This Essay argues that the historical pattern of businesses that benefit directly or indirectly from the slave trade opposing efforts to end that sale of human beings is repeating itself today. Some tech companies and other members of the digital economy face a perverse motivation: they profit indirectly from online sex trafficking and risk decreased profits from a more regulated Internet. As such, they take on the same role of the cotton and textile merchants of the nineteenth century, arguing for legislative action that will continue to enable the trade and exploitation of human beings, thereby allowing them to retain their uncompromised massive corporate profits. This Essay explores this historical pattern by examining how some actors in the tech industry in general have embarked on a campaign to protect an unregulated Internet at all costs, even the cost of children sold into sex trafficking. By focusing on recent developments regarding government efforts to disrupt online sex trafficking, this Essay demonstrates that these companies have combatted efforts to impede online sex trafficking before all three branches of government. Their methods include direct opposition to legal reforms and creating surrogates to advocate for their positions in courts by supporting companies engaged in sex trafficking. They also utilize their lobbying efforts in Congress and in the Executive Branch to advance an unregulated Internet agenda. The result of these efforts has been to stymy progress in combatting sex trafficking in the name of maintaining market dominance.
Part I of this Essay briefly reviews the history of the response of businesses that benefited from slavery to the abolitionist movement and examines parallel arguments made today by the business community and its surrogates to slow, if not cease, efforts to end exploitation. Part II examines how such business entities create a cadre of surrogates to advance arguments opposing regulation of the Internet—which are primarily rooted in benefits to their economic interests, and that ignore the cost of exploiting others. It then examines how these entities have directly, or through surrogates, opposed not only Internet regulation, but antitrafficking policies more generally in the name of economic advancement. This Part next focuses specifically on litigation surrounding the tech industry’s support of Craigslist and Backpage, some of the largest online sex trafficking figures—one of whom the Senate labeled as a company that knowingly facilitated child sex trafficking and whose CEO has pleaded guilty to sex trafficking. Finally, Part II examines how these companies directly lobby or utilize other entities to lobby the Legislature and Executive to obtain laws favorable to their business interests at a cost to sex trafficking victims.
Mary G. Leary, History Repeats Itself: Some New Faces Behind Sex Trafficking Are More Familiar Than You Think, 68 EMORY L. J. ONLINE 1084 (2019).