How the New FOSTA-SESTA Laws Affect Sugar Daddy Sites
April 11, 2018 saw President Trump sign the contentious “Stop Enabling Sex Trafficking and Fight Online Sex Trafficking” act into law. Hypothetically, the laws attempt to curb sex trafficking, especially, on online platforms. However, digital privacy experts are concerned that they infringe on digital privacy, legitimate “daughters of joy” and their companions.
The two laws commonly referred to as “FOSTA-SESTA” laws mark a considerable change in what is popularly known as “safe harbor” laws online (Section 230 of the 1996 communications Decency Act). Previously owners of websites were not legally answerable for any actions of their site users. For instance, if you threaten or insult somebody on Facebook, you will be held liable for your post, but Facebook will not be legally answerable for hosting such content as it is almost impossible to control what every user posts and could violate privacy rights. Now, under the new law this is no longer the case. Every site or online platform will be held liable for hosting what the FOSTA/SESTA law describes as prostitution.
Critics are concerned about the preceding effects that this law may have. Adult content being deleted from Google Drive accounts, craigslist purging its Personals section and Twitter’s banning of adult content users are all good examples of how these new laws are already changing how online platforms operate and treat users. Similarly, the imprecise definition of the word “prostitution” is at the heart of why this act is very dangerous to sugar daddy sites. Because there is no difference between human trafficking and consensual sex or arrangement, those who use online platforms as a convenient and safer way to meet new people for dating or companionship, might not be able to so legally anymore.
Also, Professor Kevin Gotkin, an established researcher on stigma and disability, holds that SESTA/FOSTA has very little to do with sex trafficking. Rather it is about discriminating an already disinvested community. It is about defining deviance and normalcy.
The disgracing attitude towards online dating and sex work is exceptionally critical to understating the fatal effects of this law. For example, many universities are known for being “harbors of sugar babes” which is mainly driven by the enormous costs of tuition that drive many students into huge debts. Online sugar daddy sites sometimes offer a much safer way to make ends meet or even earn some extra cash to be able to afford life in the city for such students.
A student who used an online platform to meet a partner describes her experience as respectful, consensual and purely about “love and financial security.” Because online dating, particularly on sugar dating is negatively depicted, it is important to understand that sugar dating is more often than not, “Two adults going about their normal lives and exchanging what they need from each other willingly.” And then the sugar babies use these gifts or money from for basic life expenses. You can imagine how drastic will this act affect them!
All this is happening in an environment where social forces for equality and empowerment are at loggerheads with a federal government that indirectly opposes these movements and the situation is worsened by a citizenry and media environment that doesn’t know how to analyze public policy critically. The law is a good example of how public policy can both hurt and help vilified communities.
Is this the end of sugar daddy sites?
Now that the law is finally here with us and we have to comply with it, what will happen to sugar dating sites and online dating in general? For years, sugar daddy sites have not only been helping people get companions as well as basic needs but have also managed to market more “daughters of joy” than the Mongol Empire! Unfortunately or fortunately, the new dawn is here and the first causalities were Reddit sugar lifestyle section, craigslist personals section and Backpage.com. These forums and sections were associated with “prostitution” so they decided to shut them once the FOSTA-SESTA act was signed into law. So, yes, the law will affect how sugar daddy sites operate but this shouldn’t be the end of sugar dating!
To keep their business up and running, these sites need to effectively prove to government agencies that they are taking drastic measures to prevent and promote sexual slavery. They will have to make serious efforts to monitor their users’ activities. Even dating sites like OkCupid and Tinder will have to incorporate software that screen for prostitution related terms.
The platforms must do everything within their power to streamline their operations in accordance with the legislation. This technically means implementing algorithms and software to flag prostitution related words and perhaps report the specific users to the authorities. It also means increasing banning rates and suspending thousands of accounts for minor offenses without a refund. They can also analyze and store the thousands of personal photos that people have uploaded on their platforms and then use reliable facial recognition software to keep suspended users off their platforms while building internal data profiles and keeping close tabs on the existing accounts. Also, this potentially means allowing respective government authorities full access to personal messages and profiles of users to ensure they act on any form of prostitution occurring on their platforms.
Proponents of consensual dating and sex are concerned that the legislation eliminates the various safety checks the sites provided, a platform where different people would interact, review each other before meeting. This essentially means that government agencies could be reading private messages, storing photos and reviewing profiles of the millions of users. And when two people exchange their contacts on a site, there is no reason to believe that authorities won’t track such communications to determine if prostitution is taking place or not. Of course they can’t monitor everyone, but a few is very likely.
Technically, this will send a vulnerable and marginalized community back to the streets where more violence and trafficking is likely to occur. Additionally, consensual sex work is being treated as,” sex trafficking,” which simply means that the courtesans are not acting on their will but are rather victims of sexual slavery.