Missed Connection: Craigslist Shuts Down ‘Personals’ Tab in US

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Craigslist, a popular website for classified ads, has removed the ‘personals’ tab from its website in the United States in response to a bill passed by the US Senate Wednesday aimed at curbing sex trafficking.

HR 1865, the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) will subject websites to civil and criminal liability for promoting or facilitating sex work. The bill targets the promotion or facilitation of sex work online, making it punishable by up to 10 years in prison, Fast Company noted February 28, the day after the House of Representatives passed the bill.

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The bill "ostensibly gives victims and prosecutors more power to sue websites that knowingly aid sex trafficking," the outlet said, although Electronic Frontier Foundation (EEF) noted March 21 that lawmakers have "failed to separate their good intentions from bad law."

Nonprofit EEF, which defends "civil liberties in the digital world," noted the bill "undermines Section 230, the most important law protecting free speech online. Section 230 protects online platforms from liability for some types of speech by their users."

EFF predicts that the law will produce a variety of bad responses, from restricting terms of service to bans on sexual content and ads for legal escort services to the use of automated services like filters that delete "borderline" posts. "No matter what methods platforms use to mitigate their risk, one thing is certain: when platforms choose to err on the side of censorship, marginalized voices are censored disproportionately. The Internet will become a less inclusive place, something that hurts all of us."

Craigslist has chosen to err on the side of caution and simply remove the part of its website that offers those sorts of interactions. "Any tool or service can be misused," its statement on the shutdown reads. "We can't take such risk without jeopardizing all our other services, so we are regretfully taking craigslist personals offline."

The New York Times observed February 27, when the House passed the bill, that Silicon Valley and tech companies had initially opposed the bill because of how it chipped away at Section 230, but that "some large online companies, including Facebook, eventually backed off from their opposition to the bill after its scope was narrowed."

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"The new legislation would not affect most internet companies. A victim would need to prove a site had knowingly facilitated sex trafficking to successfully sue the company. But not all online companies could hide behind the Section 230 shield," the NYT notes.

Craigslist finished its statement saying it hopes "we can bring them back some day." Until then, Americans will have to seek their "missed connections" elsewhere.

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