Facebook Lawyers Fight First ‘Sex Trafficking’ FOSTA Lawsuits

As Congress was preparing to pass the controversial FOSTA/SESTA anti- “sex trafficking” law last year, the bill which poked a hole in the law that serves as the foundation for free communication on the internet, received high-profile backing from Facebook and its billionaire Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg. 

Sandberg’s support, seen as decisive in winning broad congressional support for the bill, according to a TechDirt report,  came as a surprise to online civil liberties advocates, because FOSTA/SESTA created an exception to Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, which protects online platforms from liability for content posted by users. 

Without Section 230, as AVN.com has reported, internet service providers and social media platforms such as Facebook would be forced to police every post by users, to guard against material that may violate some law, or be considered defamatory.

Under FOSTA/SESTA, however, Section 230 no longer protects platforms from liability in cases where third-party content is somehow connected to sex trafficking. 

“We at Facebook support efforts to pass amended legislation in the House that would allow responsible companies to continue fighting sex trafficking while giving victims the chance to seek justice against companies that knowingly facilitate such abhorrent acts,” Sandberg wrote last year, as the law, ultimately passed overwhelmingly in both the House and Senate, was under consideration in Congress

But now Facebook has been forced to send lawyers to defend itself from two lawsuits brought in Houston, Texas, under the same FOSTA/SESTA law that Sandberg backed. In fact, as The Houston Chronicle reported, the lawsuits accuse Facebook and its subsidiary Instagram of facilitating the same type of “abhorrent acts” referenced by Sandberg in her support for the bill.

Both lawsuits involve women who were underage when, they say, men who found them through the social media platforms abused and trafficked them into forced prostitution, claiming that Facebook’s “morally bankrupt corporate culture” caused the platform to turn a blind eye to the sex trafficking activities.

“Human trafficking is abhorrent and is not allowed on Facebook,” the company responded when the suit was first filed. “We use technology to thwart this kind of abuse and we encourage people to use the reporting links found across our site so that our team of experts can review the content swiftly.”

But in court on Friday, Facebook lawyers would argue that Section 230 of the CDA protects the firm from being held liable for the activities of users, no matter what those activities may be.

Annie McAdams, a lawyer for the women, said that thanks to FOSTA/SESTA, that protection no longer exists, saying, “The CDA was never designed to protect entities that protect the rape of children.” 

The lawsuits remain ongoing, but are likely to be appealed no matter which way the Harris County, Texas District Court decides.

Photo by Voice of America/Wikimedia Commons Public Domain