On April 11, the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA), which says websites can be held legally liable if their users post ads for prostitution, was signed into law.
“This bill will and already has been responsible for the murder, rape [and] arrest of sex workers and will further push trafficked people underground,” says Arabelle Raphael, a 29-year-old sex worker in California. As Raphael points out, it is so far mostly free and low-cost sites that are disappearing, which she says largely affects those who can’t afford more expensive advertising platforms or who can’t “class pass” ― that is, adopt the markers of a higher socioeconomic class ― enough to get work on them.
The most marginalized groups (e.g., people of color, LGBTQ people, low-income people and the disabled) are most dangerously affected by the changes to the digital landscape. But the bill conflates sex trafficking with any kind of sex work, and its ripples are affecting consensual sex workers across the industry, including those involved in legal sex work, like porn performers.
Allie, 27, was surprised to find how much her work in pornography has been affected by the bill’s passage. Her archives were deleted by Google Drive, and her bank abruptly pulled out of processing payments for her website. Spooked by FOSTA’s broad implications, many digital platforms are revising their terms of service or booting content of a sexual nature altogether. Microsoft revised its terms of service to ban “inappropriate content” like nudity and offensive language on Skype. Sex workers report having their accounts banned and shadowbanned on social media sites like Instagram and Twitter. Some website-hosting services are shuttering sex workers’ domains. As happened to Allie, Google Drive has begun reviewing and deleting users’ content directly.
For those with the privilege to do so, this has become a moment to diversify income streams, to pivot to new technologies, to learn about encryption and cryptocurrencies. For those without such resources, it’s a dire moment, when not only are their livelihoods at stake, but also their lives.