Criminalizing Sex On The Web - Liberal Resistance

Criminalizing Sex On The Web

Just in case you hadn’t noticed it, the Web is getting slowly, but surely purged of sexuality. Last March, for instance, Craigslist had to close down its personals because of a new and surprising law, the “Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act,” or FOSTA. In theory, it is meant to prevent human trafficking. In practice it makes websites liable to prosecution if it runs ads from sex workers.

Then, this month, the blogging platform Tumblr revealed that it would be removing all adult material from its site. That came as a serious shock to thousands, maybe millions of people who had been employing the site to explore their sexuality, particularly in areas that are considered non-standard. Tumblr supported large communities of users (LGBTQ, fetishist, etc.) with interlinking blogs who otherwise simply did not have a place on the web. Now they are once more scrambling for access to social media.

Why the sudden change in policy? That isn’t exactly clear. But apparently Tumblr came under pressure from its relatively new owner, Yahoo, which is, in turn, owned by Verizon. There is some speculation that Verizon wants Tumblr to appeal to less tolerant communities—for example, Right Wing Christians.

Several commentators have already pointed out that this trend is extraordinarily dangerous. Not only has it put sex workers at risk (at least on Craigslist they were not on the street) but it has brought censorship of the web to a new level. The New York Magazine writer, Jenna Wortham, may have put it best when she noted on Twitter, “this is a larger, disturbing trend that is indicative of troubling, invisible heternormative morality clauses on the web that we are all likely enable and/or are complicit in enabling.”

What is to be done? Frankly, it may be impossible to liberate the web from the grasp of moralizers (and large corporations) until the Internet itself has been reformed. One individual proposing to do just exactly that is Tim Berners-Lee, the gifted technologist who is sometimes called the Father Of The World Wide Web. He is actively working on a kind of Internet v2 which would be largely decentralized. It would put the user’s data, and applications, directly under the user’s control, and keep it away from prying eyes. In effect, everyone would be their own Google, Facebook, and Tumblr. (To learn more about Berners-Lee’s current work, visit the site of the company he’s set up to promote the technology, Inrupt.)

In the meantime, though, Tumblr users are in search of a new home. In future, LR net will run a list of some of the alternatives available.