Sex workers must go POSSE

And no, I don’t mean “a large group often with a common… interest”.

Background on some US laws

The Communications Decency Act is a US law issued in 1996. Section 230 of that law is famous worldwide (OK, it should, if you ask me) because it protects online platforms from liability for content posted by all its users. Basically, is what makes it possible for Facebook, Twitter etc… let people say whatever passes in their minds, with the only obligation to cancel what they say, if a court says so.

In 2018, the US passed another law, called FOSTA (“Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act”), or SESTA, after the original Senate bill.

That law amended Section 230 to make online platforms liable for content promoting prostitution, including consensual sex work, posted by third parties.

The story: vulnerable sex workers pushed into obscurity and precarity

Today, The Hill reports that “while it had been billed as a way to reduce sex trafficking, workers in the sex industry say that FOSTA/SESTA ultimately made their work more difficult and dangerous, while doing little to address that very real problem”. More on the general issue is available where I took the screenshots for this post, that is here and here.

FOSTA/SESTA was created, it seems, with one explicit target in mind: Backpage, a website well known, at the time, for sex workers' advertisements. After that law, the disappearance of Backpage and the lack of real alternatives has “decentralized sex work and forced content onto more obscure sites, ultimately making it more difficult to maintain lists of dangerous clients, called no-date lists and other norms surrounding interaction”.

Loss of social media followers, that is sources of income, can quickly put people in the streets, often doing the same things as before, but in much worst much riskier conditions. A stripper told The Hill:

“I’ve seen people who have worked so hard to get their following up. Now your years of hard work is gone in an instant. Like that for mental health first and foremost is just disheartening.”

Who will be next?

Sex workers must go POSSE /img/fosta.jpg
Stop FOSTA? OK, but don't forget FOSTA is an example of much more than censorship


Another source said: “While sex workers are the ones very publicly losing these spaces, what’s not far behind is sexual education [and] different activist groups,”.

An activist for internet rights group Fight for the Future, said that changes to Section 230 “could have profound chilling effects on social movements.” For example, platforms such as Facebook and Twitter could be hesitant to keep up the videos of police brutality that helped spark protests this summer if they could be sued for defamation by officers involved.

OK. But this is not even, or not only censorship

Sex work, and if and how it should be tolerated, regulated, prohibited… is a topic I will not go into. Censorship is wrong, whatever it hits, and surely played a big part in FOSTA. Here, however, FOSTA and its impact on sex work are presented just as an “illustrative example” of something else. As an advocate of the open web and of personal clouds, I would give that whole story a whole different title. Something like this:

Sex workers must go POSSE. Leading the way for the whole world

Here, POSSE is not (Merriam-Webster) “a large group often with a common interest, or a body of persons summoned by a sheriff to assist in preserving the public peace usually in an emergency”.

The POSSE I am talking about is the abbreviation of “Publish (on your) Own Site, Syndicate Elsewhere”: a robust and preferable syndication model for several reason, with the first being, what a coincidence, “Reduce 3rd party dependence”. For sex workers, or anybody else.

What is important here is that POSSE would be the way to go even if censorship did not exist.

Sex workers that lose their livelyhood because any private, third party platform can obscure or kick them out in any moment, is something that can happen to anyone, because it is implied in not having a personal, permanent website. It is the same thing that happened this month to users of Yahoo Groups, and before them to those of Geocities. Yes, even a personal web domain may be obscured, but it would be harder to do, and more “controllable”.

What sex workers losing their livelihood in this way proves is that social media as today are bad, while POSSE is good, and feasible. Especially because direct, unfiltered, non-proprietary ways to let a website owner announce new content to all her followers exists by many years now. It’s called RSS, and you should really use it. For sex news, or any other news.

It is a long standing Internet meme that it is porn that really makes technology advance, and makes the masses adopt it, since at least the advent of VHS tapes. Let’s hope that it does it in the right direction this time.