“When you have a community that’s marginalized and policed in traditional spaces, every time a new technology creates a new open platform, those people are going to flock to it because they have to,” D’Adamo said. “For sex workers, moving to the internet was really about independence, accessibility and safety.”
Using online services, sex workers could have direct contact with clients without placing themselves at risk while negotiating services, prices and boundaries, including condom use.
Meanwhile on Capitol Hill, a crusade had begun against Backpage.com, a website previously known for hosting ads for sex work. In court, Section 230 had helped protect the site against claims that it enabled sex trafficking. But in 2017, a Senate investigation found the website complicit in trafficking. Lawmakers began crafting bills that eventually became FOSTA-SESTA.
When the bills became law, the chilling effects that sex workers had tried to warn about came swiftly. Rather than expose themselves to what legal experts called unclear criminal risk by attempting to differentiate between consensual sexual content and content that might involve trafficking, websites simply shuttered certain services and de-platformed sex workers.
Reddit banned several sex-related communities. Microsoft cracked down on nudity over Skype. The Google Play store updated its policies on apps promoting sexual content. And Craigslist closed its personals section, explaining that FOSTA-SESTA had created an online environment in which “any tool or service can be misused.”