A new bill is working its way through Congress that could be disastrous for free speech online. EFF is proud to be part of the coalition fighting back.
We all rely on online platforms to work, socialize, and learn. They’re where we go to make friends and share ideas with each other. But a bill in Congress could threaten these crucial online gathering places. The Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) might sound virtuous, but it’s the wrong solution to a serious problem.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, R Street Institute, and over a dozen fellow public interest organizations are joining forces to launch a new website highlighting the problems of SESTA. Together, we’re trying to send a clear message to Congress: Don’t endanger our online communities. Stop SESTA.
SESTA would weaken 47 U.S.C. § 230 (commonly known as “CDA 230” or simply “Section 230”), one of the most important laws protecting free expression online. Section 230 protects Internet intermediaries—individuals, companies, and organizations that provide a platform for others to share speech and content over the Internet. This includes social networks like Facebook, video platforms like YouTube, news sites, blogs, and other websites that allow comments. Section 230 says that an intermediary cannot be held legally responsible for content created by others (with a few exceptions). And that’s a good thing: it’s why we have flourishing online communities where users can comment and interact with one another without waiting for a moderator to review every post.
SESTA would change all of that. It would shift more blame for users’ speech to the web platforms themselves. Under SESTA, web communities would likely become much more restrictive in how they patrol and monitor users’ contributions. Some of the most vulnerable platforms would be ones that operate on small budgets—sites like Wikipedia, the Internet Archive, and small WordPress blogs that play a crucial role in modern life but don’t have the massive budgets to defend themselves that Facebook and Twitter do.
Experts in human trafficking say that SESTA is aiming at the wrong target. Alexandra Levy, adjunct professor of human trafficking and human markets at Notre Dame Law School, writes, “Section 230 doesn’t cause lawlessness. Rather, it creates a space in which many things — including lawless behavior — come to light. And it’s in that light that multitudes of organizations and people have taken proactive steps to usher victims to safety and apprehend their abusers.”
This story originally appeared on the EFF’s blog.