Social Media

Well-intentioned bipartisan social media bill could be a slippery slope regarding privacy

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(SOCIAL MEDIA) A new anti-sex trafficking bill may put social media companies at risk for content that they don’t control.

A new form of slavery

An estimated 20-45.8 million people are trapped in sex trafficking, the world’s newest form of slavery. One out of every five victims is a child under the age of 18. This form of slavery is happening in 167 countries, or roughly, 87 percent of the world and the United States is not exempt.

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A new bill geared toward ending sex trafficking on social media may end up jeopardizing the immunity from user-created content that social sites have, simply because it is too broadly written.

Good Concept, Poor Execution

The Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act of 2017 aims to target instances of sex trafficking—more specifically, child sex trafficking—in online venues, including social media sites. Sounds like a worthwhile cause, right? Unfortunately, the proposed execution of this act leaves a lot to be desired.

According to section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, social media sites are not directly responsible for the content their users upload.

This prevents them from being held accountable for controversial content that they can’t see or moderate quickly enough.

For example, if a murder or similar crime is recorded and uploaded to YouTube, YouTube isn’t liable for the content itself.

The ambiguity in the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act of 2017 could potentially change that by amending Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to exclude cases of sex trafficking, in which case the platforms on which the content was uploaded could—and, some fear, would—be prosecuted for that content.

This presents a huge problem because, as we all know, the Internet is often a moral-free zone where nothing is off-limits.

With Section 230 amended, some of the pitch-black humor and careless conversation one expects to find in the average comment section could turn into actual cases levied against social media sites like Facebook and YouTube, to say nothing of the actual instances that these companies can’t react to in time.

Wrong Way to Go About It

Obviously, we’re all in favor of ending sex trafficking, especially in a realm so untamed as the Internet. However, anyone who has spent literally any time in a comment section knows how volatile, controversial, and straight-up weird people can be when they feel anonymous. To hold a company accountable for the (admittedly reprehensible) actions of a few people who agreed to terms of use contracts prohibiting those actions seems like the wrong way to go about a serious problem that very much needs to be addressed.

As it sits, the result of passing the bill as-is would more than likely culminate in nothing more than wave after wave of minor, time-wasting lawsuits for individual “infractions” and suspected leads. Sex trafficking is a horrendous act that deserves full and immediate attention—it just needs a little more focus than this bill currently entails.

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