WASHINGTON — President Trump signed into law on Wednesday the anti-sex-trafficking legislation known as SESTA/FOSTA.
The new law, which passed Congress with bipartisan support, amends Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which provides companies immunity from most liability for publishing third-party content and allows victims to sue sites that knowingly facilitate sex trafficking.
It also will bring new tools for law enforcement. State prosecutors will be able to bring criminal charges against the operators of sites that facilitate prostitution.
Trump signed H.R. 1865 in a ceremony at the White House, accompanied by lawmakers who pushed for passage of the bill as well as human trafficking survivors and their families. He said that the SESTA/FOSTA packaged bill would be known as FOSTA.
Trump called the measure "crucial legislation" and that "we are going to do everything in our power to make sure traffickers are brought to a swift and firm justice. When we work together, we can bring safety and hope to every community across the country."
Reaction to the bill being signed into law was swift in the industry. Many have taken the stance that the bill is too broad, creating new liabilities for sites that had previously been protected by Section 230.
Industry attorney Lawrence Walters said that the adult industry will continue to feel the effects of the new law, as companies come to terms with the potential broad interpretations of the restrictions. Already, numerous websites have either shuttered or have limited their services.
‘While the law is focused on prohibiting prostitution and sex trafficking, there are many grey areas that website operators will need to evaluate as they try to mitigate their legal risks,” Walters told XBIZ. “Certain provisions are subject to legal challenges, so the courts will likely have the last word on how the law is interpreted and whether it is constitutionally valid.”
Maxine Lynn, another industry attorney, called today "a dark day for free speech in the U.S."
"There is no doubt that a constitutional challenge will eventually be brought," Lynn said. "However, in the meantime, uncertainty will rule, which will result in open communication over the internet being restricted in previously unfathomable ways."
Industry lawyer Gill Sperlein told XBIZ: "I suggest that anyone with a website or business that relates to the adult industry to contact your lawyers and do a thorough review to make sure you are in compliance."
Corey Silverstein, another industry attorney, told XBIZ: "This is a gamechanger that has long been predicted and must be carefully followed."
"Every single adult entertainment business operator needs to evaluate how they are affected by SESTA/FOSTA; this should not be taken lightly," Silverstein said. "Now we are going to have to wait and see who the first unfortunate victim(s) of this awful law is going to be."
SESTA/FOSTA isn't just about about escort advertising aggregator sites, industry lawyer J.D. Obenberger said
"Anyone who can't see the dire risks this law presents to the way adult video content is produced just isn't reading it carefully or thoughtfully. I'm sure not going to lay out the hidden issues in technicolor in public comments," Obenberger said. "This isn't just about children and trafficked persons. If you don't understand how the terms of this law are hugely different from the Mann Act and the Travel Act, you need to talk to a lawyer experienced in these issues who does understand.
"If you don't understand how the floodgates of litigation are now open to your nongovernment enemies, and you don't care to find out now, that issue will come looking for you and those around you in the times to come," Obenberger said.
"You stand to become amazed at who is subject to prosecution under this law and just who can claim to be a victim of its violation," Obenberger said. "A hard rain's gonna fall."
Chad Anderson, another industry attorney, said: "I don't think it will have much impact after the knee-jerk reactions are over, but it does reinforce the need to have good legal counsel in this business. You should hire an experienced lawyer to review your business practices, because lawyers are cheaper when you hire them before you really need them."
The Sex Workers Outreach Project, in a statement, said: “Attempting to deter sex workers from their jobs by removing advertising and screening platforms is akin to pushing sex work ‘underground’ and in the streets — where workers have less power in relation to their clients and where sex workers are at greater risk of arrest and police violence.”
Maxine Doogan, who leads ESPLER Project (Erotic Service Providers Legal, Education and Research), asked XBIZ: “What and who’s going to be next?"
Sunny Megatron, the adult sexuality educator who hosts “Sex with Sunny Megatron” on Showtime, tweeted: “Damn it. This is so incredibly upsetting. Not like I didn't expect this to happen but now that it is officially signed I'm just sickened.”
Avery Edison, a transgender mainstream comedian, tweeted: “The targets of SESTA/FOSTA are sex workers, but every single person who uses the Internet should be terrified. If a site allows any content from users — in comments sections, message boards, tweets — it is open to being destroyed by this legislation.”
Mistress Emilia tweeted: “I could cry, this is a truly sad day for the internet.”
SESTA/FOSTA, in anticipation of the bill’s signing by Trump, was creating havoc for scores of websites, including Backpage.com, which was seized by the government last week.
CityVibe.com and Nightshift.co closed their sites after passage of the bill in the Senate, while Craigslist cut its personals listings and Reddit pared its messaging boards. TheEroticReview.com closed its site to all U.S. traffic.
Other reports of closures included MyScarletBook.com and ProvidingSupport.com, along with YellowPages.com, which shut down its escort services and removed ads.
MyFreeCams also changed its “terms of service” to explicitly ban any transaction that involves an offering to meet a site member for tokens.
Social network FetLife.com said that it wasn’t shutting down; however, its operator said that the site likely will have to make some changes.
In moves that likely will affect international users, Google Play updated its policy to ban explicit content such as “promotional images of sex toys” and “apps that promote escort services.”
In addition, Google Drive deleted explicit content and locked out users, and Microsoft’s terms of service were updated, banning the use of “offensive language” and “inappropriate content,” such as nudity that may result in suspensions or bans for users of Skype, Xbox, Office and other services.
Further, Missy Mariposa from Red Umbrella Hosting told XBIZ that Wordpress.com has shut down some accounts of sex workers.
A video of the bill's signing by Trump can be seen here.