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April 03, 2018

FOSTA Forces Furry Dating Site Pounced.org to Go Dark

CYBERSPACE—A top dating site for the furry fetish community has been forced to close down, due to the recent passage of the FOSTA bill in the United States House and Senate.  The bill, which is ostensibly aimed at curtailing online sex trafficking, has already caused other large sites including Craigslist and Reddit to take personal ads and discussion groups offline for fear that some of their content may run afoul of the bill’s restrictions on “facilitating” sex trafficking activities. While the bill has not yet been signed by Donald Trump and therefore is not yet U.S. law, sites appear to be acting preemptively to remove user-created content that could somehow be interpreted as promoting “sex trafficking.” Under pre-FOSTA law, sites were not generally held accountable for content generated by users. But under the prospective new law, what counts as “facilitating” sex trafficking remains unclear, forcing sites such as the now-shuttered furry personal ad forum Pounced.org to exercise an abundance of caution to avoid potential lawsuits or criminal charges. “FOSTA attempts to make Internet sites such as Pounced.org liable for the way users use the site in an effort to address sex trafficking and prostitution,” the site wrote in a statement explaining the shutdown. “FOSTA increases our liability significantly and chips away at one of the primary reasons we as a small organization can provide services to the community—the protection that had previously been offered to us by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.” But even as sites such as Pounced.org shut down or pull personal ads offline, a current civil lawsuit in Massachusetts could shatter the entire foundation of the FOSTA law, whose proponents argued that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act shielded sites that promoted sex trafficking. According to an analysis by the libertarian site Reason, the current lawsuit in Massachusetts against Backpage.com could end up in a ruling that Section 230 never actually provided that protection in the first place. "Section 230 does not provide Backpage—or anyone else—absolute immunity, and it never has," said technology lawyer Eric Goldman, in a blog post quote by Reason. In other words, the FOSTA bill may never have been necessary in the first place, and its ultimate effect will not be to curb “sex trafficking,” but rather to harm sites and their users who simply want to discuss topics that relate to sexuality. According to a report by the tech news site Motherboard, people in the furry community are already feeling the effects of Pounce.org’s demise.  “As the furry community is primarily an online community, any closure that limits the ability of members to meet and interact is detrimental to the whole,” a lawyer and furry fan told Motherboard. “Where there's a will to limit information, there's a way to limit it that someone can conceive of. FOSTA is a way to limit, or force others to limit, community interactions.” Pounced, a volunteer-run site, is now in the process of finding legal counsel, as well as modifying its terms of service, and hopes to find a way to safely go back online soon, though no timetable has been set, Motherboard reported.

 
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