SESTA Passed, Now What?

“Black and white closeup photo of the Statue of Liberty's face” by Fabian Fauth on Unsplash

On Wednesday, March 21st, 2018, the SESTA-FOSTA bill package passed in the US Senate. Since then we’ve seen numerous sites and services shut down or disable accounts relating to sex workers, for instance, Craigslist removed their personals section, Reddit deleted a several subreddits for sex workers. What SESTA-FOSTA does is remove the protections of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act with regards to sex work. You can read the text of the bill over on congress.gov.

While we’re certainly going to see more knee-jerk reactions from technology companies, the impact of SESTA-FOSTA is still mostly unknown. For the foreseeable future, advertising sites and social networks will be the most likely to be targeted by law enforcement: these are the sites with the most significant impact if taken down.

If we think of it from the perspective of the people backing the bill, they want “wins” that they can push to the press to act as if they’ve achieved something. They don’t care about the overall issue of trafficking. They care about pushing their agenda forwards and making it look like they’re doing something about trafficking. It’s a savior complex.

They’ll go after the big names first because that’s what will get them the most media attention.

As an independent sex worker, what are some next steps?

I know that everyone is stressed out and worried about the future, but we must take an approach that is thought through and not just an emotional reaction.

Firstly, you should backup your contacts for clients, and make sure that your regulars can still contact you or that you can contact them: protect your existing business. If you primarily connect with clients on Twitter, consider collecting email addresses or phone numbers for your regulars, so that you can still contact them.

If you’re presently using Gmail or another US-based company to provide your email services, I would suggest moving to either ProtonMail or GMX, as there have been reports of Gmail shutting down accounts.

Secondly, read the Terms of Service and Acceptable Use Policies of the sites and services that you use. Find out what law governs them, and whether they allow use by sex workers (most companies have a no obscene content rule). You need to know where you stand with the services you use today, and only then can you make a plan for the future.

There’s a lot of concern about personal websites, but at the end of the day, they’ll probably be the last to be affected — there’s the least press to gain from shutting them down.

If you’re on Wix, you’re most likely safe: they’re Israeli. For Wordpress.com or Squarespace, I don’t yet have an answer for you: they are based in the US and consequently governed by US law. If you’ve had a custom website built, ask the person who made it where it is hosted, and who provides you with services.

I have personally reached out to Squarespace to find out their stance on sex worker websites following the passing of SESTA.

It’s pretty unlikely that law enforcement will target your site as an individual, as that’s not a “big win”. Remember they want something that they can proclaim to be a result: taking a single personal site for a single independent sex worker offline isn’t a “big win” result. It won’t get them media attention.

Yes, it’s true that your domain name might get seized if it’s a .com or any number of other US-controlled top-level domain names, however, as stated above, this is pretty unlikely. It’s a lot of work for little “wins” as far as the media goes.

All of this said I would highly recommend having backups of your data, whether that’s the export of your Twitter archive, or downloading your files from storage services that are US-based (Dropbox, Google Drive, etc.).

Remember to keep copies of your original photos, videos and other content.

The SESTA-FOSTA bill is hugely worrying, however, it’ll mainly be used to target larger advertising venues as that’s what will give the backers media announcements. If this bill were actually about stopping trafficking, we’d have a very different measure in front of us.

This bill is about the anti-sex work and anti-sex trafficking groups being able to act like they’re saving people when they’re not. It’s about conflating consensual sex work with sex trafficking and using sex trafficking as a means to push a certain social agenda.

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