Saturday, June 3, 2017

Trying to Hold in My Rage

"I Am Jane Doe":  A documentary about efforts to get Backpage.com to stop assisting pimps in renting out children.  Backpage.com started as an a division of progressive newspaper the Village Voice.  Two of the owners eventually split Backpage from Village Voice because Backpage was getting bad press for what were pimps offering clearly underage girls in "Adult Services."  Having split the embarrassment from the "respectable" newspaper, these progressive creeps went with Backpage, instead of staying with Village Voice.  Backpage was making huge revenues, especially after craigslist.com decide to exit this often prostitution-dominated market segment.  Can you see why progressives hold capitalism in contempt for its greedy lack of concern with the public good?  Projection.

The allegations are that Backpage provided advertising tips to make it less obvious that pimps were renting underage girls as well as prostitutes of legal age.  While Backpage hired moderators, the instructions they received were very clear (all caps) that unless it was completely obvious that the prostitute was under age, allow it through.  Even worse, Backpage allowed anonymous advertisers, with no attempt at verification of identity of advertiser or of age of the gals, and encouraged customers to use anonymous payment methods for "services."

There are a number of gals, 14, 15, 16 who are interviewed, along with a former pimp and one guy who tried to hire a 15-year-old through Backpage.  (He was arrested.)  In multiple cities, suits were filed against Backpage for effectively assisting pimps in their operations.  In every case, judges at district and appellate levels dismissed the suits because section 302 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which protects web sites from responsibility for statements or actions of their customers. I looked in scholar.google.com and found 378 court cases.  This one in the 1st Circuit matches well the description in the documentary:
As a final matter, we add a coda. The appellants' core argument is that Backpage has tailored its website to make sex trafficking easier. Aided by the amici, the appellants have made a persuasive case for that proposition. But Congress did not sound an uncertain trumpet when it enacted the CDA, and it chose to grant broad protections to internet publishers. Showing that a website operates through a meretricious business model is not enough to strip away those protections. If the evils that the appellants have identified are deemed to outweigh the First Amendment values that drive the CDA, the remedy is through legislation, not through litigation.
Now the courts have clearly followed Congressional intent on this instead of going all liberal and finding a right that exists nowhere but a judge's mind.  And yes, the solution needs to be legislative because the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Microsoft, Google, and Facebook have heavily funded Backpage's legal defense.

The reason is not hard to find.  If Facebook or Twitter had to moderate every Tweet or Facebook item to avoid the posting of criminal or libelous content, it would take hundreds of thousands of  moderators to do so, and many would make expensive mistakes.

Some of the judges may have their own reasons, above and beyond the black letter law.  There's  a disturbing audio of Judge Posner explaining that the advertising of escort services isn't necessarily prostitution; some older men just want to be seen in the company of young women.  (This explains why the ads show girls of questionable age in thongs.)  You can read 47 U.S. 320 (1996) here.

Here's my question for you to solve.  Congress, in spite of some serious efforts to get Backpage's CEO and other officers to provide information about their practices (all pleaded the Fifth, of course) has yet to amend sec. 302.  Remember that almost any provision holding these providers responsible for third party criminal content would certainly shut down social media .

Now, if you see Twitter and Facebook as degrading our society's level of decency, as I do, that's not a bug, but a feature.  Congress can't shut down social media; that way comes revolution.  Imagine 80 million under 40s reduced to writing emails, blogging, or even writing letters to communicate with family and friends.

Can you suggest a revision to sec. 302 that leaves social media free to degrade our culture and yet hold sites like Backpage responsible for facilitating, in one case, a 15-year-old who raped 1000 times?

This is an important issue.  If you can any blogs with an actual readership to link to this, I would appreciate it.

1 comment:

Jerry The Geek said...

I am appalled.

"Now the courts have clearly followed Congressional intent on this instead of going all liberal and finding a right that exists nowhere but a judge's mind."

But I wonder whether the judges could not find a "Right", but could not find a "Wrong".

You know ... a law which has been clearly broken.

There was a time, and there were states, where Beastiality (sp) was not obviously illegal (un legal?) and so it was permitted to endure until lws were passed.

Not making excuses for subjugation of minors; merely wondering how the LAW addresses these wrongs.