A coalition of civil liberties groups in South Dakota is sending a clear message to Senator John Thune: don’t turn your back on our right to assemble online.
The ACLU of South Dakota, Indivisible 605, Indivisible Rapid City, and Queer South Dakota signed a letter [.pdf] urging Senator Thune to put the brakes on the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (S. 1693, SESTA). Thune is the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, which is currently considering the bill.
Despite its name, SESTA wouldn’t punish sex traffickers. It would threaten legitimate online speech. SESTA would expose any platform that hosts online discussions to the risk of massive civil and criminal liability if anyone uses those platforms for sex trafficking purposes. As we’ve explained previously, SESTA would likely force online platforms to become far more restrictive in their moderation practices, censoring a lot of innocent people in the process. And experts in sex trafficking say that the bill would put trafficking victims themselves in even more danger, compromising the tools that law enforcement agencies use to find traffickers.
As the South Dakota groups point out, the online communities that SESTA would compromise are uniquely important for people who live in rural areas:
Section 230 [the law that shields online platforms from some types of liability for their users’ speech] is one of the most important laws protecting free expression online. Its protections are uniquely important to South Dakotans: we rely on online communities to share our thoughts and ideas with friends across the country and around the world. For rural Americans, online communities often serve as our most important connection to likeminded friends. For people of color, members of the LGBTQ community, and other marginalized South Dakotans, online communities are our lifelines.
If Congress were to pass a bill undermining Section 230, it would almost certainly result in online platforms over-relying on automated filters to censor their users’ speech. When platforms lean too heavily on computerized filters, marginalized people are usually the first ones silenced.
South Dakotans, we encourage you to join these groups in speaking out to Senator Thune. Sign our online petition and we will deliver the message to Thune’s staff. And if you’re in the Sioux Falls area, come discuss the issues at an Indivisible 605 event this Thursday.
Everyone else, please take a moment to write to your members of Congress and urge them to stop SESTA.