Only Switter and Cloudflare could tell you where their server is located at. (behind Cloudflare)
    But as servers are pretty expensive in AU (AT as well), it will probably be in Europe. (France/Germany maybe)

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