Amid FOSTA crackdown, sex workers find refuge on Mastodon

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Sex workers are running out of safe spaces online. Craigslist no longer shows personal ads. The controversial Backpage ad site, which many chaperones used to detect customers, was confiscated by the FBI. The content for adults is disappearing from Google Drive, and many sex workers say they are being forced to leave social networks. With the news that President Trump signed Allowing States and Victims to Fight Sex Trafficking (FOSTA), their options will continue to decrease, and with it, the ability of many sex workers to pay their bills, much less do it. safe way .
In recent weeks, sex workers have resorted to an unexpected platform to stay online: the Mastodon social network, under a new instance called "Switter". The company Four headquarters in Melbourne created Switter after its founders knew that social networks either eliminating content of sex workers or banning their accounts. Without the time or resources to build a completely new network from scratch, the group turned to Mastodon.
Although apparently aimed at preventing sex trafficking, FOSTA's reduction of legal protections for websites is having disastrous consequences for sex workers. Given the new potential for litigation, many websites are removing any content or avenues that may violate FOSTA. It is disconnecting many of the most vulnerable sex workers from crucial resources.
"Now they are isolated from a means to rise to a safer work space"
"Those who are impoverished, those who are fleeing abusive partners, those who are actively trying to get out of really bad situations, especially black workers, bystanders," says Jaila Rhee, an educator and sex worker host of The Cuntcast. Podcast, he tells The Verge. "Now they are isolated from a means of rising to a safer work space."
Switter, which uses a domain hosted in Austria, offers a solution to this US legislation. UU As an open source platform, Mastodon mimics the look and function of Twitter. However, instead of relying on a single flagship site, it works through a series of networks called instances. These instances can be connected to others or they can exist as independent networks. Since its launch last month, Switter has grown to become the sixth largest instance, according to Mastodon Network Monitoring. "The ability to communicate and share information with peers is absolutely critical in the modern era," says J, an employee of Assembly Four who uses a single letter handler. "As FOSTA already had powerful effects, we realized that we had to find a safe place for sex workers to communicate, and quickly."
Switter is not the only off-shore server resource for sex workers, but unlike many others, it's free. Rhee, who has not yet joined Switter, points out that many alternative sites for sex workers charge expensive fees to post ads. "Someone who is doing sex work to survive and is in a desperate situation does not have $ 300 to place an ad," says Rhee. Instead, sex workers will be expelled to the streets, he says, and may even lose their ability to do their work independently. As the online options fade, Rhee says she has received requests for services to help her get clients. "They see this as an opportunity to be, in essence, pimps," she says.
"FOSTA, ironically, is going to get more people to be trafficked," adds Rhee. "It's not going to help those who are being trafficked." Being arrested is not rescuing … being criminalized, being put in the legal system, being labeled a criminal or a criminal, that's not what someone who is being trafficked needs. "
The impact of FOSTA already included the closure of everything from Craigslist personal ads to furry dating sites. Other platforms, such as Reddit, have closed companion subreddits and amended rules against "transaction" services, which group "paid services that involve physical sexual contact" with rules against firearms or drugs. Lola Hunt, an Australian escort who works with Assembly Four, says these rules or outright bans are especially damaging to workers located in the United States. "When we are censored on platforms, it sends the message to the general public that sex work is a very negative thing in society and NEEDS to be eliminated," he tells The Verge by email. Listing "paid sexual services" in the same category as weapons and drugs, she says, is only fostering the idea that paying for sex is an immoral act. "The United States is now one of the only countries [where] can legally buy multiple firearms, which can kill someone, without a license, but could be accused of carrying condoms," she says.
"My career and my whole life are in danger due to this bill"
In addition, expelling sex workers from major sites such as Reddit, Craigslist or Skype means removing them from resources that, according to Hunt, are absolutely vital. "This will only force many more workers to exploit and work in the street, since they will no longer have access to these resources," she says. "Losing these platforms means that there is much more chance of ending up in a potentially deadly situation."
A companion, Buffy, tells The Verge that it is difficult to identify a single thing that is at stake as a result of the death of FOSTA. "The reality is that my career and my entire life are in danger because of this bill," he says. "Sex work is the way I pay my rent, how I pay my bills, how I feed myself and my pets." Although she says she can stay afloat for now, she worries about the long-term sustainability of her profession if she remains disconnected. .
Buffy learned about Switter through a group chat that acts as a safe space for providers in her area to speak. "Word [has] quickly spread to other providers," he recalls. "Obviously, we were excited to talk about that." Buffy says she joined because of recent updates to the terms of service of many sites that would make her profile as a sex worker bannable. "It's very frustrating to be targeted like that," says Buffy. "Switter is a safe space, in which I do not have to dance with the word 'escort' or pretend that I am something I am not, that is incredibly valuable at the moment."
Although it does not consider it a permanent solution for your reservation needs, it is a place to continue your work for the time being. "I'm just keeping my eyes and ears open and paying attention to where others are going," he says. "As websites continue to be manufactured and closed, over time, the new central centers will become evident, and I intend to be a part of them."
As sex workers struggle for their livelihoods, there is also concern about the social implications of being expelled from public web platforms. The stigma surrounding sex work is far from over, and the consequences of FOSTA for those working in the industry are proof.
"When we are banned and silenced from social platforms such as Twitter, this not only makes it difficult for customers to interact with us, but also distances us from the general public," says Hunt. If sex workers are forced to work on secondary channels on the web, it only encourages harmful stereotypes. Hunt compares it to the image of the "collapsed street worker, who depends on drugs and who is abused by a pimp." In fact, we are in all forms, forms and demographic groups, and often people who are forced to be exploited are victims of stigma. "
Switter may offer a temporary ointment for the community, but sex workers say it can not be a last bastion, a final answer for their profession. Assembly Four says it is prepared to continue working to make it a safe destination for sex workers, but they need real change.
"The best scenario would be the opposite," says Hunt. "The best case would be if we did not need safe spaces, if the public spaces were somewhere, we would be accepted."

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