Section 230: A Story From the Kink Community

Hondaartist credit: Victor Crispim

Jess’s Note: Earlier this month, Senator Blackburn analogized the Internet to a pervert’s van filled with candy used to lure and kidnap children. Which left me wondering, how did we go from the “Internet is a unique and wholly new medium” to the Internet is a pedo-van?

As a zealous and unapologetic advocate for CDA 230, I admittedly receive backlash from those who feel like the law has wronged them in one way or another. Some stories are sad, usually related to revenge pornography, defamation, or harassment. Some are mind-numbing rants about Facebook and Google’s evil conservative bias. Occasionally though, I’ll encounter interesting stories like Jamie’s that demonstrate the truly exceptional aspects of the Internet that Congress has now seemed to forgotten.

Of the 26 words that make up Section 230, “platform” and “neutral” are not one of them. But “user” is.

A KINKY FURRY AND CDA 230

By Jamie Foxworthy

The name of the comic sequence was “Archaeologist Vixen”. One day in the autumn of 2016, I was scrolling through Tumblr, feeling particularly naughty, and I came across something that stopped me in my tracks. She was an adorable anthropomorphic red fox, an archaeologist by trade, who bit off way more than she could chew. Upon opening the sarcophagus inside of an ancient Egyptian pyramid, the poor vixen was pulled inside and rapidly encased from head to toe in linen bandages. A second layer of impermeable black rubber was added, presumably ending the life of the poor critter, forcing her to spend all eternity as a trophy to some unknown, supernatural entity.

Now, that might sound messed up to most people, but at that point, I knew that I was already into some pretty kinky things. Seeing such an adorable and pretty little creature ruthlessly bound, encased, and then presumably asphyxiated lit up my brain with inspiration, happiness, and wonder. At that time, I was already curious about the furry fandom, but learning that my fetishes were represented made me realize for sure that I was indeed a furry.

Three months later, on the day President Trump was inaugurated, I attended my first furry convention: Anthro New England, located in Cambridge, MA’s Hyatt Regency Hotel. Not having much money, or even my own car, I was only able to stay for the afternoon, but I learned a crucial piece of information there: that a website named Fur Affinity was where all the action happened. It took me another 2 months to get it right, but on March 25th, 2017, I opened my account on Fur Affinity. It was called “FluffyShutterbug”, and my fursona was a Red Fox by the name of Jamison Oliver Foxworthy, or “Jamie” for short.

My welcome to the site was warm and cordial. But, I would quickly learn that a chat app called “Discord” was where most of the real socializing took place. Early in the fandom, in the spring of 2017, I had a rather high turnover rate with my friendships, since people would unfortunately come and go frequently. However, when I met a guy from the UK named Jayson, things would change.

I was appointed a moderator and then an admin of his server. Shortly after that, I would meet a flirty young lion by the name of Sooty, whom I quickly fell in love with. As it happens, it was never meant to last. As summer faded into fall, he broke off the relationship, being unable to gain acceptance from his family with his homosexuality. Ultimately, that did not matter. Another fur, a coywolf named Ash Cinder, developed a crush on me. When he asked if he could be my boyfriend, I gave him a resounding “Yes”. I would quickly and legitimately fall in love with him.

In the background, I learned how to commission artists, and I found out how wonderful it was for me to see my deepest-held fantasies become real. Things that I held inside my head for years were now becoming tangible artwork. Not only that, I frequently searched the site for new content to add to my favorites folder, sometimes discovering latent kinks of mine in the process. It’s liberating, even thrilling to say the least, to repeatedly learn things about yourself that you never knew before.

For the next two years, this would be my status quo. Finding new artwork, commissioning things occasionally, and deepening the spiritual bond I had with my boyfriend, all while also teaching him things he never knew about himself. Hell, I was never short on anyone to talk to, having many close and cherished friends, something I sorely lacked in high school. Haha, and RP’s… So many erotic roleplays. I even turned some of the better ones into short stories that I posted to Fur Affinity. Life was pretty good, to say the least.

Being anchored in a community like this makes you incredibly acute to any shifts in the functionality of the Internet. Christmas of 2017 brought Net Neutrality panic, followed by the passage of the ruinous SESTA/FOSTA early the next year. Thanks to the latter, Tumblr is an avenue that people in my situation will never be able to take ever again. 

Unfortunately, that was only the beginning. Two months later, in June, I learned about an insane new copyright proposal in the European Union much like SOPA/PIPA from 2012: the dreaded Article 13. Despite living in the US, I knew that this would affect my community since websites know no national boundaries. I spent the next 9 months working my ass off spreading the word and begging people to help. Alas, it was all in vain. In March of this year, we were all dismissed as frauds and Article 13 was codified into law, despite the protests of the Internet community at large.

Things were already at risk enough with SESTA/FOSTA and the loss of copyright intermediary liability in Europe, but the pattern held. Throughout the year, the very law that allowed the Internet to become the ecosystem that it is, fell prey to attacks from our lawmakers in Washington D.C., having absolutely no idea why the law is even important in the first place.

Websites cannot function if every single post a user makes is a potential lawsuit. This is why our lawmakers in 1996 had the good sense to pass Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, or CDA 230 for short, recognizing that websites cannot functionally allow massive amounts of people to freely use them if they’re treated like newspapers or television stations. Yes, it’s technically an immunity, but it’s utterly necessary if websites are able to be fully realized as the “public squares” that they are.

The problem now is that our current congress doesn’t see this. They only see the faces of Mark Zuckerberg and Sundar Pichai and they stew in bitterness that big tech CEOs are “above the law” due to a “sweetheart deal”. Not only that, they’re unable to recognize the nuances of content moderation, and these larger platforms ALWAYS end up getting criticized by our lawmakers for both moderating too much and in other cases not moderating enough. Since the midterm elections, our lawmakers began threatening to take a chainsaw to CDA 230 due to their personal grievances with Zuckerberg, Pichai, and other tech C-levels like Jack Dorsey. Of them, was Senator Joshua Hawley of Missouri.

His proposed law is insane enough. He wants all websites above a certain size to grovel to the FTC, begging them to not rescind their CDA 230 immunity for being “politically biased” (even though CDA 230 protections were NEVER predicated on neutrality in the first place).  This forces tech companies to attempt to prove to un-elected, partisan bureaucrats that they’re not biased. If more than one FTC commissioner isn’t happy with their performance, they’re out of luck; that’s it. But, it’s looking like his idea might not even be the worst attack on CDA 230 this year.

Following my experience with Article 13, I frequently do detective work around the Internet, searching for and uncovering further threats against my online life. Of course, I found out that there’s no less than three (probably even more) organizations that want to restrict or even ban adult content on the web.  These groups were successful in convincing 15 state legislatures (to date) to pass resolutions denouncing pornography as a “health hazard”, particularly for adolescents. I had a look, and most of those resolutions were just boilerplate fluff, but some had the gall to demand that obscenity laws start being rigorously enforced again.

That in of itself is bad enough. If AG Barr, or any of the Attorneys General of the 50 US states decide to listen to these requests, it’ll be the end of kink content on the Internet.  Practically all of it runs afoul of the Miller Test, not to mention whatever outdated laws were left on the books of the individual states. Think about that. Internet users like you and me could suddenly face jail time for viewing non-vanilla adult content, since “transmission” of obscene content can land you in jail. Not to mention all of the talented artists who’d suddenly find themselves in legal trouble for just doing what they love. It would be a nightmare of unmitigated proportions.

Still though, this is not what worries me the most. On July 9th, Senator Lindsey Graham held a hearing in the Judiciary Committee called “Protecting Innocence in a Digital World”, which eventually devolved into yet another CDA 230 roast. Senator Graham closed the hearing by saying that he’s considering legislation that would revoke CDA 230 protections for websites that are determined to fail to “conduct best business practices”.

Who gets to decide what those “best business practices” are? Since Senator Graham is prioritizing the protection of minors above all else with his idea for a CDA 230 reform, who is to say that he, a Christian Republican from a state whose governor signed a pledge asking for stricter enforcement of obscenity laws, will decide that adult content isn’t worth protecting for those who are old enough to view it? Granted, I have no evidence or even a hint that this would come to pass, but why wouldn’t he ultimately decide that websites must ban adult or kink content in order for a website to maintain CDA 230 protections? Why would he care if it was banned or not? Why would most lawmakers care, actually? Wouldn’t they all agree with “concerned parents” that the general category of adult content is filled with worthless, harmful vices that we’d all be better off without?

I’m here to say that adult content isn’t manifestly a worthless vice. If I never stumbled across Archaeologist Vixen, I wouldn’t be a furry, I wouldn’t have met any of my friends that I have today, and I certainly wouldn’t have met my lover, Ash Cinder. I’m certain that I’m not the only one who has a story like this, and hell, many people dedicate their entire lives to creating adult art. Are you saying their livelihoods don’t count? That they picked the “wrong” hobby and must suffer for their mistake? Are you saying that entire communities of people who not only enjoy having sex, but also enjoy doing it a different way than what’s considered “normal” ought to disappear too? All because a horny teenager might stumble across it or that some outdated law passed 50+ years ago says that it should be illegal?

In the end, of course, children and adolescents shouldn’t be exposed to content that they’re not ready for yet. However, protecting their “innocence” shouldn’t come at the expense of freedom of expression for adults. Additionally, failure to learn about a culture that you personally don’t approve of should not be a deciding factor for who gets to express themselves freely and who doesn’t. Without CDA 230, and without adult, kink content, my life would be much more bland than it is today, leaving me to sit around and run out the clock until I finally get to move in with my boyfriend. Artists would be ruined and people would find themselves isolated, not knowing if there are any like-minded people out there. And the biggest tragedy? If the Internet were to be ruined, the next person in my shoes may never have the chance to self-actualize, to find his “tribe”, and maybe even to find his true love. So before you decide that CDA 230 ought to be confined to the ash heap of history, and that we’d be better off if adult content were to be banned, it would do you good to hear the story of the person who shares the opposite opinion from you: that if you decide to pass legislation harming the Internet, you might just be harming real people in return.

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