Craigslist personals, some subreddits disappear after FOSTA passage

Enlarge/ CEO of Reddit Alexis Ohanian attends WORLDZ Cultural Marketing Summit 2017 at Hollywood and Highland on July 31, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. Jerod Harris/Getty Images for PTTOW!

In the wake of this week’s passage of the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) bill in both houses of Congress on Wednesday, Craigslist has removed its "Personals" section entirely, and Reddit has removed some related subreddits, likely out of fear of future lawsuits.

FOSTA, which awaits the signature of President Donald Trump before becoming law, removes some portions of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. The landmark 1996 law shields website operators that host third-party content (such as commenters, for example) from civil liability. The new bill is aimed squarely at Backpage, a notorious website that continues to allow prostitution advertisements and has been under federal scrutiny for years.

In a bizarre turn of events, the Department of Justice also warned the House in February 2018 that the bill "raises a serious constitutional concern," as it would apply retroactively—a seeming violation of the Constitution's ex post facto clause. Congress passed it anyway.

On Thursday, in a brief statement on its website, Craigslist wrote:

Any tool or service can be misused. We can't take such risk without jeopardizing all our other services, so we are regretfully taking craigslist personals offline. Hopefully we can bring them back some day.

To the millions of spouses, partners, and couples who met through craigslist, we wish you every happiness!

In what appears to be a related move, on Wednesday, Reddit announced that it would ban a number of subreddits, including any that allow users to "solicit or facilitate any transaction or gift involving certain goods and services," including firearms, narcotics, alcohol, stolen goods, and "paid services involving physical sexual contact," among others. However, some related subreddits, such as /r/sexsells, will stay.

Neither Craigslist nor Reddit immediately responded to Ars’ request late Thursday evening for further comment.

In a Wednesday blog post decrying FOSTA, the Electronic Frontier Foundation warned of this exact scenario.

"It’s easy to see the impact that this ramp-up in liability will have on online speech: facing the risk of ruinous litigation, online platforms will have little choice but to become much more restrictive in what sorts of discussion—and what sorts of users—they allow, censoring innocent people in the process," Elliot Harmon, an EFF activist, wrote.

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