Online classifieds service Craigslist has shuttered its personal ads due to Congress's passage of new law that imposes liability on web platforms that facilitate sex trafficking.
"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," the company said Friday in a statement. "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!"
Reddit also said Friday that it has removed several forums.
The new Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (H.R. 1865), which was passed this week but has yet to be signed by President Trump, weakens web companies' immunity for material posted by users. The law revises the 22-year-old Communications Decency Act, which has long protected sites like Backpage, Craigslist and Facebook from liability in civil suits for illegal ads posted by users. The Communications Decency Act also protects the services from prosecutions in state court, but not federal court.
The Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act and its Senate companion, Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (S. 1693), amend the Communications Decency Act by allowing victims to sue websites that knowingly facilitate sex trafficking. The new measure also allows state prosecutors to bring criminal charges against the operators of websites that facilitate prostitution.
A broad range of digital rights groups oppose the new law, arguing that it will result in censorship of legitimate speech.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation predicted this week that the bill online platforms will become "much more restrictive in what sorts of discussion — and what sorts of users — they allow."
Last November, the EFF and other groups warned the Senate that the law "would create an incredibly strong incentive for intermediaries to err on the side of caution and take down any speech that is flagged to them as potentially relating to trafficking."
But other groups praised the new law. Consumer Watchdog, a frequent critic of tech companies, said the law's passage shows that "federal policymakers are finally beginning to hold Silicon Valley and the Tech industry accountable for their actions, instead of taking a hands-off approach in the name of promoting innovation."
The new law was originally aimed at Backpage, which has been the subject of numerous lawsuits over its "adult" ads section, which observers said mainly contained prostitution ads. The site defeated several of those lawsuits, on the grounds that the company was protected by the communications Decency Act. Backpage shuttered its adult ads last year, but many of those ads appear to have migrated to other sections of the site.