If you support free speech, you support sex trafficking. At least that’s what politicians hope the public will think.
Clever politicians seem to be learning. If they want to censor the web and destroy free speech, they need to pick the right targets for their legislation. Of course, in reality, the legislation will end up affecting all of us.
Their efforts really amount to holding websites accountable for what their users post. They are shining a light on Backpage, a website much like Craigslist where users post ads. The website lets users post based on location for things like buying and selling items, job listings, and community events.
The legal issues come from Backpage failing to stop the use of its website for sex trafficking. Ads appear in adult and dating sections which facilitate prostitution.
But why should a website be held accountable for what users post? Is Facebook held accountable for drug deals arranged through its messenger? Should Twitter be held responsible when a riot is organized with the platform?
But politicians aren’t talking about the potential for their legislation to affect sectors other than sex trafficking. They use emotional pleas. And this could mean more Americans are willing to stomach legislation that would seriously threaten any website that allows users to post. Hosts would be liable for user content.
That means anyone who has a website would be at serious risk of legal trouble if any piece of their business lets users post. Websites like Facebook who can hire countless employees to police the content might not care. But what about small websites? What about message boards, and comments sections?
Trade groups representing Google, Facebook and other Internet giants warn of a “devastating impact” on the tech industry if the 1996 Communications Decency Act is tinkered with in the way lawmakers envision to hold Backpage and others liable for criminal material on their pages.
They project “mass removals of legitimate content” by social media and other firms scrambling to shield themselves from a deluge of lawsuits from trial lawyers and prosecutors. The ACLU joined the Electronic Frontier Foundation and other groups in warning lawmakers that if they pass the law, every one of the millions of social media postings placed online daily becomes a potential liability for the company hosting it.
But in true politician fashion, the response highlights only the “good” the legislation will do, ignoring the potential to curb free speech online.
“The Communications Decency Act is a well-intentioned law, but it was never intended to protect sex traffickers,” said Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio)…
California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra said the site would have been shut down long ago if not for the immunity. “We would have been able to stop the abuse and in some cases the death of some of these young people who got caught up in these sex trafficking rings,” Becerra said.
Prostitution might be the world’s oldest profession. But politicians think they can finally stamp it out if only they had the power to censor shut down websites!
A quarter of the members of Congress have signed on as co-sponsors of the bill. Maybe they have the best intentions.
Or maybe they simply want more power to censor websites and the free speech of their users.
User created content will suffer if this bill passes. That puts things like communication, organization, and protest at risk.
Free speech is becoming a problem for the government, and they are taking the incremental approach to limiting it. That is why they talk so much about curbing hate speech and fake news. They want Americans to be onboard to limit neo-Nazis and ads for prostitution. But like most laws, it will only limit freedom.