Craigslist, Reddit prep for legal woes from FOSTA sex-trafficking bill

Although the Personals section on Craigslist appears to be visually intact for now, clicking any associated link will reveal that the section is shut down due the FOSTA bill (HR 1865) just approved by the Senate. The bill holds websites accountable for the actions of its users, forcing sites to censor individuals else face criminal and civil liability. To avoid any legal and/or financial woes, Craigslist is merely shutting down the Personals section rather than dealing with censorship and possibly jeopardizing its other services. 

“Any tool or service can be misused,” Craigslist states. “We can’t take such risk without jeopardizing all our other services, so we are regretfully taking craigslist personals offline. Hopefully we can bring them back some day. To the millions of spouses, partners, and couples who met through Craigslist, we wish you every happiness! 

FOSTA is short for the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act, and according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), it silences online speech. The bill attempts to stop sex trafficking, but the language indicates that any unsuspecting website is liable for its users taking advantage of tools that could facilitate sex trafficking even though that’s not the intent of those services. 

Craigslist is a good example. The Personals section served as a platform for meeting others seeking a relationship, and the company made attempts to filter out possible listings for prostitution. But with the new bill in place, censorship clearly isn’t enough — the company could face legal repercussions for the actions of its users. But again, the language used in the bill suggests that even comment systems and forums could push websites into deep trouble. 

“Facing the risk of ruinous litigation, online platforms will have little choice but to become much more restrictive in what sorts of discussion — and what sorts of users — they allow, censoring innocent people in the process,” the EFF states. 

Starting now, websites will be forced to ban sexual content, advertisements for legal escort services, introduce filters to block specific posts, and shut down specific departments altogether. The slightest indication that a comment could describe sex in exchange for money could cause legal troubles even though the author meant otherwise or commented in a jokingly manner.

Craigslist isn’t the only website closing departments. Reddit jumped on the bandwagon as well, closing Escorts, SugarDaddy, Hookers, Male Escorts, and many other boards in response to the new bill. The site also updated its content policy to ban transactions for “certain goods and services.” These include guns, drugs, stolen items, personal information, falsified official documents or currency, and paid services involving sex. 

Currently, the bill isn’t an official law; it’s waiting for President Donald Trump’s signature. Lawmakers believe the bill is a good thing, giving the government power to zero in on websites playing host to sex trafficking. Their intent is noble: Take down the platforms exploiting women and children. But the language is problematic to the point where even the Department of Justice raised constitutional concerns over the bill.