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Threatening free speech will not stop sex trafficking

By Scott Tibbs, August 25, 2017

Representative Hollingsworth and Senator Young,

I am very worried about efforts to amend the Communications Decency Act to punish interactive content providers (including Facebook, Twitter, Google, Wordpress, Instagram and countless comments sections for newspapers) for un-screened content posted by their users. I believe this is a direct threat to the First Amendment and could end free speech as we know it.

The idea is that this will prevent sex trafficking, but this has nothing to do with sex trafficking. This is about setting a precedent where government can go after an interactive content provider for the un-screened speech of its users. Sex trafficking is the low-hanging fruit, because everyone recognizes how evil it is and how the perpetrators of such crimes are worthy of the death penalty. As Christians, you know how a holy and righteous God hates these crimes and will punish those who commit them.

But that is not the real goal here. This is only the first step, and that this precedent will be used to bully websites into taking down "hate speech" and "extremist speech," along with many other kinds of speech the government does not like. How do you define hate and extremism? As you know, that is much broader than one would think. That will be defined by who is in power and what speech is politically inconvenient for them.

Opposing same-sex marriage is hate speech to some, while opposing vouchers for private schools is hate speech to others. This is the very definition of the slippery slope. Statists hate free speech and the fact that the great unwashed masses can posts their opinions online, so we need limited government conservatives like you to defend us from them.

Then there is the question of basic fairness. Obviously, there are evil men online, who use the Internet to commit crimes worthy of death. But is it fair for government to punish an interactive content provider for something a user did, especially in violation of the company's Terms of Service Agreement?

A basic premise of our criminal justice system is that there must be a mens rea to convict of a crime. There is simply no intent by reputable interactive content providers to allow their servers to be used to commit crimes. In fact, Google has partnered with other providers like Facebook and Twitter to identify and remove abusive content as well as catching people who have committed crimes.

This is why it is so incredibly offensive that some so-called "conservatives" accuse companies like Google of defending sex traffickers. This is a damnable lie worthy of nothing bus scorn and condemnation.

As former Congresswoman Susan Molinari pointed out on TheHill.com, Google engineers created a tool called Spotlight, which uses artificial intelligence to sift through millions of online ads to find and identify victims of sex trafficking. Law enforcement in all 50 states now use the Google-built tool to protect abuse victims and punish their abusers. Spotlight helped identify 2,000 sex traffickers and 5,000 victims of sex trafficking in one single year. Does this sound like a company that is defending sex trafficking?

As Republicans, you must realize that the Internet provides a unique took to help you bypass the mainstream media that often treats you unfairly. Through your websites and official social media accounts, you can reach the people directly. Do you really think it is a good idea for government to have the power to bully interactive content providers, knowing that a corrupt administration will inevitably use that tool to silence the opposition? We already saw the Internal Revenue Service being abused for this purpose, so is expanding that power really a good idea? Will this be expanded to campaign-finance laws and free speech by interest groups?

Congress was shockingly forward-looking in 1996, well before the blogosphere and social media revolutionized political discourse. They knew that punishing interactive content providers for the speech of their users would have a chilling effect on speech on the Internet. Please do not invalidate that wisdom and the protections for interactive content providers present in current law.

Sex traffickers must be caught, prosecuted and punished. People who facilitate the rape of children should be put to death as commanded in Holy Scripture. But setting a dangerous precedent that WILL be expanded and WILL be used to crush free speech online is the worst possible solution.

Instead, we should enhance penalties for monsters who sexually exploit children, including perhaps bypassing the Supreme Court by amending the Constitution to allow the death penalty for the rape of children and for the sex traffickers who enable those rapes. There are other options as well. Please pursue alternative solutions, instead of lighting the trail of gasoline that leads to our precious First Amendment.