CYBERSPACE—The 85-year-old news publication Newsweek on Thursday turned its attention to an issue that has largely been confined to discussion within the sex industry—how the recently passed FOSTA/SESTA law in the United States has forced sex workers to abandon their social media accounts on platforms such as Twitter, and seek out new alternatives on underground social media sites hosted on overseas servers.
FOSTA, the “Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act,” passed the House of Representatives by an overwhelming, bipartisan 388-25 vote on February 28, while its Senate counterpart, the “Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act,” or SESTA, passed the Senate in combined form with FOSTA less than a month later. Donald Trump signed the bill into law (as seen in the image above) on April 11.
With Trump’s signature, the online platforms can now be held responsible for user activity on their sites that could be construed as “sex trafficking.” While opponents of the bill raised constitutional and censorship concerns, the objections and fears of sex workers who say that the law puts their safety and even lives at risk by forcing them offline into the shadows have received far less coverage.
In the current midterm election campaign few candidates have gone on record opposing the FOSTA law—though AVN.com reported on one outspoken anti-FOSTA candidate last week, Suraj Patel, who was running for the Democratic congressional nomination against 72-year-old incumbent Carolyn Maloney in New York’s 12th District.
But Patel, a former Barack Obama campaign staffer and current New York University business ethics professor, was easily defeated by Maloney, 58 percent to 41, in this week’s primary vote.
The article in Newsweek—which published as one of the country’s top news magazines from 1933 to 2012 before ceasing its print version and becoming an online magazine—provides at least a small remedy for that neglect.
The Newsweek article, which may be read at this link, focused on the Australia-based site Switter, which operates off servers in Austria, and is operated by a group calling itself Assembly Four. Switter provides a social media network designed specifically for communication by and among sex workers.
The article quoted an anonymous Assembly Four spokesperson explaining the site’s mission.
“We have already seen sites like Reddit, Craigslist and Skype begin to change their terms and silence or ban us from their platforms. Particularly in the U.S., these sites are absolutely vital to sex workers,” the spokesperson said, adding that the law had created “a potentially life threatening situation” for sex workers.
According to the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle, more than 100,000 sex workers have already fled Twitter and other U.S.-based social media sites to take up their online residence on Switter—which says it offers a safer online home than its U.S. counterparts.
The site takes “very minimal information from our users, we actively remove any known pimps, cases of human trafficking or anyone seen as harassing workers. Twitter runs in a very different way and has a different set of priorities on its platform," the Assembly Four spokesperson said.
Photo by Office of Congresswoman Ann Wagner / Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)