FOSTA Fallout: Reddit Bans ‘Dark Net’ Discussion Group

CYBERSPACE—Following the United States Senate’s overwhelming passage of a controversial “anti-sex trafficking” bill last week, the popular online forum Reddit has moved quickly to shut down groups where discussion of any potentially illegal activity—not limited to just sex trafficking—may potentially take place.

“We have made a new addition to our content policy forbidding transactions for certain goods and services. As of today, users may not use Reddit to solicit or facilitate any transaction or gift involving certain goods and services,” the company wrote in a message on March 21, the same day that the Senate passed the anti-sex trafficking bill FOSTA/SESTA by a 97-2 margin.

Those “goods and services” include “guns, drugs, stolen goods, personal information, falsified documents and paid services ‘involving physical sexual contact,’” the tech news site Motherboard reported.

Just two days later, the online classified advertising site Craigslist shut down its long-running and popular personal ads section, out of concern that some of the ads might be offering prostitution services.

“Any tool or service can be misused. We can't take such risk without jeopardizing all our other services, so we are regretfully taking craigslist personals offline,” the site wrote.

While supporters of the FOSTA/SESTA bill praised the law, and the Reddit and Craigslist respsonses to it, as “a good thing,” others said that the moves by the highly trafficked sites amount to censorship.

“Regardless of the illicit nature of the topics mentioned above, there is no reason to prevent people from thinking or talking about them,” writeS the cryptocurrency and tech news site The Merkle. “In fact, this decision by Reddit will push even more people to other platforms which can’t be actively monitored. Whether or not this was a smart decision remains to be determined, for obvious reasons.”

The Reddit ban shut down the forum r/DarkNetMarkets, a group with approximately 160,000 “subscribers.” The forum contained open discussion of such topics as sex work, illegal drug use and other goods and activities traded on the “dark web,” an area of the internet largely shielded from search engines and other forms of public exposure.

While actual illegal transactions were avoided in the Reddit forum, the site’s new content policy banned discussion of those topics even where no monetary transactions took place.