Chatbots posing as sex workers engaged 15,000 people in conversations between 2016 and 2018 in response to a fake advert triggered by a search for sex online.
During a two-year period, a moralist campaign group, Seattle Against Slavery posted fake
online adverts that connected people with chatbots that initially posed as sex workers, before delivering a deterrence message. The campaign, which also involved placing more than 2m Google adverts warning people of the risks of buying sex online, led to
a 50% decline in online searches for keywords such as teen escort.
Robert Beiser, former executive director at Seattle Against Slavery, who is presenting the findings at the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in Seattle on
Friday, said: In a fairly short length of time we were able to reach hundreds of thousands of people who had searched for common terms. In Seattle, we were able to impact the marketplace pretty dramatically.
Between 2016 and 2018 the organisation also
began to post fake ads apparently offering sex that would appear in response to keyword searches. These would contain a mobile number to text, which would trigger a chatbot designed to pose as a sex worker. Beiser said that developing the chatbot was
quite straightforward because the conversations were so repetitive. There were lots of 'Hello, where are you? What do you do? Where can I meet you?', he said. The chatbot would sometimes add a little bit more colour to the conversation.
Vermont State Representative Selene Colburn has repsonded to the plight of sex workers whose lives (and incomes) have suffered drastically by federal and state government attempts to help them through legislation like SESTA/FOSTA and local human
trafficking ordinances. She has introduced a bill that would decriminalize sex-for-pay between consenting adults, while at the same time making penalties worse for child sex traffickers.
Colburn's bill, H.B. 569, would completely repeal the state's
current prostitution law and replace it with a new law retaining only those sections involving minors or trafficking.
The bill, which has four co-sponsors and is currently being considered by the House Judiciary Committee, would, if passed, make
Vermont only the second state in the Union to have legalized adult sex work--but its proponents still have their work cut out for them. Assuming the bill survives the judiciary committee, it still has to be passed by both the full House and Senate, and
while Democrats and Progressives.
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