Craigslist announced early Friday morning that it would no longer host personal ads of any kind, in response to a bill that’s meant to curb sex trafficking—but will harm consenting sex workers, instead, according to groups like the ACLU and the Center for Democracy and Technology.
Wednesday, the senate voted overwhelmingly to pass a bill mashup of the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) and the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA). The bill will make websites like Craigslist, as well as social networks like Facebook and Twitter, more liable for what their users say and do on their platforms.
Two days after the vote to pass it, we’re already seeing the repercussions.
The classifieds site’s been in operation since 1995, with personals ads—including “casual encounters,” “misc romance,” “strictly platonic,” and various “seeking” sections—as a central part of the forums. When you click on any of these sections today, you’ll see a statement on their deletion:
“US Congress just passed HR 1865, 'FOSTA', seeking to subject websites to criminal and civil liability when third parties (users) misuse online personals unlawfully. Any tool or service can be misused. We can’t take such risk without jeopardizing all our other services, so we are regretfully taking craigslist personals offline. Hopefully we can bring them back some day. To the millions of spouses, partners, and couples who met through craigslist, we wish you every happiness!”
This is little consolation to the consensual sex workers that feared exactly this outcome of the bill’s passage: Many were adamantly opposed to the bill prior to its passing—along with several internet freedom groups—saying that it would literally mean a difference between life and death.
“Missed connections” is still up, but it’s in the “community” section. Craigslist made this move to cover itself against the new liabilities it’s under for what people do with its site, but it will be a blow to anyone who uses it for dating as well.
This isn’t the first time Craigslist decided to nuke a sex-focused section of its site in the middle of the night. In 2009, it shut down its erotic services section because of “fears of prostitution and other illegal activities.” This move may have ultimately been responsible for people’s deaths: In 2017, a study of violence against women before and after Craigslist the erotic services section found a 17 percent decrease in female homicides during the time the service was open, as well as a decrease in rape cases.
When sex workers are allowed to talk openly and freely about their clients, warn one another about bad dates, and screen clients online, they’re unilaterally safer than when they’re forced outdoors to work. Websites reacting to FOSTA-SESTA will change how this entire ecosystem operates, and we’re already seeing it happen before it even becomes law.