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In the past few years, web development platform Wix, which lets users build and host their own sites, has become particularly popular with sex workers for its accessibility and customizable options. But recently, models and escorts have said their pages are being taken down by Wix amid SESTA-FOSTA, the controversial anti-“sex trafficking” law signed last month by President Donald Trump.
I didn’t have anything incriminating on my site- I deliberately went through and changed everything. I do use seo so that could have been how? It’s their proprietary software, regardless of what anyone does, flying utr with them is ultimately futile.— Brooke Nichols (@brookenicholsny) May 1, 2018
Nichols told the Daily Dot that she “rebranded as a model available for erotic photoshoots” after SESTA-FOSTA was passed, listing her time and rates without any further context in hopes that she “would slide” with Wix. However, the service still terminated her account regardless, she said.
“I was both surprised and expecting it, if that makes sense,” Nichols told the Daily Dot. “So many sites, be they ad boards or industry-specific website designers, had disappeared since FOSTA, so I figured it would hit me eventually.”
Two other sex workers shared similar stories over Twitter about their Wix accounts being targeted. A site formerly hosted by Wix for model Isabell Night simply displays an error message when visited.
“Baby Girls!!” Night tweeted. “If you are on Wix please go take screen shots of your site as fast as you can. I was taken down this morning and (to my knowledge) one of the first.”
Others feared for their own websites or worried that their friends and colleagues’ Wix pages may be taken down soon enough.
Baby Girls!! If you are on Wix please go take screen shots of your site as fast as you can. I was taken down this morning and (to my knowledge) one of the first. Spread the word if you can <3— Isabell Night (@isabell_night) May 1, 2018
Woke up this morning to see friends’ Wix sites are being deleted with no warning, even people with no explicit content and no mention of anything illegal. If you’re on Wix, make backups of all your content now. They’re not playing. Wow, this really makes me so angry.— Kitty Carr | SF 5/1 -6 | CHI 5/8-11 | NYC 5/12-15 (@KittyCarrVIP) May 1, 2018
Cam model Grace Preston even argued that Wix has “pulled down sites looooong before the law change.” (The Daily Dot reached out to Night, Preston, and Noir, but did not hear back.)
Not even remotely the first. Wix pulled down sites looooong before the law change.. all it took was someone reporting it back in the day. They have never been friendly in their TOS.— Grace Preston (@PennyPrettyMFC) May 1, 2018
It appears, though, that Wix is removing websites and content that could put the service at risk for prosecution under SESTA-FOSTA. This is because SESTA-FOSTA amends the U.S. Communications Decency Act so websites are legally responsible for content related to “sex trafficking” on their websites and domains.
While there’s a pretty clear distinction between “trafficking” and consensual sex work, the U.S. government doesn’t differentiate between the two under the law, meaning websites are at risk for prosecution if an ad for sex work is deemed as “facilitating” sex trafficking. Out of fear of being sued, Craigslist shut down its personals section before SESTA-FOSTA was even signed, and Reddit began removing several subreddits dedicated to sex work as soon as the law passed in the Senate.
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In the meantime, Nichols has advice for sex workers still using Wix: Make backups and move on to a safer provider sooner rather than later. She recommended the sex worker-run service Red Umbrella Hosting for creating a website hosted outside the U.S.
“I wish I knew more avenues for sex workers to be able to build their own sites, but I only know of Cuties Tools, which has a pretty limited interface in my opinion,” Nichols told the Daily Dot. “It’s better than nothing, so I’d advise sex workers on mainstream sites to clone their sites on a more sex worker-friendly platform.”
Nichols said that she’s already working on getting her site back up. But she’s well aware that SESTA-FOSTA is a looming presence in her field.
“I hired a designer to build me an open-source site with a foreign domain, host, and server,” she said. “Not that any of that matters if the government wants to get someone badly enough.”
Ana Valens is a reporter specializing in online queer communities, marginalized identities, and adult content creation. She is Daily Dot's Trans/Sex columnist. Her work has appeared at Vice, Vox, Truthout, Bitch Media, Kill Screen, Rolling Stone, and the Toast. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, and spends her free time developing queer adult games.