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What to know about the new online sex-trafficking bill

by | April 10, 2018, 4:50

The U.S. Congress has passed a bill that will hold websites accountable for the types of ads and posts that are used to cover up sex-trafficking-- particularly child sex-trafficking. The bill passed at the end of March of this year and President Trump is expected to sign it.

The new law will make it easier for states and victims of sex-trafficking to sue social media networks, advertisers, and others who failed to keep sex-trafficking advertisements off their sites.

Law enforcement groups have lobbied for years for a law like this. And the passage of the bill, the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act, is a nearly unheard-of defeat for the internet industry.

Some internet companies and free speech advocates object to the bill, warning that this legislation will open the door to further regulations that will change how the internet operates. However, many websites, such as backpage.com, have exploited Section 203 of the Communication Decency Act in order to protect themselves from liability.

NPR's Alina Selyukh explains that Section 230, which came about in 1996, is the law that helped create the internet that we know today. “The law says online platforms cannot be sued for something posted by a user, and that remains true even if they act a little like publishers by moderating posts or setting specific community standards. It's been huge for the growth of the Internet,” she tells All Things Considered host, Ailsa Chang.

Reuters reports that in January of 2017, the Supreme Court would not consider revisiting a lawsuit against backpage.com which was filed by three young women who claimed that the site facilitated their forced prostitution. The Supreme Court deferred to the lower court’s decision because of the protection afforded by the Communications Decency Act.

“[The] vote is a victory for trafficking survivors and a victory for our efforts to help stop the selling of women and children online,” says Republican Senator Rob Portman, an original sponsor of the bill.

With the bill’s passage, victims now have recourse for justice. But they will need to prove that a website knowingly facilitated sex trafficking in order to file a successful lawsuit.

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