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Congress has introduced an anti-child sex trafficking bill that could wreck (or at least radically change) social media sites.
On Monday, Rep. Ann Wagner (R-MO) introduced a bill to amend the Communications Decency Act. The bill, which she called the “Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017,” seeks to make tech companies legally liable for the content their sites host, even if the content was created by the sites’ users, not the owners.
The bill has bipartisan support. And why wouldn’t it? Child sex trafficking is terrible and almost everyone hates it.
But, a Daily Dot editorial warns, the bill could have some serious consequences for the open web:
Legal experts say it would dramatically chill free speech on the web and expose websites to business-ending legal battles. The world’s most popular social media platforms — from Facebook to Instagram to Snapchat — might not look anything like they do today.
The provision applies only to content that facilitates child sex trafficking. But it could still have a major chilling effect on internet free speech. If websites like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Instagram know that they could face legal prosecution for user content, they’ll probably be a lot stricter about policing content.
That’s not entirely a bad thing. There’s a lot of harmful content on social media, like death threats and hate speech. But, as we’ve seen over and over again, tech companies are really bad at moderating their content. Twitter protects white supremacists while ignoring harassment against LGBTQ users, women and people of color. Facebook is unfairly harsh about censoring queer content. And YouTube restricts LGBTQ-themed videos while letting white nationalism run rampant.
Social media sites’ attempts to deal with the problem could hurt users’ freedom of expression.
Emma Llansó, the director of Center for Democracy & Technology’s Free Expression Project, warned the Daily Dot of a possible slippery slope effect, saying, “Under a bill like this which is framed as targeting the exploitation of children and sex trafficking, you could easily imagine the effect of that expanding to cover sexually oriented material in general.”
(Featured image by Niran_pr via iStock)