Their clout diminished, Silicon Valley firms abandon fight over sex-trafficking bill

Battered from attacks by lawmakers and the public over the criminal activity taking place on their platforms, large internet companies have stopped fighting a push in Congress to combat online sex trafficking by holding them more accountable for the content on their sites.

The abrupt turnabout by the trade association representing such firms as Google, Facebook and Amazon enabled senators backed by victims’ rights advocates and almost every state attorney general on Wednesday to advance a measure limiting the legal immunity of websites where trafficking is promoted.

The Commerce Committee’s unanimous passage of the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act signaled a weakening of Silicon Valley’s political clout as politicians lose patience with the reluctance of some tech companies to more aggressively help victims and law enforcement. The measure’s advancement comes as firms face withering attacks on Capitol Hill for the platforms they unwittingly provided to Russian operatives seeking to influence American elections.

Online sex trafficking has likewise become a public relations problem for the firms. Lawmakers bristled at their refusal to consider stripping some of the immunity protections offered by the two-decade old Communication Decency Act, which have allowed websites, such as, to profit off of the illegal behavior of their posters. Judges have pointed to that immunity in dismissing claims by victims against such sites — sometimes in the face of what judges have acknowledged may be compelling evidence that the firms condoned trafficking.

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