In addition to the far reach and the efficiency of online sales, online sites are protected by a law passed by the US Congress, the Communications Decency Act, written in 1996. Ironically, the law was passed to prevent the sending of pornography to minors. But the law also protected the online sites from prosecution, should a commercial user of the site send illegal materials through the site. So, if you post someone else’s material on your site, you are not legally liable for the content of that material.
The Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations has for several years been trying to prosecute backpage.com to stop the publishing of sex traffickers’ ads for minor children. The owners of backpage.com have been hiding behind the Communications Decency Act, and stating that they are not liable.
Senator Rob Portman (R, OH), Chair of the Subcommittee, explains that if they can prove that backpage.com knows that the ads are featuring minor children, then the website should be held legally responsible. Through ongoing investigation, the Subcommittee has learned that backpage.com has actually advised the traffickers how to write and change their ads in order to bypass federal laws protecting children. This is the proof that the Subcommittee needs.
At this time, the Senate is debating the passage of a law to change this situation.
On the other side, the tech community is concerned that this legislation will move to censor the online community. But Senator Portman assures the Senate that the new legislation is narrowly written to focus on sex trafficking. It will not impair the tech community. In fact, there are members of the tech community and communications companies who have already been fighting trafficking, and many who support this legislation.
Please contact your US senators and ask them to support this legislation, SESTA, Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act, to help put online traffickers out of business. Thank you.