from the putting-people-at-risk dept
I’ve already explained how Senator Mark Warner’s “SAFE TECH Act” is an attack on the open internet. However, it goes beyond that. Over at OneZero, Cathy Reisenwitz has written a compelling op-ed explaining how the SAFE TECH Act will actually make the internet a lot less safe for many people.
In some ways, her argument builds on what we already know about the disastrous human impact of FOSTA — the last attack on Section 230 that was sold to the public as a way to “protect women and children” online. In fact, the evidence now suggests that after FOSTA sex trafficking increased and made it that much more difficult for law enforcement to find and stop sex trafficking. Some in Congress are finally realizing that FOSTA was perhaps a mistake and would like to study the impact of it.
One would hope that this is allowed to happen before Senators like Warner are allowed to ram through further changes that they don’t seem to understand.
As Reisenwitz writes, everything about the SAFE TECH Act would create more harm — again with sex workers being put at significant risk.
Like SESTA/FOSTA, the SAFE TECH Act would make it easier for those in power to stifle unpopular speech across the web. It would strip away Section 230 protections for any web service that ?has accepted payment to make the speech available.?
While many believe the law applies only to paid advertising, it?s written so broadly that it would apply to all content on any platform where money changes hands, including Substack, OnlyFans, Patreon, Bandcamp, Amazon Createspace, Kindle, Gumroad, and Medium. Perhaps most frighteningly, it would also apply to essentially all paid web hosting and even nonprofits or activist groups that sell merch or accept donations.
Warner has insisted that it won’t be worth it to sue smaller sites, but that’s just laughable. Is he just completely unaware of how often smaller sites get sued? Reisenwitz points this out:
People sue small websites all the time, for a variety of reasons, including with the express intent of shutting them up or shutting them down. After all, billionaire Peter Thiel didn?t sue Gawker because he needed the money. Other examples abound, including Vandersloot v. Mother Jones, Scherick v. Jezebel, and Scottsdale v. The Deal.
The SAFE TECH Act would just make these kinds of lawsuits easier.
She also notes how things like the #MeToo movement would likely have been impossible if the SAFE TECH Act were law when that movement first started:
Under the SAFE TECH Act, the #MeToo movement would likely have never gotten off the ground. Section 230 helps protect platforms from spurious lawsuits ? but under the SAFE TECH Act, most platforms would have to heavily moderate any posts about sexual misconduct to avoid lawsuits from rich, powerful men who want to avoid accountability.
When it comes to how Section 230 carve-outs work out in real life, SESTA-FOSTA is instructive. SESTA was supposed to fight sex trafficking by holding platforms liable for any sex trafficking that happened on their sites. But after it passed, platforms started indiscriminately booting sex workers and sex-related content.
The results were deadly.
She then goes on to detail a litany of harm, specifically to sex workers, from FOSTA:
Sex workers lost income as the sites we advertised on shut down or kicked us off. ?We watched people wind up homeless overnight,? sex trafficking survivor Meg Munoz, who founded a sex worker services organization in Southern California, told Rolling Stone of the law?s impact. As sex workers? income dwindled from losing the ability to advertise, sex workers started getting desperate and taking clients who seemed dangerous or unstable because we needed the money.
Not only could we not advertise online, but we also could no longer find, negotiate with, or vet clients in advance. SESTA-FOSTA is ?forcing me to go back the streets,? a Phoenix-area escort named Melissa told HuffPost. Street-based work is far more dangerous than indoor sex work. We also lost the ability to share safety information with each other. Clients raped and beat sex workers who lost access to bad-date lists and identity verification.
?We are having our blacklists shut down?websites where the sex worker community would post and warn other providers about dangerous clients from robbery, assault, rape, and even murder,? Los Angeles?based escort Kendall said. Outreach organizations reported a spike in missing and dead sex workers after SESTA-FOSTA.
SESTA-FOSTA is ?a death sentence for me,? said one sex worker.
?We watched people literally walk back to their pimps, knowing they had lost any bit of autonomy they had,? Munoz told Rolling Stone. ?We watched members of our community disappear.?
That’s just a snippet. The article has many more examples and links. We’ve already seen how much damage FOSTA has done, and it’s absurd that we’re now getting bills like the SAFE TECH Act, which would just exacerbate this problem. What’s really ridiculous is that, by now, people in Congress should know this, but it seems that, with Warner especially, he has decided to only listen to misleading claims from people who hate Section 230. That’s no way to make good law.