Technology

Craigslist Shuts Down Personals Section Fearing FOSTA Repercussions

Craigslist, FOSTA, personals section
geralt / Pixabay

Craigslist has shut down its personals section including the platonic ones on Thursday. Craigslist’s decision to kill its personals section follows the passing of H.R.1865, an anti-online sex trafficking bill that could even harm the consenting, adult sex workers, according to Gizmodo.

On early Friday, the company made a public post on the bill commonly known as FOSTA (Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act). The post somewhat explains the logic behind their decision to shut down the personals section, one of their most popular subsections. The post read that FOSTA seeks to “subject websites to criminal and civil liability when third parties (users) misuse online personals unlawfully.”

Further, it noted that any tool or service could be misused. So, “We can’t take such risk without jeopardizing all our other services, so we are regretfully taking craigslist personals offline,” the company said, adding that they are hopeful of bringing the page back someday.

Both the branches of Congress have approved the bill that inserts amendments to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act from 1996. The said Act is seen as vital protection by online platforms from liability for the content posted by the users on the platform. The legislation makes it is a crime to operate an internet platform with the intent of promoting prostitution, notes CNET.

Once FOSTA comes into effect, websites such as Craigslist, where sex workers post ads for their services, would have a legal binding for whatever illegal interactions users were involved in. Reddit, also fearing FOSTA repercussions closed down several “questionable” subreddits, according to Gizmodo.

The primary aim of the bill is to curb the online sex trafficking that stem from sites like Backpage.com, which has a classified section where people can ask for prostitutes. However, many women and children on the website are registered against their will, according to the National Center on Sexual Exploitation.

The advocates of the legislation argue that FOSTA would help in cutting down the aggressive growth of online sex trafficking that often involves children. On the other hand, those against it believe that it could broil the tech companies into costly lawsuits and infringe on free speech. The digital rights group – Electronic Frontier Foundation, also opposes the bill, stating that not only would it make the site responsible for its own actions but also for the speech and actions of its users.

Last month, EFF stated that since the web platforms have the risk of facing extreme criminal and civil penalties, they hardly have any choice except to “silence legitimate voices.”

“Platforms would have to take extreme measures to remove a wide range of postings, especially those related to sex,” the digital rights group said. On Wednesday, the EFF wrote, “Today was a dark day for the Internet” referring to the bill.

Hollywood biggies like Ashton Kutcher have also registered their protest against child sex trafficking by associating with a nonprofit group called Thorn. In 2016, the organization, which uses technology to address the problem, came up with a Spotlight tool that scans online classifieds to help spot trafficking activity faster than human review. The tool helped in identifying over 6,300 victims of sex trafficking in the US of which approximately 2,000 were children. The tool has now been deployed in all 50 states of the US and 780 agencies, notes CNET.

It must be noted that Craigslist’s personals section has only been shutdown for the US, and not for other countries. The global classified ad site, which is estimated to be worth $1.3 billion, earned $690 million in revenue from selling ads in 2016. So, the shutdown would impact its financial numbers.

This is not the first time Craigslist has come under fire. In 2010, the website was criticized for allowing ads offering prostitution services involving children. The company did make efforts to tackle the issue of ads offering prostitutes, but it got little success. Last year, the company hired lobbyists to escape a Senate bill called the Stop Enabling Sex Trafficking Act.

Earlier this week, a man was convicted of second-degree murder for stabbing another man to death over a casual sexual encounter from Craigslist that went fatally wrong. This is not the lone story of horrible encounters on Craigslist to have amplified the warning signs for those who use the personals section of the site. There have been incidents where the users, who sign up for the personals ads get some slink, who is entirely different from the description/pictures.