Reply All: #119 No More Safe Harbor
April 20, 2018 7:59 AM - Subscribe

Last month, the government shut down, a site where people advertised sex with children. We talk to a group of people who say that was a huge mistake.
posted by firechicago (7 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I really liked this episode. At first, I was worried that it was going to end up in a mealy-mouthed "Who can really say who's right here?" conclusion, but I feel like they did a good job of acknowledging the emotional appeal of shutting down sites that facilitate trafficking, while also pointing out that doing so involved putting real people in real danger, and the arguments for shutting them down involved ignoring the experiences and safety of the people who relied on those sites.
posted by firechicago at 8:02 AM on April 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

I liked this too, I thought it was a great non-inflammatory look at the issue.

I've seen a lot of hue and cry that this will be "the end of online porn" or even worse, and while I understand the fears and the potential abuses of this law, I recall hearing a lot of the same outrage in 2003 with the PROTECT Act, and online porn seems even more prevalent now than it was then.

FOSTA-SESTA is a deeply misguided law, but there was no chance Congress wouldn't pass it, none of them want to face an election where the opponent would call them "pro-sex slaves." Someone's going to have to bring a lawsuit with enough backing to carry it as far as necessary to challenge the absurd over-broadness of it.
posted by dnash at 10:04 AM on April 20, 2018

I found this episode infuriating.

I'm a regular listener and generally really like the show. Typically, the Reply All gang looks critically at issues from multiple angles and, while they stay empathetic, they generally don't miss the forest for the trees, or let truly bad behavior get a pass. That's why it was so very, very frustrating to hear zero discussion of backpage's responsibility in any of this. No interviews, or note of attempted interviews with their owners or former employees, or mention of what, if any measures backpage had been or could have taken to limit the OPEN, NOT-AT-ALL-SECRET ABUSE happening under their noses for literally years, before this shitty law was even in committee, let alone before it was passed. Instead, the situation was framed as though it were 100% about advocates for child safety being used by overzealous politicians as pawns in an effort to crack down on sex workers. Which, yes, of course that happened, and it is terrible, but how about the shameless, craven, morally bankrupt website that ALSO threw sex workers under the bus, by abdicating their responsibility to maintain a safe platform?

Backpage was not a wetland the government decided to bulldoze due to perceived overpopulation of alligators. It was a company. Like Twitter. Like Facebook. Guess what? I work for a company! My company's tools are very useful and mostly they are used to do helpful things. They also have the potential to be used by fraudsters to steal from people. We're not legally responsible for preventing this but, you know, doing a modicum of effort to prevent that is something our clients kind of expect, along with things like data security. If we did nothing to prevent fraud, we'd lose business and it would harm the our customers and the company's reputation. So, duh, we do it.

If I went to work one day and found out that my company's tools facilitated the rape of a child, I would have a meltdown you could see from the sun. I would expect AT THE VERY BAREASS MINIMUM LOWEST POSSIBLE BAR that whatever vulnerability in our security or design that allowed this to happen would be considered a level one priority and the biggest failure that the company, and probably anyone associated with it, had ever or would ever personally experience, and that it should cause us to reevaluate every. single. decision. that led to this event.

This would be ESPECIALLY true if we catered to a vulnerable population, such as sex workers that depend on us for their livelihood. We'd have to know that fucking up in such a huge and important way could have major consequences to our client base and should therefore be doing everything possible to make sure that they were shielded from the fallout, while being 100% transparent about our role in what happened to this child, how our product is implicated in it, and what steps we plan to take to prevent anything similar from ever happening again. And if we find ourselves unable to fix it, giving our clients whatever assistance and information we can to help them figure out a game plan for when we shut down.

So I consider it a pretty big fail on the part of PJ and the Reply All folks that they didn't hold backpage accountable for any of the above.
posted by prewar lemonade at 1:27 PM on April 20, 2018 [6 favorites]

It's worth pointing out- and I don't think they did in the episode- that Backpage was not shut down by FOSTA/SESTA. There's been a whole mess of charges against various people involved in Backpage and they all predate FOSTA/SESTA.
posted by BungaDunga at 2:02 PM on April 22, 2018

Great journalism, I second firechicago's feeling that they did a good job capturing many sides of the discussion. Also agree with prewar lemonade that some details on Backpage's culpability would have been great, but the lack of it didn't ruin the piece for me or anything. (Also not heard from: any customers. But I think that's for the best.)

The thing I found most frustrating was Carol Smolenski, the advocate for the law they interviewed. She seems sincerely to be doing good in the world and understanding that sex workers deserve justice too. And then she simplifies it all down to her core issue, protecting children, and the rest of it be damned. ARGH! OTOH I admire her dedication to her cause.
posted by Nelson at 11:03 AM on April 24, 2018

I'm remain incredibly impressed by Reply All's journalism. That said, the pattern of recent episodes that reveal the world as an awful place full of horrible people continues. I think they're now second only to Democracy Now on my list of "important, but horribly depressing" podcasts. But, that's not a bad thing. I'm glad they're doing this work. I do hope we get more staged subway rat theater shows every so often, though. There are things on the internet that are fun, even today.

I'm not at all impressed by the FOSTA/SESTA advocates. Their tag-line really ought to be, "let's convince abused teens to commit suicide, so we don't have to think about them." Cripes, what ethically bankrupt assholes! I suppose I knew that already, but hearing someone in friendly and conspiratorial conversation admit that their policy is stupid and will destroy lives and then insist on continuing to pursue it ('cause of the children) makes the whole thing all the more astonishing and horrible.
posted by eotvos at 8:39 AM on April 27, 2018

This episode was great.

I really appreciate hearing your perspective prewar lemonade, because even not specific to Backpage, this episode did not talk about what responsibility websites should have in general for the abuse they facilitate - and you're right - there should be a discussion of that.

But given the limited discussion they had on this episode, I believe they did an excellent job of making the impact of this law very clear. As we have no evidence FOSTA will increase safety for sex workers or children or trafficked people, but we do have evidence it will harm those same populations, I am squarely in agreement with where Reply All fell on this one.
posted by latkes at 10:04 AM on May 26, 2018

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