Law enforcement has long sought better ways to combat the scourge of sex trafficking that has grown by leaps and bounds with the help of the internet. On Tuesday, they received a significant boost as President Trump signed a law targeting online sex trafficking and enabling prosecutors and victims to sue websites for their part in the criminal activity.
Websites Previously Shielded by Law
Previous to this bill, websites relied on the protection of the Communications Decency Act, which said that companies weren't liable for the content posted by their users -- they were merely hosting the forum in which users posted certain things. Companies in Silicon Valley had opposed changes to the law which some said promoted free speech and enabled the internet to thrive.
However, a growing number of advocates and lawmakers pushed for reforms after hearing more horror stories of young girls trafficked through websites like Backpage.com, another company who claimed they were simply hosting the questionable content rather than creating it.
Fighting Sex Trafficking Ads
The new law, nicknamed "FOSTA" for its title "Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act," gives prosecutors more ability to go after websites that host sex-trafficking ads and enables victims to file lawsuits against those sites. Families of trafficking victims were in attendance at the bill signing, including the mother of a 16-year-old girl who was killed after being prostituted on Backpage.
Law Affects Sites Like Backpage, Craigslist
It's probably no coincidence that the bill was signed into law just days after seven Backpage executives were arrested for facilitating prostitution, including the online sale of teenage girls for sex. The government also shut down the site's classified ad sections.
In addition to Backpage, other internet companies are reacting to FOSTA (which takes effect immediately) by shutting down sex-related sections of their websites. For example, Craigslist has shut down its personals, missed connections, and dating sections since those can be misused by users.
If you run a business with online content and are unsure how the new law might affect you, contact an experienced attorney. It's better to anticipate issues before they happen rather than reacting to them in a lawsuit or criminal charges.