WASHINGTON — Religiously inspired anti-porn lobby NCOSE (National Center on Sexual Exploitation, formerly known as Morality in Media) helped file a lawsuit yesterday against Twitter over a third-party user post, based on the Section 230 loophole opened by the passage of FOSTA-SESTA legislation in 2018.
The civil lawsuit for damages was filed under the federal Trafficking Victims’ Protection Reauthorization Act, a law targeting CSAM (Child Sexual Abuse Material), but NCOSE makes the argument for Twitter's liability for a user’s post by invoking FOSTA-SESTA.
The case involves a video compilation uploaded by two Twitter accounts that allegedly contains material that an underage “John Doe” shot for strangers who catfished him through Snapchat claiming to be a girl his age.
The lawsuit makes the claim that “in 2018, in a direct response to online platforms knowingly allowing human trafficking to occur and both promoting and profiting from it, Congress passed a bill known as Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) and Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) (collectively, ‘FOSTA/SESTA’).”
The lawsuit also specifically cites the 1996 Communications Decency Act — which attempted to broaden obscenity prosecutions but was struck down by the courts — and stresses that FOSTA-SESTA is “an amendment to CDA 230."
The suit also extensively quotes FOSTA-SESTA’s justification that Section 230, the so-called “First Amendment of the internet,” was “never intended to provide legal protection to websites that unlawfully promote and facilitate prostitution and websites that facilitate traffickers in advertising the sale of unlawful sex acts with sex trafficking victims” and “websites that promote and facilitate prostitution have been reckless in allowing the sale of sex trafficking victims and have done nothing to prevent the trafficking of children and victims of force, fraud, and coercion.”
A Deceptive Anti-Porn Lobby
As XBIZ noted in a recent special report titled “The New War on Porn,” NCOSE is the oldest and most powerful of the lobbies currently attempting to ban all sexual expression online.
The pro-censorship group was founded by clergymen in 1962 and became most prominent in the 1970s and 1980s under the name Morality in Media.
Their mission has not changed throughout its nearly six decades of existence: to have the government classify all sexual expression as pornographic and to establish that the intent behind it is always “prurient,” an imprecise, obscure word that means “appealing to unhealthy sexual interests.”
Morality in Media rebranded itself as the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE) in 2015 and hid mentions of their religious background. Their new name seems to have been chosen to borrow legitimacy from the unrelated, but soundalike, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC).
The group runs a yearly conference for anti-porn activists, where they are advised to conceal their faith-based backgrounds, and recommends that activists respond to inquiries about their underlying motivations with an endless repetition of appeals to science and secularism, the “human trafficking” mantra, demonstrably false comparisons of porn to drug addiction and slavery and claims of porn being the ultimate cause of an entirely made-up “public health crisis.”
The lawsuit against Twitter, timed to the inauguration of Kamala Harris as Vice President, makes allegations against the social media platform that mirror the campaign to shut down adult classifieds site Backpage.com.
Vice President Harris championed the anti-Backpage campaign that led to FOSTA-SESTA during her time as California prosecutor and Senator.
A Florida Snapchat Catfish
The lawsuit is filed on behalf of “Jane Doe,” only identified as the Florida-based “parent and legal guardian of Plaintiff John Doe,” a minor in whose name she claims to be acting.
The lawsuit makes several mentions of a 2018 Amnesty International report called “Toxic Twitter, A Toxic Place for Women.”
NCOSE takes aim at Twitter’s moderation policy claiming that “as long as content on Twitter’s platform remains live, Twitter monetizes that content regardless of whether it is contrary to Twitter’s own policies or promotes illegal conduct.”
Twitter, NCOSE claims “thus profits from content on its platform that depicts rape, sex trafficking, child sexual abuse and other illegal activity.”
The lawsuit also claims “Twitter makes it hard for users to report CSAM,” quoting a Canadian report and a NBC News report titled “Child Sexual Abuse Images and Online Exploitation Surge During Pandemic.”
The mother of the Florida “John Doe” alleges her son, currently 17 years old, “engaged in a dialog with someone he thought was an individual person on the communications application Snapchat” when he was 13-14.
“That person or persons represented to John Doe that they were a 16-year-old female and he believed that person went to his school. After conversing, the person or persons (“Traffickers”) interacting with John Doe exchanged nude photos on Snapchat.”
“After he did so,” the suit continues, “the correspondence changed to blackmail. Now the Traffickers wanted more sexually graphic pictures and videos of John Doe, and recruited, enticed, threatened and solicited John Doe by telling him that if he did not provide this material, then the nude pictures of himself that he had already sent would be sent to his parents, coach, pastor and others in his community.”
“Initially John Doe complied with the Traffickers’ demands. He was told to provide videos of himself performing sexual acts. He was also told to include another person in the videos, to which he complied.”
“Because John Doe was (and still is) a minor and the pictures and videos he was threatened and coerced to produce included graphic sexual depictions of himself, including depictions of him engaging in sexual acts with another minor, the pictures and videos constitute CSAM under the law.”
“The Traffickers also attempted to meet with him in person. Fortunately, an in-person meeting never took place.”
“Eventually John Doe resolved to break free from the control of the Traffickers and attempted to block them.”
“The Traffickers messaged John Doe under another account, stating that he had made a big mistake in blocking them.”
“Although afraid, John Doe continued to avoid the Traffickers and eventually the communications ceased.”
“At some point in 2019, a compilation video of multiple CSAM videos sent by John Doe to the Traffickers surfaced on Twitter. This compilation video was published by Twitter handles @StraightBross and @fitmalesblog.”
“On December 25, 2019, Twitter was alerted by a concerned citizen that the user account @StraightBross was posting CSAM. […] Twitter assigned the report claim number 0136403334. It did not take action against the @StraightBross account."
What then follows is an account of this anonymous “concerned citizen” and John Doe and Jane Doe interacting with Twitter’s moderation team, which NCOSE claims shows liability under the Section 230 loophole opened by FOSTA.
The lawsuit is the first of a "blitz" of copycat proceedings that religious groups had announced for the first weeks of the Biden-Harris administration.
According to a recent report by The Guardian, "with the Supreme Court now dominated by Trump-appointed conservative justices, elected officials in states across the country are set to introduce bills which would hack away at LGTBQ rights, reproductive rights, challenge the ability of couples to adopt children, and see religion forced into classrooms, according to a report by the American Atheists organization."
"In recent years Republicans have sought to infuse religion into state politics across the country, many of the bills lifted from model legislation drafted by well-funded Christian lobbying organizations under an effort known as 'Project Blitz,'" The Guardian added.