A new law just killed Craigslist Personals. What’s next to go?

Amidst all the insanity going on in Washington these days, here’s something you may have missed. Last week, the U.S. Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill called FOSTA/SESTA, the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act/Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act. In basic terms, it makes it a criminal offense for any website to host any content related to sex work. The bill was intended to prevent online sex trafficking, but as any sex worker will tell you, the move will simply push legal sex work underground. Moreover, sex workers and trafficking victims alike will be forced into more dangerous circumstances. As one sex worker friend of mine put it: “People will die.”

Forced with the prospect of criminal liability, some sites have already started removing large swaths of content that could potentially host sex work-related content. The first casualty of this bill is the Craigslist personals section — including the infamous “Missed Connections” category — replaced by a message explaining FOSTA’s role in the shutdown and wishing “every happiness” to the “millions of spouses, couples, and partners” who met through the service.

Other sites are reacting to the new legislation as well. Reddit has banned its “Escorts” and “Sugar Daddy” sections in response to FOSTA. The website VerifyHIM has shut down its community section, a valuable resource where escorts would identify and warn other sex workers about violent or troublesome clients. And finally, sex workers are reporting that Google has started enforcing a years-old policy by deleting adult content without warning from the cloud storage service Google Drive, including legal copyrighted material rightfully owned by account-holders.

Advocacy groups like the Free Speech Coalition have pledged to take action, but as President Trump is poised to sign the bill into law, the full effects of the legislation are yet to be seen. More broadly, the question should be asked: “Is this censorship?” When providers are forced to take entire sections of websites offline in order to protect themselves — a move that results in the restriction of legal speech — it sure seems that way.

The president, the porn star, and why that matters


There’s something particularly captivating about news stories involving porn stars. Sadly, many people regard adult film professionals with scorn, dismissing them as stupid at best and degenerate at worst. So when a major story about a porn star breaks, those same people tune in, eager to scoff at the amusing notion of a porn star actually being “relevant.” In that vein, I couldn’t help but notice a touch of amusement in the voices of the cable news talking heads when the story of Stormy Daniels’ lawsuit against Donald Trump first surfaced. The lilt soon faded, however, as the details of the saga started to sink in — evidence of an orchestrated cover-up, allegations of criminal wrongdoing by Trump’s lawyer, a possibility that Trump may be required to testify under oath — and pundits started taking the story a little more seriously.

“The President and the Porn Star” is the go-to headline that the media has chosen to herald the affair and its ongoing legal fallout. I have mixed, but mostly positive, feelings about the use of that particular screamer. Reducing the story to a cute turn of phrase that sounds more like the title of a tawdry fairy tale than a serious news story lends an air of salaciousness to the saga, but I would argue that the salaciousness is key to the story’s impact.

The “mixed” part of my feelings stems from the fact that the nature of the story emboldens the people who like to spit on porn stars. A mere glance at Twitter — search “Stormy Daniels whore” if you dare — will give you an idea of the horrible things that people are saying about her. Stormy, for her part, is handling it brilliantly. Here’s how she addressed the criticism in a recent interview with CNN:

openquoteI’ve been in the adult business for 17 years, so to make it that long in that business you have to have a really tough skin, and so most of it rolls off my shoulders because it’s an opinion. Like, oh, you think I’m a whore, or you think I’m ugly, or I’m old, or I’m fat or my boobs are too big or too small or whatever. There’s nothing along those lines that someone can say to me that I haven’t heard. And so when someone says, “Hey, you’re a whore…” I’m like, “That is ‘successful whore’ to you!”

Now that’s class. As a porn actor myself, I have to say I’m very proud of her. She’s giving successful whores a good name!

Now, if this had just been a case of Donald Trump having an affair with a random woman, the world would have issued a collective shrug and said “that’s just Trump being Trump.” (Morals be damned… his base has already forgiven him for sexually assaulting women, so what’s a little affair between friends?) But it’s the catchy headlines and late night one-liners that have given this story life, and the tawdry nature of having an affair with a porn star — the horror! — is what sustains this story as front page news. Trump’s followers are degrading her, Trump-haters are cheering her, and everyone has grabbed their popcorn. Sex sells, as they say, and the adage holds true in the news media as well. But because it sells, and because this story has stayed in the news, it has led us from the comparatively simple story of “President Once Had an Affair” to revelations of potential campaign finance violations and other criminal acts in an attempt to cover it up.

As is so often the case, the cover-up is far worse than the crime. In addition to the fact that the hush money Trump’s lawyer paid to Ms. Daniels is raising legal questions in its own right — campaign finance violations carry significant jail time — in a political sense the continuing scandal could wind up being very damaging not just for the president, for the entire GOP. Republicans impeached Bill Clinton for attempting to cover up an affair, after all; imagine the hypocrisy should they let their guy slide for doing the same. (Oh, the optics!) That’s a great way to turn off the all-important swing vote, not just in the presidential election but all the way down the ticket.

And none of this would have come to light if not for “The President and the Porn Star.”