Before there were the popular dating apps that we have now, the world had Craigslist, the portal to all things for sale, for rent, for free, and for fun. The San Francisco based company gave way to a new form of online ‘dating’ through their personals section. Since Craigslist founding in 1995, the popularity of Craigslist personals has been overshadowed by the dark risk associated with posting or answering ads for NSA, spontaneous, or anonymous sexual encounters.
There have been many horror stories surrounding encounters on Craigslist that have heightened the warning signs for those who use the site’s personals. You may even remember a time when you answered those personal ads and found out that the person on the other end was a creep or didn’t match his description/pictures or when you felt unsafe or got yourself into a compromising position. Kind of like those other dating apps, but maybe even scarier because it involves email. But in the beginning of the online dating era, Craigslist was a giant in the game and instrumental for folks in rural or undeveloped areas to be able to make these human connections.
Still, Craigslist has had to block the solicitation of sex for money numerous times which catalyst for the negative stigma associated with the site. Craigslist has been linked to prostitution and human trafficking which is why you may have noticed that all personals on Craigslist have just been taken down. Interestingly enough the Missed Connections section is still available, but has been relocated to the Community section of the site. Some may say that this is a victory for censorship while others may be fearing the dark days without net neutrality.
All of this is because of Congress Bill H.R. 1865 which is a combination of Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) and the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA). On Wednesday the Senate voted to pass the bill with a 97-2 vote. As of January 2019 it will be illegal to post ads for prostitution or sexwork. The bill makes it so websites are liable for any misuse of their site by their users so Craigslist has decided to give an axe to their personals. The White House has even issued a statement in response to the bill.
When you log-on to Craigslist personals you will immediately see the following notification:
H.R. 1865 entails the following amendments from February 27, 2018:
(Sec. 2) This bill expresses the sense of Congress that section 230 of the Communications Act of 1934 was not intended to provide legal protection to websites that unlawfully promote and facilitate prostitution and websites that facilitate traffickers in advertising the sale of unlawful sex acts with sex trafficking victims. Section 230 limits the legal liability of interactive computer service providers or users for content they publish that was created by others.
(Sec. 3) The bill amends the federal criminal code to add a new section that imposes penalties—a fine, a prison term of up to 10 years, or both—on a person who, using a facility or means of interstate or foreign commerce, owns, manages, or operates an interactive computer service (or attempts or conspires to do so) to promote or facilitate the prostitution of another person.
Additionally, it establishes enhanced penalties—a fine, a prison term of up to 25 years, or both—for a person who commits the offense in one of the following aggravating circumstances: (1) promotes or facilitates the prostitution of five or more persons, or (2) acts with reckless disregard that such conduct contributes to sex trafficking.
A person injured by an aggravated offense may recover damages and attorneys' fees in a federal civil action.
A court must order mandatory restitution, in addition to other criminal or civil penalties, for an aggravated offense in which a person acts with reckless disregard that such conduct contributes to sex trafficking.
A defendant may assert, as an affirmative defense, that the promotion or facilitation of prostitution is legal in the jurisdiction where it was targeted.
(Sec. 4) The bill amends the Communications Act of 1934 to declare that section 230 does not limit: (1) a federal civil claim for conduct that constitutes sex trafficking, (2) a federal criminal charge for conduct that constitutes sex trafficking, or (3) a state criminal charge for conduct that promotes or facilitates prostitution in violation of this bill.
The amendments apply regardless of whether alleged conduct occurs before, on, or after this bill's enactment.
(Sec. 5) The bill amends the federal criminal code to define a phrase related to the prohibition on sex trafficking.
Currently, it a crime to knowingly benefit from participation in a venture that engages in sex trafficking. This bill defines "participation in a venture" to mean knowingly assisting, supporting, or facilitating a sex trafficking violation.
(Sec. 6) A state may file a federal civil action to enforce federal sex trafficking violations.
(Sec. 7) This section states that this bill does not limit federal or state civil actions or criminal prosecutions that are not preempted by section 230 of the Communications Act of 1934.
(Sec. 8) The Government Accountability Office must report to Congress on information related to damages and mandatory restitution for aggravated offenses under this bill.
No word on how this development will affect Craigslist and its users or other sites and apps that have also been surrounded by similar danger and risk. But with any online dating/hookup situation, use caution and common sense.