Pounced is a furry personals site which operates a free service on behalf of the community. We are staffed by volunteers and cover our own costs as a benefit to the community. (We appologize we have been a little too hasty on taking action on FOSTA, the bill has yet to be signed by President Trump, but has passed both the House and Senate, and will soon likely be signed into law by the president. Our action was prompted by Craigslist response to FOSTA, which was to shut down their personals section.)
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.
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:
“No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider”
We didn’t have to worry about what our users said using our platform, as we weren’t liable for what they said.
FOSTA changes that in a way that makes sites operated by small organizations like pounced.org much riskier to operate. FOSTA essentially says that if we facilitate the prostitution of another person we’re liable. If you read FOSTA carefully the bill says “or facilitate” – the problem is that “or facilitate” is ill-defined.
“(Sec. 3) The bill amends the federal criminal code to add a new section that imposes penalties-a fine, a prison term of up to 10 years, or both-on a person who, using a facility or means of interstate or foreign commerce, owns, manages, or operates an interactive computer service (or attempts or conspires to do so) to promote or facilitate the prostitution of another person.”
We don’t promote prostitution or sex trafficking. We’re a personals site for the furry community, our goal was to allow members of our community to have a personals site dedicated solely to the community, and we’ve tried to serve our community well.
The problem is, with limited resources and a small volunteer staff, our risk for operating the site has now significantly increased. Now if someone posts an ad looking to exchange sex for something to pounced.org, and we don’t catch it, is that facilitating prostitution? Is it enough to simply re-train our volunteer staff and update our terms of service?
Do we try to filter advertisements and forum posts? Do we ask our volunteer staff to take on the burden of reviewing all personal ads to insure we’re in compliance – and what if they miss one? If we try to implement filtering will it be anything other than intrusive and ineffective, given the resources of a small organization like ours?
And we must now account for the fact that our liability to operate a service such as pounced.org has unequivocally increased, especially given that FOSTA explicitly makes this a criminal liability.
We now can be held accountable for the actions of others using our service. This bill is poor a trade off, it makes all service operators bear increased liability for the actions of their users or act as censors to their speech in exchange for targeting a few malicious services.
As an organization that operates a free service, is this trade off worth the reward of providing our services to the community?
We were able to offer pounced.org as a free service to the community because the liability to us was manageable and we could manage our cost effectively. We didn’t frequently have to pay for lawyers, and we ate this cost when we did.
Would you be willing to try to accomplish the same if it meant you could be criminally liable for the actions of others who use a service you offered for free?
In many ways this bill targets small sites like ours directly, it favors organizations with the resources to invest in filtering technology, paid staff and legal support staff. It is less of an impediment for big organizations, while doing significant harm to small organizations like ours, which service niche communities like ours. Our larger competitors are not likely to find a large market in servicing the furry community, and so our community will suffer.
The Internet would never have become what it is today with bills like FOSTA in place and communities like ours would never have dedicated service providers like pounced.org.
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