Reuters reports that on Friday, the government shut down Backpage, an X-rated, Craigslist-esque site used primarily to solicit sex, amidst multiple lawsuits and newly passed legislation that holds web platforms accountable for facilitating trafficking.
Since launching in 2004, Backpage has grown into the second largest classified site behind Craigslist (and one of the top 500 most-visited sites in the US). But, it seems their back-alley dealings have finally caught up with them.
Over the weekend, the FBI raided Backpage co-founder Michael Lacey’s home, and, as of yesterday, he and 6 of the site’s top admins have been indicted on 93 counts of conspiracy, facilitating prostitution, and money laundering.
“Virtually every dollar” Backpage made was from illegal activity
The charges, according to The Washington Post, include enabling trafficking of 17 victims (some as young as 14), multiple counts of conspiracy, and laundering some $500m in revenue from prostitution.
These are all malfeasances NOT protected under the Communications Decency Act — legislation that protects platforms from being prosecuted for content posted by third parties on their site — AKA the very shield Backpage has used to weasel out of many-a-lawsuit in the past.
But FOSTA-SESTA’s about to change all that
A bill that includes the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) and the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act of 2017 (SESTA) passed easily in the Senate at the end of March.
And, once President Trump signs it into law (expected to happen next week), platforms will be liable for facilitating trafficking, whether they post the content themselves or not.
The issue’s not as cut and dry as it seems…
As we discussed when the bill first passed a few weeks ago, FOSTA-SESTA has been incredibly polarizing across the web.
Advocates of the bill commend politicians for protecting victims of trafficking and reducing the profitability of facilitating transactions online.
But defenders of the free web like the Electronic Frontier Foundation cry censorship and sex workers have spoken out about fears that the law will drive the illicit industry even further underground, making it all the more dangerous.