Five Reflections from Four Years of FOSTA/SESTA
29 Pages Posted: 14 May 2022
Date Written: April 27, 2022
Signed into law in 2018, the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA/SESTA) represented the first major amendment to § 230 since its passage in 1996. Yet, because of the subject material of the bill, it has received little discussion by mainstream § 230 reform advocates. Additionally, technology policy advocates that have commented often fail to engage with the substantial background debates that have occurred about either sex trafficking or sex work, coming to FOSTA/SESTA as if it should be understood primarily as an intervention around § 230.
FOSTA/SESTA is better understood as the logical extension of a set of campaigns to make it more difficult for folks engaging in sex work to use mainstream public accommodations, often pushed in the name of fighting sex trafficking. Putting the law in this context, as I have learned to do through my conversations with sex workers, suggests an entirely different set of takeaways, starting with naming the harms done to those in the sex trades in the name of “ending sexual exploitation,” but not ending there. In this essay, I present five reflections from my work on FOSTA/SESTA, focusing on what technology policy advocates should learn from its harms, fall out, and the amazing mobilization that has occurred within sex worker communities after it was signed into law.
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