SESTA's Passage Has Immediate Chilling Effect on Adult Content Distribution

SESTA's Passage Has Immediate Chilling Effect on Adult Content Distribution

UPDATE (8 p.m.): Craigslist has dropped all "personals" listings from its platform in the U.S. as a result of the passage of SESTA. 

WASHINGTON — SESTA’s passage by the U.S. Senate has had an immediate chilling effect on those working in the adult industry.

Yesterday, the Senate approved landmark legislation aimed at penalizing website operators that facilitate online sex trafficking, chipping away at a bedrock legal shield for the technology industry.

Today, stories of a fallout are being heard, with adult performers finding their content being flagged and blocked, an escort site that has suddenly becoming “not available,” Craigslist shutting down its “personals” sections and Reddit closing down some of its communities, among other tales.

SESTA, which doesn’t differentiate between sex trafficking and consensual sex work, targets scores of adult sites that consensual sex workers use to advertise their work.

And now, before SESTA reaches President Trump’s desk for his guaranteed signature, those sites are scrambling to prevent themselves from being charged under sex trafficking laws.

"It’s not surprising that we’re seeing an immediate chilling effect on protected speech," industry attorney Lawrence Walters told XBIZ. "This was predicted as the likely impact of the bill, as online intermediaries over-censor content in the attempt to mitigate their own risks. The damage to the First Amendment appears palpable."

Today, longtime city-by-city escort service website, CityVibe.com, completely disappeared, only to be replaced with a message, “Sorry, this website is not available.” Its operators did not respond for XBIZ comment by post time.

Tonight, mainstream classified site Craigslist, which serves more than 20 billion page views per month, said that it has dropped “personals” listings in the U.S.

“U.S. Congress just passed H.R. 1865, seeking to subject websites to criminal and civil liability when third parties misuse online personals unlawfully," Craigslist said on its website. "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. Hopefully we can bring them back some day."

Motherboard reported today that at least six porn performers have complained that files have been blocked without warning from Google’s cloud storage service.

“It seems like all of our videos in Google Drive are getting flagged by some sort of automated system,” adult star Lilly Stone told Motherboard. “We're not even really getting notified of it, the only way we really found out was one of our customers told us he couldn't view or download the video we sent him.”

Another adult star, Avey Moon was trying to send the winner of her Chaturbate contest his prize — a video titled "POV Blowjob" — through her Google Drive account, but it wouldn’t send.

“I thought there was something wrong with my file and I got rather worried,” Moon told Motherboard. “I had promised this guy his content and he was so good to me. I was panicked because I thought if I couldn't give him his prize, he would feel like he got ripped off and never come back again or worse, he could actually file a complaint with Chaturbate about me and they can take money from me.”

“I heard randomly that someone got one piece of their adult content flagged, that was stored on Google Drive,” adult performer Melody Kush said.

Reddit made an announcement late yesterday explaining that the site has changed its content policy, forbidding “transactions for certain goods and services” that include “physical sexual contact.” 

A number of subreddits regularly used to help sex workers have been completedly banned. Those include r/Escorts, r/MaleEscorts and r/SugarDaddy.

Dennis Hof, who operates a number of brothels in Nevada, told XBIZ that even working girls of the brick-and-mortar establishments — all independent contractors — have already complained of probable SESTA enforcement in the industry.

“They are already feeling the effects of SESTA,” Hof said. “This legislation will curtail their online traffic and, as a result, their business.”

Maxine Doogan, who leads the ESPLER Project that advocates for decriminalization of prostitution, said that she’s most worried about what’s liable to come.

“Well, we can always know that what’s going to happen next is further arrests of folks for prostitution because the criminalization of prostitution is always the basis of these bad laws,” Doogan told XBIZ.