Two highly controversial, harmful, and misleading bills, the House bill known as FOSTA, the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act, and the Senate bill, SESTA, the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (collectively known as SESTA/FOSTA) represent the most broadly-based censorship of Internet speech in the last 20 years. The law did not succeed at its disingenuously stated purpose – to end human trafficking for sex. That goal was a complete failure..
What SESTA/FOSTA did do was drive large swaths of constitutionally-protected speech off the Internet. Even the Department of Justice warned Congress about the overreaching provisions of the law before it was passed. But Congress went ahead and voted this massive travesty into law.
- creates new criminal and civil liability for website operators who host third-party content that “promotes or facilitates the prostitution of another person,”
- expands criminal and civil liability such that any speaker online who allegedly “promotes” or “facilitates” sex trafficking can be treated as though they are participating in “a venture” with those who are directly engaged in trafficking,
- removes protections for websites whose users’ speech might be seen as in violation of the law,
- applies to speech that occurred even before FOSTA was enacted. That means anyone who operates an online platform is now liable for online speech that occurred well before Congress passed the law – so it violates the Constitution’s prohibition on ex post facto laws.
Woodhull Freedom Foundation is the lead plaintiff on a federal challenge to this legislation, Woodhull Freedom Foundation vs. the United States of America. Joining in the lawsuit are Human Rights Watch, Eric Koszyk, Alex Andrews, and The Internet Archive. All plaintiffs are represented by Bob Corn-Revere and Ronald London, of the Foundation for Individual Rights & Expression (FIRE), Electronic Frontier Foundation, Daphne Keller, and Lawrence G. Walters, of Walters Law Group.
Woodhull advocates for the right to engage in consensual sexual activity and opposes all forms of human coercion. We absolutely support appropriately targeted and effective measures to end sex trafficking. FOSTA, however, erroneously conflates consensual sex work with trafficking, and will interfere with more productive attempts to protect vulnerable people from harm. FOSTA also chills online expression about sexual topics and encourages massive self-censorship by internet platforms.