Reason Roundup

Facebook Supported 'Sex Trafficking' Law FOSTA to Cozy Up to Republican Critics: Reason Roundup

Plus: Trump endorses sentencing reform and Bitcoin's value continues to fall.


Omar Marques/ZUMA Press/Newscom

How Facebook sold out sex workers and free speech. I can't think of a better way to put it than Gizmodo does: "Facebook has been exposed as utter garbage yet again." A new investigation from The New York Times reveals how the company responded to controversies over Russian influence and user-data privacy with "an aggressive lobbying campaign" against rivals and critics.

Getting the most attention is the fact that Facebook hired Definers Public Affairs to spread George Soros conspiracy theories, tarnish protesters' credibility, and defame critics as anti-Semitic. But the Times also reveals that Facebook chose to support FOSTA (and its Senate counterpart, SESTA)—legislation that guts a fundamental protection for digital publishers and platforms, and makes prostitution advertising a federal crime—not as a matter of principle but as a political tactic to tar opponents and cozy up to Congressional critics.

Politicians deceptively publicized FOSTA as the only way to stop rampant online marketplaces for child prostitution. Opponents, they lied, were putting abstract free-speech ideals above innocents trapped in sexual slavery. It was all bullshit, but the press ate up the easy framing—Free Speech/Big Tech vs. Sex-Trafficked Kids/The Good Guys in Government. (The Times still describes the bill, erroneously, as one that "made internet companies responsible for sex trafficking ads on their sites.")

And so Facebook stood athwart "Big Tech" and with the right side of the establishment power-grubbing consensus, as Twitter, Google, and other major tech companies and digital platforms opposed the bills for the sham and harbinger of internet destruction that they were.

SESTA "was championed by Senator John Thune, a Republican of South Dakota who had pummeled Facebook over accusations that it censored conservative content, and Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat and senior commerce committee member who was a frequent critic of Facebook," the Times notes.

For Facebook, supporting the bill and all its horrible outcomes for sex workers and free speech was a matter of chummying up to Republicans who accused it of censoring conservatives:

Facebook broke ranks with other tech companies, hoping the move would help repair relations on both sides of the aisle, said two congressional staffers and three tech industry officials.

When the bill came to a vote in the House in February, Ms. Sandberg offered public support online, urging Congress to "make sure we pass meaningful and strong legislation to stop sex trafficking."

The version of the bill known as FOSTA passed in March; President Donald Trump signed it in May. Since then, there's been an endless string of stories about how the new law is endangering sex workers and harming their livelihood, chilling and censoring all sorts of legal speech, and actually making it harder for police to find forced and underage prostitution victims and punish perpetrators.

A lawsuit challenging FOSTA was rejected in September by a federal district court in D.C. The plaintiffs, including the Woodhull Freedom Foundation, SWOP Behind Bars head Alex Andrews, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, are appealing the decision.

Woodhull announced last Friday that it had filed an initial statement with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia (the court on which Trump just nominated Neomi Rao to replace Brett Kavanaugh).


FIRST STEP Act gets Trump's support. On Wednesday, the president "endorsed what could be the most significant rewrite of federal prison and sentencing laws in more than a decade," reports Reason's C.J. Ciaramella.

"I'm thrilled to announce my support for this bipartisan bill that will make our communities safer and give second chances," Trump said. "We're all better off when former inmates can reenter society as law-abiding, productive citizens."


Bitcoin continues to fall. "On Wednesday morning it was more than $6,200—now it's at $5,573," reports Fast Company. "This over 10% drop is the lowest price the cryptocurrency has seen in over a year. Other currencies fell, too. Coindesk reports that, in total, the entire cryptocurrency market lost $24 billion in the past 24 hours."


• "It's hard to conjure a more counterproductive approach to intersectional feminism than for one white woman to shout insults at other white women based on the results of a single Senate race fought between two men," writes Conor Friedersdorf. And yet

• Lawyer Michael Avenatti was arrested yesterday on suspicion of domestic abuse.

• Against Paypal's "corporate censorship."

• Smart devices ranked by creepiness.

• Government gone wild:

• Protecting and serving: