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Online ads have allowed an untold number of victims to be identified and found.What's more, the digital trail of ads, emails, and texts can provide evidence that makes catching and prosecuting the perpetrators easier.But as of Friday, the Craigslist personals section is no more.Consider it one of the first—but certainly not the last—casualties of new legislation passed by the Senate this week 97-2.This is because the core of FOSTA makes it a federal crime to "promote or facilitate the prostitution of another person," punishable by up to 10 years in prison, plus fines.For promoting the prostitution of five or more people, the penalty is 25 years, and the same if promoting someone's prostitution "contributed to sex trafficking." Sex workers don't have to worry about being punished for posting their own ads, but they could run afoul of the law if working in pairs or helping a colleague place an ad.
To reach them, Congress had to carve a hole in Section 230, which has governed the internet for 22 years.Prostitution, mind you, is not sex trafficking, which has a distinct meaning both colloquially and under the law.In the simplest terms, prostitution involves consent and sex trafficking does not.It protects web platforms from being sued in civil court or criminally charged by state prosecutors for third-party (i.e., user-posted) content.(It doesn't apply for federal crimes.) Section 230 says that unless they create the content in whole or part, these platforms shall not be treated as the speaker of such content, and good-faith efforts at content moderation (like banning ads that explicitly mention illegal acts or auto-filtering out content that contains prohibited words) do not change this.