Why would anyone oppose positive steps to stop sex-trafficking?
This week, Sen. Wyden introduced two commonsense amendments to the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA). Wyden’s first amendment adds dedicated funding for law enforcement to fight sex-trafficking. Wyden’s second amendment helps platforms take-down content related to sex-trafficking.
You would think no one supporting FOSTA would oppose amendments that help sites remove sex-trafficking content and provide more money to fight it. The funding amendment would appropriate $20 million each year from 2018 through 2022 for the Attorney General to investigate and prosecute website operators that criminally facilitate sex trafficking.
The Good Samaritan amendment being proposed empowers platforms to monitor and take-down sex-trafficking related content. This can help ensure that the scourge of sex-trafficking is being kept off sites. Moreover, this amendment empowers platforms to be in a better position to identify and report incidents of sex-trafficking and protects them from legal liability when doing so.
“The funding offered in Wyden’s amendments is critical in arresting bad actors before there are more victims of sex-trafficking.”
The original purpose of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act was to allow platforms to remove offensive content without assuming liability to monitor all content. But FOSTA could upend this safe-harbor to the detriment of many.
For example, groups like the Human Rights Campaign warn that doing so could eliminate websites that help people with HIV find treatment information and community support services.
But Wyden’s Good Samaritan amendment clarifies that platforms can continue to monitor and remove offensive content — thus avoiding a deleterious unintended consequence of FOSTA known as the “moderator’s dilemma”.
Yet, some supporters of FOSTA sent a letter to Senators asking them to reject Wyden’s amendments, even going so far as to say that they will “kill this legislation.” This is absolutely untrue.
Amendments providing more funding and enabling platforms to monitor for sex trafficking on their sites could in no way kill FOSTA. To the contrary, they empower it. That’s what makes the letter opposing these amendments so confusing.
So, why would anyone not want law enforcement to have more tools to stop sex-trafficking before it happens? This is likely a kneejerk rejection to amendments introduced by Wyden and supported by the tech community, worried about needing to send the bill back to the House, even if it was improved by doing so.
But for many victim’s groups, the ones whose voices haven’t been heard throughout this process, this funding offered in Wyden’s amendments is critical in arresting bad actors before there are more victims of sex-trafficking.
Those opposing this amendment may be seeking bigger lawsuits against platforms for any content they failed to find on their own. In doing so, they refuse to accept that some platforms simply won’t be able to monitor all content produced on their platform. This instead means they will be left entirely unmonitored, an obviously concerning position.
Wyden’s amendments strengthen FOSTA through increased access to funds and by ensuring that platforms of all sizes will be able to monitor user-created content without fear of legal repercussions. The Senate should welcome Sen. Wyden’s commonsense amendments and then move for swift passage of the legislation.