Google, Facebook worry over anti-prostitution bill's fallout

Google and Facebook are among companies opposing a Senate bill aimed at squelching online trafficking of children. It’s a stance that makes the Silicon Valley giants uneasy allies of a website accused of providing an advertising platform for teen prostitution.

The companies and tech trade groups say online providers will face greater liability for speech and videos posted by users if federal lawmakers move against Backpage.com and its online classified ads.

Bill supporters disagree, saying the measure creates a narrow exception to deter lawbreakers and won’t harm the internet.

“There’s clearly a problem” as victims of sex trafficking advertised on Backpage repeatedly lose before judges who cite the federal immunity, said Yiota Souras, general counsel for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, a not-for-profit group. “Time and again victims are getting kicked out of court, even though there’s trafficking going on.”

The tech companies say they agree with the purpose of the law, but fear the unintended consequences. They want to preserve immunity they won from Congress two decades ago, after the brokerage dramatized in the film “The Wolf of Wall Street” sued an online service over critical comments posted on message boards.

Now at least 28 U.S. senators have signed onto the effort to retract some of that protection granted during the dawn of the commercial internet. A hearing on the bill is scheduled for Sept. 19. In recent days Oracle Corp. and 21st Century Fox have endorsed the measure.

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