Ethics of shutting down Backpage.com for promoting prostitution and child sex trafficking

Backpage.com was was online site with classified ads. Many of these ads were for sexual services. Interest in the site increased when craigslist banned such ads from its site. In April 2018, the US government shut down the site

The main issue that led to backpage being shut down was child sex trafficking. Ads appeared on the site for children who had been abducted and forced into prostitution. Though Backpage.com was the platform on which the ads appeared, it was ultimately held criminally liable for its users content after the U.S. Department of Justice took action against it. The US Congress also recently passed a bill along the same lines as this action.

This provides a great example of the contrast of ethical approaches.

Even though the main goal of the government’s action was to protect sex workers and exploited children, “sex workers across the U.S. and Canada swarmed social media to air concerns rarely heard in political discourse: To them, Backpage’s demise meant the end of safeguards and a reliable revenue stream in a profession that’s not going anywhere.”

How do we approach this topic? Should we stick to the moral principle that prostitution is morally wrong and should not be facilitated in any way? What about the principle of protecting free speech? Free association? How do we reconcile conflicting moral principles?

Should we look at this like a consequentialist and say that prostitution exists whether or not it is legal and we should try to protect workers whose professions make them vulnerable to abuse? What if these actions don’t do anything to limit child sex trafficking and it simply moves to another site?

What is the responsibility of the platform on which this whole debate is playing out?

A few interesting resources to explore this topic.

Reply All: No more safe harbor

The Podcast, Reply All covered this story with some great reporting. You can find a link for the episode as well as the transcript.

“But the thing that caught my eye in the aftermath of this story was that there were all these sex workers on the internet and they were all saying the same thing: this law is a disaster. Even though it’s supposed to go after sex trafficking,It’s actually going to go after us, voluntary sex workers. And that Backpage, it was not the boogeyman that the government had made it out to be, it was actually a website that was doing a lot of good.
“And I wondered – how could that be true? How can a website that sold children be good for the world? So I spent the past couple of weeks I’ve been talking to sex workers.”

https://www.gimletmedia.com/reply-all/119-no-more-safe-harbor

“Sex workers ‘devastated,’ look to alternatives after Backpage closure”

Backpage didn’t turn me into a sex worker, any more than Youtube can turn people in musicians or comedians. It was just the medium. A really good, really helpful medium that was free and accessible.

— Sarah Fenix (@sarahthemoose) April 7, 2018

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2018/04/13/backpage-closure-sex-workers-react/513802002/

“Backpage’s Sex Ads Are Gone. Child Trafficking? Hardly.”

As for the bill, rather than narrowly targeting websites that knowingly advertise these despicable practices, it would allow police to criminally pursue a website that has no idea it is hosting, and has procedures in place to prevent, ads featuring criminal activity. It does so because the “intent standard” – what a prosecutor has to prove the defendant knew – is vague.

It’s Westworld. What’s Wrong With Cruelty to Robots?

“If we did create conscious beings, conventional morality tells us that it would be wrong to harm them — precisely to the degree that they are conscious, and can suffer or be deprived of happiness. Just as it would be wrong to breed animals for the sake of torturing them, or to have children only to enslave them, it would be wrong to mistreat the conscious machines of the future.

“But how will we know if our machines become conscious?”

 

Psychological Weapons of Mass Persuasion

First, we need to distinguish attempts to manipulate and influence public opinion, from actual voter persuasion. Repeatedly targeting people with misinformation that is designed to appeal to their political biases may well influence public attitudes, cause moral outrage, and drive partisans further apart, especially when we’re given the false impression that everyone else in our social network is espousing the same opinion. But to what extent do these attempts to influence translate into concrete votes?

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/psychological-weapons-of-mass-persuasion/?utm_source=facebook

Animals “see” electromagnetic fields

Human senses allow us access to “information” about the world outside of ourselves. Our senses are based on human evolution and the needs of being human. We can’t possibly perceive everything going on around us but we perceive the things that were relevant for our evolutionary past. The same is true for other species whose senses allow them access to other information we can’t perceive. Sometimes these senses are more acute than human senses like a dog’s sense of smell and sometimes these senses allow access to information that is inaccessible to our inborn senses.

Here are two new articles about animals that can perceive electromagnetic fields. Do they “see” them the way we see visible light? Some interesting speculation about how that might work and what it might look like.

Birds Can See Earth’s Magnetic Fields, And We Finally Know How That’s Possible

“The mystery behind how birds navigate might finally be solved: it’s not the iron in their beaks providing a magnetic compass, but a newly discovered protein in their eyes that lets them “see” Earth’s magnetic fields.”

https://www.sciencealert.com/birds-see-magnetic-fields-cryptochrome-cry4-photoreceptor

 

 

Gene Editing for Good: How CRISPR Could Transform Global Development

“The technology is making it much easier for scientists to discover better diagnostics, treatments, and other tools to fight diseases that still kill and disable millions of people every year, primarily the poor. It is also accelerating research that could help end extreme poverty by enabling millions of farmers in the developing world to grow crops and raise livestock that are more productive, more nutritious, and hardier.”

https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/2018-04-10/gene-editing-good?cid=nlc-emc-paywall-free-reading-and-sharing-bill-gates-20180411