The following is the second in a pair of posts on Techdirt about how SESTA’s attempt to carve-out “trafficking” from Section 230’s platform protection threatens legitimate online speech having nothing to do with actual harm to trafficking victims.
Think we’re unduly worried about how “trafficking” charges will get used to punish legitimate online speech? We’re not.
A few weeks ago a Mississippi mom posted an obviously joking tweet offering to sell her three-year old for $12.
I tweeted a funny conversation I had with him about using the potty, followed by an equally-as-funny offer to my followers: 3-year-old for sale. $12 or best offer.
The next thing she knew, Mississippi authorities decided to investigate her for child trafficking.
The saga began when a caseworker and supervisor from Child Protection Services dropped by my office with a Lafayette County sheriff’s deputy. You know, a typical Monday afternoon.
They told me an anonymous male tipster called Mississippi’s child abuse hotline days earlier to report me for attempting to sell my 3-year-old son, citing a history of mental illness that probably drove me to do it.
Beyond notifying me of the charges, they said I’d have to take my son out of school so they could see him and talk to him that day, presumably protocol to ensure children aren’t in immediate danger. So I went to his preschool, pulled my son out of a deep sleep during naptime, and did everything in my power not to cry in front of him on the drive back to my office.
All of this for a joke tweet.
This story is bad enough on its own. As it stands now, actions by the Mississippi authorities will chill other Mississippi parents from blowing off steam with facetious remarks on social media. But at least the chilling harm is contained within Mississippi’s borders. If SESTA passes, that chill will spread throughout the country.