21 United States lawmakers are continuing their attack on internet freedom under the guise of protection with a new bill known as SESTA. The latest iteration of the SOPA and PIPA line, this bill could spell disaster for the freedom of speech of Internet users. The bill was just debated in Congress, so let’s take a closer look at what this bill is and how it could set dangerous precedents.
SESTA is the New SOPA and PIPA
This is far from the first time that the United States Congress has tried to curtail internet freedom. SESTA is short for the “Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act”. This bill does little to live up to its title and is far more damaging to law-abiding citizens using the internet. In fact, it has almost literally nothing to do with sex trafficking. It also demonstrates how little Congress understands 1) the internet and 2) how CDA section 230 works.
Currently, sites like Reddit, Facebook, and others which allow for user-generated content to be posted are protected from legal liability for that content. This is important for free speech because it keeps companies from being legally responsible for the actions, content, or speech of their users. While many of these sites have built-in reporting mechanisms to curb illicit or offensive content, they are not legally bound to do so and they do not have to use valuable resources to check every newly added piece of content. SESTA would remove those protections and put the onus on the platform itself.
This would likely cause sites that host user-generated content to become heavily censored even if they are acting well within the law. It could even be the death of social media as we know it. The resources necessary to police the (mostly innocuous, legal, and normal) content posted by users would bankrupt most businesses. Those platforms that could even start to take on this monumental task would stand alone as monopolies. Competition would dry up because no new, small, or medium size business would be able to pay for the legal counsel and manpower necessary to ensure their platform is operating within the bounds of SESTA.
While it is named after fighting sex trafficking, if passed it may actually make sex trafficking easier. With the “good Samaritan” provision in SESTA, companies may not even want to have good moderation or robust community guidelines so they are not subject to liability if they miss a post that must be taken down.
Knowing all this, we are left with only a few possibilities as to why Congress keeps trying to pass these sorts of laws. The first is that they desperately want to find some way to quell freedom of speech online. The second is that they have a profound misunderstanding of how the internet works and the current laws of this country. At this point, I am not sure which possibility is more terrifying.
It is up to you to let your representatives in Congress know that you oppose this. Do not let anyone take away your rights as you remain silent. We the people have defeated this kind of intrusive and unethical grabs at our rights before, and I am confident that we can do it again. If you care about this, spread awareness about it, and most importantly, contact your congressman or congresswoman to let them know this bill would hurt law-abiding citizens more than anyone else.