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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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Apr 2018 @ 9:41am

    There's always Secure Scuttlebutt.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Apr 2018 @ 9:46am

    This news came out just in time to pick up my weekly sex worker this evening so I can explain to her how to use Tor while she tells what a bad boy I've been.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. icon
    hij (profile), 20 Apr 2018 @ 9:50am

    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 do not.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Apr 2018 @ 9:59am

    Re:

    Just tell her to start using facebook... the sooner facebook is shutdown with this law, the better.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Apr 2018 @ 10:00am

    Re:

    Of course they don't want sex workers exercising their free speech. They might start talking more publicly about all the congressmen and other government employees they're banging. We certainly can't have that sort of free speech going on.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Paul Brinker, 20 Apr 2018 @ 10:28am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Apr 2018 @ 10:35am

    Re: Congressman cant be friends with stripper

    I don't think you can back that statement up. Just because the law is bad doesn't mean it does all that.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. icon
    btr1701 (profile), 20 Apr 2018 @ 10:41am

    Overseas

    Seems like these sex workers need to move their site to an ISP outside the U.S.

    FOSTA and SESTA don't apply in Belize, yet we all have access to internet sites hosted in Belize.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Fred, 20 Apr 2018 @ 10:46am

    switter.at is not down

    cloudflare is just a cdn

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Apr 2018 @ 10:47am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Paul Brinker, 20 Apr 2018 @ 10:54am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. icon
    NeghVar (profile), 20 Apr 2018 @ 10:56am

    Dark Web

    If they want any chance of maintaining a site for themselves, they will need to use the dark web.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Paul Brinker, 20 Apr 2018 @ 11:01am

    Re: switter.at is not down

    Cloudflare is just the start, if the CDN shuts down, then DNS servers may shut down, then the web-server hosts, then the ISPs if you self host.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. icon
    ECA (profile), 20 Apr 2018 @ 11:36am

    sTING OPERATION READY..

    We go out, and talk to each of the congress and reps..
    About Fosta/sesta..
    then we get them to say 1 word, Prostitution..
    Then we arrest them.. Put them in jail until they goto court, and can explain WHY, they were arrested..

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    JEDIDIAH, 20 Apr 2018 @ 11:48am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    JEDIDIAH, 20 Apr 2018 @ 11:49am

    Re: Overseas

    Why something like this is not already hosted in Australia or the Netherlands is a bit of a mystery really.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. icon
    NeghVar (profile), 20 Apr 2018 @ 11:59am

    Re: Re: Overseas

    The Czech Republic would be a good choice. They have a very liberal culture when it comes to sexuality.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. icon
    Ninja (profile), 20 Apr 2018 @ 12:24pm

    And that because they clearly stated what was the purpose of the service. Not a chance for defense.

    Hope it's dumped on Constitutional grounds as soon as possible.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Apr 2018 @ 12:30pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. icon
    Phoenix84 (profile), 20 Apr 2018 @ 12:33pm

    Re: Don't be so coy.

    The thing is, it's not illegal everywhere.
    Bunny Ranch is one that comes to mind.

    As to the article's question:
    They would sooner see sex workers vanish (they don't care how), then help them in any way whatsoever. Even if that means they die.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Apr 2018 @ 1:04pm

    "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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Apr 2018 @ 1:15pm

    Re: Re: Don't be so coy.

    No, sex work is not illegal. Ever been to Vegas?

    Yeah, and a lot of that stuff being advertised is illegal in Clark County (which contains both Paradise NV, commonly called "Las Vegas", as well as Las Vegas).

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Apr 2018 @ 1:53pm

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

    And a lot of it is not. Your point is?

    Escort services are considered by many to be sex work, even though they do not generally involve sex. This is completely legal in the US. Also porn, strippers, etc...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. identicon
    Personanongrata, 20 Apr 2018 @ 2:14pm

    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

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25. identicon
    Thad, 20 Apr 2018 @ 2:14pm

    Re: Overseas

    Hosting is really only one part of the chain in maintaining a website.

    While it's true that foreign DNS registration, hosting, and CDN provision could prevent the FBI from shutting the site down, it wouldn't prevent them from arresting the site owners on US soil.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26. identicon
    Thad, 20 Apr 2018 @ 2:19pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27. icon
    Ryunosuke (profile), 20 Apr 2018 @ 3:29pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28. icon
    ECA (profile), 20 Apr 2018 @ 8:09pm

    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..

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29. icon
    Chas (profile), 20 Apr 2018 @ 11:20pm

    Results of these laws. . .

    1. Sex sites will soon all be hosted outside of the US. it's already started, e.g. Red Umbrella. Eventually, tho, the puritans will go after the ISPs.

    2. TOR, VPNs and the Dark Web will become de rigueur.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30. icon
    Chas (profile), 20 Apr 2018 @ 11:21pm

    You

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31. icon
    Chas (profile), 20 Apr 2018 @ 11:46pm

    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

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Apr 2018 @ 11:56pm

    Re: You People . . .

    What site were you reading before this law was passed, as it could not have been this one?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Apr 2018 @ 5:54am

    Freedom and Democracy died along a time ago..........

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Apr 2018 @ 6:05am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35. identicon
    Anonymous Cowherd, 21 Apr 2018 @ 8:34am

    Supporters of "do something" laws rarely care about the effect of said laws one way or another. What matters to them is that "something" is being done.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36. icon
    That One Guy (profile), 22 Apr 2018 @ 6:59am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  37. icon
    PaulT (profile), 23 Apr 2018 @ 1:11am

    Re: Re: 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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  38. identicon
    Wendy Cockcroft, 23 Apr 2018 @ 5:49am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  39. identicon
    Wendy Cockcroft, 23 Apr 2018 @ 5:53am

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

    I can't help thinking that's the idea, Pal. 'Nuff hypocritical politicians have been caught with their knickers down, after all.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  40. identicon
    Wendy Cockcroft, 23 Apr 2018 @ 5:53am

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

    *Paul.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  41. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Apr 2018 @ 7:20am

    Re: Re: Overseas, it does not matter.

    The place's own regulations do not matter anymore: DOJ could always attempt an extradition. Since this is, outwardly, a law aimed at human trafficking, it may be a very hard to defend against it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  42. identicon
    Thad, 23 Apr 2018 @ 10:08am

    Re: You

    No, you!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  43. identicon
    Thad, 23 Apr 2018 @ 10:08am

    Re: You People . . .

    What do you mean, "you people"?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  44. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Apr 2018 @ 7:35am

    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

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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