Washington: Sex workers have almost completely vanished from Twitter, and instead have flocked to the Austria-based Switter.at after passing of a controversial US law that is aimed at curbing underage sex trafficking, the media reported.
The sex workers have been all over social networks for more than a decade now with Twitter in particular, providing them with a flurry of useful tools to screen potential clients, find customers without the help of a pimp and stay anonymous.
The new law, known as FOSTA/SESTA (Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act/Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act), passed in April by the US Congress with bipartisan support, purports to combat online sex trafficking by holding internet service providers criminally liable for what users might create on their platforms, the USA Today reported late on Friday.
According to the law, online content that promotes or facilitates prostitution is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
"This bill means any site sex workers use, even in their personal life, can be held liable. This will only force many more workers into the hands of exploitation and street work there is a much higher chance of ending up in a potentially life threatening situation," a spokesperson for Assembly Four, the Melbourne, Australia-based firm that runs Switter and its associated site, Tryst, through an Austrian domain, was quoted as saying.
As a result, sites such as Reddit, Craigslist, Skype -- vital to sex workers in the US -- has already responded to the new law by silencing or banning sex workers from their platforms, the spokesperson, who asked to remain anonymous, said.
Moreover, this law also has far-reaching consequences even for those who have nothing to do with sex work, as it paves the way "for a potentially fully censored and manipulated internet in the future," he warned.
The sex workers chose Switter.at, because prostitution is legal in Austria, and they can ply their trade without breaking any laws, the report said.
The homepage of Switter looks a lot like Twitter's TweetDeck, and allows members to search for clients or escorts based on location, as well as providing a means of communication for the sex work industry, enabling life-saving conversations like sharing client lists.
"Switter is run by sex workers and technologists who have sex workers at the front of their mind when developing new features. Shadow banning sex workers on Twitter has been around long before FOSTA/SESTA. Since the introduction of the law it's only become worse," the spokesperson said.
The site is much safer than Twitter for the sex workers, because it requests "very minimal information from our users, we actively remove any known pimps, cases of human trafficking or anyone seen as harassing workers".
The company currently has around 100,000 escorts and allies on its site, and continues to grow every month.