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Protect the open web today

The US Senate is working on S.1693 SESTA — the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act. This bill would repeal section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA230).

CDA230 is the reason we have user shared content on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and many other sites. It is also what protects the comment sections of our site and all others on the Internet. CDA230 says that Internet sites are not legally liable for user posted content or comments. It does encourage sites to moderate themselves (and that does happen, if only to deal with comment spam) and takedown “bad” content and there is no increase in legal liability if sites do so or do not do so.

SESTA would upend those rules by making sites liable for the what users post on them or how they use the service. It would allow sites to be sued or even face criminal charges for facilitating, a vague term, sex trafficking. As Techdirt writes:

But the broadest of all is the term “facilitating.” That covers basically anything. That’s flat out saying “blame the tool for how it’s used.” Almost any service online can be used to “facilitate” sex trafficking in the hands of sex traffickers. I already discussed Airbnb above, but what about if someone uses Dropbox to host sex trafficking flyers? Or what if a sex trafficker creates advertisements in Google Docs? Or what if a pimp creates a blog on WordPress? What if they use Skype for phone calls? What if they use Stripe or Square for payments? All of those things can be facilitation under this law, and the companies would have no actual knowledge of what’s going on, but would face not only criminal liability but the ability of victims to sue them rather than the actual traffickers.

Paradoxically, it would provide an incentive for sites to stop looking for any illegal activity on their sites, out of fear of creating knowledge which would make them liable. We strongly oppose sex trafficking, but SESTA would make finding such traffickers more difficult.

If SESTA passes, it would likely destroy all but the largest on-line service sites. Google and Facebook already have large moderation infrastructures and with their money, could likely weather legal suits. Medium and small sites are very vulnerable and if SESTA passes, we should expect fewer new sites to start up knowing that they could be wiped out in a suit or if they drew the ire of a state AG.

The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation committee, which Senator Ed Markey is on, will vote on the bill Wednesday. We need you to contact Senators Warren and Markey and urge them to oppose SESTA. Call Senator Elizabeth Warren at (202) 224-4543 and Senator Ed Markey at (202) 224-2742.

Please share this page with your friends and family in Massachusetts or other states. You can find the other committee members at the Senate site.


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