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Ann Wagner (R-Mo.), chief sponsor of the bill, “to ensure that no online business can ever approach the size of Backpage again.” Civil liberties advocates attacked the bill as too broad, creating new liability for websites that had previously been protected by the Communications Decency Act for content posted by third parties.A number of websites, including Craigslist, began shutting down sections that might be construed as sex-related after the bill passed the Senate last month, and Wagner said online sex-related advertising revenue had declined 87 percent in the past 60 days, roughly when her bill passed the House.“It means so much to our family,” Ambrose said of the bill.“Hopefully, there won’t be many more people who have to endure that pain.” [How a 16-year-old went from Backpage to prostitution to homicide victim] The bill, nicknamed “FOSTA” for its title, “Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act,” goes into effect immediately, but its impact was already being seen around the Internet as sites shut down sex-related areas and stopped accepting sex-related advertising.Documents uncovered by a Washington-based company, Co Star, revealed that a contractor in the Philippines would copy prostitutes’ ads from competitors’ websites around the world, recreate them in a Backpage template, then contact the prostitutes and offer them free ads, already completed, on Backpage.[Backpage has always claimed it doesn’t control sex-related ads.
Google began marshaling its lobbyists for a fight, urging congressional staff to keep members from co-sponsoring Wagner and Portman’s bills.“What it will do is push traffickers to overseas websites that are beyond the reach of law enforcement, making it harder to prosecute them and harder to find them through the victims.” But the horror stories emerging from websites such as Backpage, in which young girls were trafficked for months or even years, created a tide of frustration that the websites couldn’t be forced to stop hosting the ads and that the victims couldn’t sue the sites for damages.The federal indictment of Backpage officials unsealed Monday described one girl who was prostituted on Backpage from ages 14 to 19, saying she was gang-raped, choked to the point of seizures and forced to perform sex acts at gunpoint.The signing comes just days after seven executives for were arrested on a 93-count indictment that alleges the website facilitated prostitution and laundered tens of millions of dollars in profits, and that teenage girls were sold for sex on the site. The government also shut down Backpage’s classified ad websites around the world, and moved to seize houses and bank accounts around the United States.