The SAFE TECH Act Will Make the Internet Less Safe for Sex Workers
Lawmakers should listen to the communities most affected before rushing to change Section 230 again
This op-ed was written by Cathy Reisenwitz, vice president of communications at the San Francisco Sex-Positive Democratic Club. She writes regularly at Sex and the State, a newsletter about power. Connect with Cathy on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and OnlyFans.
Big Tech’s haphazard content moderation and abuse of personal data create real harms — enabling surveillance, online stalking, harassment, and revenge porn. The Safeguarding Against Fraud, Exploitation, Threats, Extremism, and Consumer Harms (SAFE TECH) Act, introduced by Democrats last month, is supposed to force platforms to do a better job of moderating content. But as written, the SAFE TECH Act would fail to address harms and risk silencing marginalized communities.
As a female sex worker and frequent recipient of targeted harassment, I’m asking legislators to listen to us, one of the communities who will be most affected by their proposed bill, before inadvertently eroding the remaining protections we have online.
Those protections rest in Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which made the modern web as we know it. The beauty of Section 230 is that it allows all websites, regardless of their budget or the size of their legal team, to host user-generated content and implement their own content moderation policies.
The SAFE TECH Act would erode those protections. It would hold companies liable for their users’ behavior. The SAFE TECH Act would force small websites to spend $1 million or more, by one estimate, to prove to courts that users aren’t causing any one of nine new types of broad, ill-defined harm. These include cyberstalking, targeted harassment, civil rights violations, discrimination, and more.
Only the wealthiest, most powerful companies would be able to afford setting their own content moderation policies. Everyone else would run the real risk of being sued into oblivion by wealthy people who don’t like what people are saying about them online.