A dating website for furries is the latest casualty of FOSTA, a controversial anti sex-trafficking bill that passed in the Senate last week.
Pounced.org is a personals website for furries to meet up and find romantic partners. Think Craigslist personals (which also shuttered) but specifically for the anthropomorphically-inclined. On March 23, two days after Congress passed the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA), it suddenly and voluntarily shut down.
Now, when you visit Pounced, instead of personals ads, you’re presented with a thorough explanation of why the site is down:
“FOSTA attempts to make Internet sites such as pounced.org liable for the way users use the site in an effort to address sex trafficking and prostitution. FOSTA increases our liability significantly and chips away at one of the primary reasons we as a small organization can provide services to the community - the protection that had previously been offered to us by Section 230 of the Communications Decency act”
Pounced goes on to explain that while it doesn’t actually promote prostitution or sex trafficking, a part of FOSTA says that if the site does facilitate the prostitution of another person—even unknowingly—its liable. Since it’s a volunteer-run website, a lawsuit or charges for violating this law (which isn’t a law yet, but will be once the president signs the bill) would be devastating.
As lawyer and member of the furry fandom Boozy Barrister (his pen name) wrote in an extensive explanation of the legal nuances behind FOSTA and this situation, it’s unlikely that legislators set out to destroy a furry dating website. “The only way to really disprove the intent is to vigorously monitor all the listings on your site, taking down any listings or ads that may be related to the sex trade,” he writes. “Where you have a small site, such as Pounced.org, this is going to be virtually impossible.”
Boozy told me in an email that since Pounced went down, he’s seen people in the community reminiscing and commiserating over how they met friends, lovers and spouses on the site. “As the furry community is (primarily) an online community, any closure that limits the ability of members to meet and interact is detrimental to the whole,” he said. “Where there's a will to limit information, there's a way to limit it that someone can conceive of. FOSTA is a way to limit, or force others to limit, community interactions.”
It’s not clear at this point whether Pounced will be back up soon. According to the company’s tweets, it’s working with the EFF and have obtained legal counsel. An update on the site from March 31 says it's "working to update our terms of service and modify the site as required." Both a spokesperson for Pounced and a spokesperson for the EFF directed me back to Pounced.org for information on what’s happening next.
In the grand scheme of the internet, the shutdown of a furry dating site is fairly niche (there were around 87,000 users on the site before it closed, according to a screenshot posted to the site now) but it’s another example, along with several sex work-focused forums and Craigslist personals, of how small websites, even ones without an explicit intention of advertising escort services or advertising sex work, can be crushed by this bill.
And anyway, furries practically built the internet. They didn’t deserve this.