FOSTA, a Failed Attempt at Legislating Morality

First off, to even consider writing a law as broad as FOSTA (Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act) or its sister SESTA (Stop Enabling Sex Trafficking Act) before decriminalizing consensual sex work, is a clear indication these laws had nothing to do with solving a problem by looking at data, involving those people who would be effected by the laws or even to put in place a feedback loop to monitor the effectiveness of the program (there is one feedback mechanism which only looks at damages paid to victims, which disregards all other effects and re-traumatizes victims to collect it).

Sadly, in this day of heavy handed “tough on crime” lawmaking, the temptation is high to write just another sweeping “three strikes you’re out” law. As indicated by Zoe Beery in her April 2nd 2019 article, “The 2020 Democratic Candidates Who Voted for FESTA/FOSTA”, the bills sailed through congress, netting just 25 no votes in the House and 2 in the senate. Every Democrat now running for president who served in Congress last year voted for it.

A further indicator of how this set of laws had no intention of making the lives of the real victims better, the law said nothing about the much larger human problem which is labor trafficking. As Tommy Sodeman points out in his April 11th 2018 article, “FOSTA: A Comprehensive Analysis”, labor trafficking is much more prevalent with 16 million people exploited per year for labor with only 4.8 million in sex trafficking. The fact that labor trafficking was ignored and since there was no mention of a path to legalizing consensual sex work, these laws act simply to stigmatize, demoralize, and increase the perception of sex workers as criminals, and not counting them as laborers. Well done lawmakers, high five to sending a strong message to your voting constituents at a cost of billions to online service providers, companies who have closed, leaving people out of work and jeopardizing the safety of the very sex workers you have said you were trying to protect.

Even if this set of laws was a good idea, how they were implemented is another classic example of government intervention into something it knows nothing about. There was no planning to implement new technology or software, no A-B testing of how effective different approaches would work, no thought on where to implement software changes, at the Internet provider’s server or changes mandated on Internet browser software at the desktop level. In fact, these types of laws go against everything the Internet stands for which is a distributed network of file serving equipment with the understanding that other than some copy-write filters, people are free to host and share whatever they like.

I can see how companies like Facebook, Instagram and Reddit, were lulled into thinking this might be a good idea as consensual sex workers and their way of promoting their services, doesn’t generate a lot of ad revenue while adding to the challenge of filtering images of nipples, asses and genitals. But when it comes down to making a distinction between a list of names of respected culinary chefs, a list of child sex slaves for hire or a list of consensual sex worker client along with their reputation as safe or not, online platforms are left with no choice but to do what they never signed up to do, delete massive amounts of content without the owner’s permission. Just the administration of the monumental task of trying to delete the right content to avoid being fined, adds a zero-return financial burden with minimal results. Same for the government, in attempting to dig through content while administrating a new government agency to locate online content worth levying fines against? It’s just more chaos at a time when some basic human compassion is needed.

With the Internet still in its infancy, I see an ever-growing alignment to it as the fabric that defines our social culture. The illusion is we all fine-tune what we see to resemble an echo chamber of our own beliefs. To see the Internet as one big operating system and not an assembly of small unique and equally valid apps, is a delusion. There is no big moral code that can be overlaid across the entire Internet to make it resemble one’s personal beliefs or another’s. People depend on the Internet as a network for communication, sharing data, being connected socially and getting their work done (including sex work).

Let’s just be clear when we stand up against oppressive legislation clearly designed as a grandstanding manipulation of values, to not get bogged down in trying to fix it, but calling it what it is, just another attempt to sway uniformed voters by selling a high moral code that is more harm than good.

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