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Sad: Why Haven't Other Internet Companies Stood Up For Craigslist Against AGs?

from the take-a-stand dept

For quite some time now, we've been covering how various state attorneys general have been publicly grandstanding and threatening Craigslist, despite no actual legal basis. That grandstanding, of course, has "worked." It's resulted in Craigslist settling twice, and now shutting down the adult services section, leading those ads to migrate elsewhere actually helping those responsible, and making it harder for law enforcement to do its job. In testimony to Congress, Craigslist is pointing out that many of those other sites are not nearly as willing to help law enforcement.

But there's another issue here. As Ryan Singel points out, this grandstanding campaign is really an attack on the rather important Section 230 safe harbors for online service providers. Richard Blumenthal, who has led the attack, despite a lack of jurisdiction or legal basis is currently running for Senate, and apparently is interested in changing Section 230. Singel asked Blumenthal first under what legal theory Craigslist was liable, and got back vague claims of how its failure to enforce its terms of service violated Connecticut consumer protection laws -- an incredibly weak claim unlikely to stand up to any scrutiny. But, more seriously, Singel asked about Section 230, and Blumenthal said the law "is outdated and needs revision."
"I support changes clarifying and strengthening the law to hold websites accountable when they knowingly enable or promote illegal activity."
Beware that "enable." Blumenthal wants to expand massive liability to internet services in a manner that would kill off significant innovation. Could you enable illegal activity via Google, Facebook, Twitter, Skype or many other popular internet services? You bet. Section 230 is designed to make sure the liability actually went to those responsible, not to the service providers and tools they used. Changing that is incredibly dangerous for innovation.

And, yet, as Single points out, these other companies haven't stepped up to support Craigslist in the grandstanding against them. Of course, the PR reasons are clear: no one wants to be in a position where critics could twist their words and misleadingly and falsely claim they "support" exploitation. But this is a big deal and in keeping quiet, bad things may happen:
The logical extension of what Blumenthal & Co say they want is a world where even they couldn't use Facebook, Twitter and Flickr to connect with their constituents, for fear that one of them (or their political enemies) would plant incriminating material they could then be sued over.

And even if they were successful, and didn't care about that consequences, would ads for prostitution disappear from the face of the earth? Not likely. The same ads that Craigslist is pilloried for dominate the back pages of alternative weeklies. The printed Yellow Pages carries ads for "Escort Services." You can find them in the Village Voice-owned Backpages.com. And beyond the media world, it's not very hard to find "Massage" parlors in any major U.S. city, where I'd venture to guess, you are more likely to find human-trafficking than you were anywhere on Craigslist. And back in the relative shadows from whence they came would only exploiters of women and children would only have more power.

The collateral damage of a wrong-headed pursuit Craigslist is an assault on the open internet itself.
Singel also points out, as we have in the past, that the key point of grandstanding these days is on the revenue Craigslist made from these ads -- something that only started when these very same AGs forced Craigslist to start charging for the ads as part of an earlier settlement.

Singel wants to know why other internet companies aren't speaking up. Because the end result of letting Craigslist hang on its own on this topic is going to come back to haunt them. Already, in the same Congressional hearings today where Craigslist was attacked, those who pushed this damaging situation on the company are sharpening their knives for other internet companies:
"Every pimp has a MySpace page," Frundt testified, adding that ads also show up on Backpages.com. "Every john uses a john board and posts information on where to buy children."

"This has been going on for many years. We must do something about our children being sold on the internet."
Indeed! We absolutely must do something -- but the something we should do is use these tools to go after and stop those actually responsible rather than pushing them around the internet, and blaming the tools they use. That doesn't stop the activity. It doesn't protect the exploited. It doesn't help the situation. It creates a false target, and a situation in which the very principles on which the internet has been built get undermined, at a potentially huge cost to innovation, communication and free speech.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Coward (Anon), Sep 15th, 2010 @ 4:00pm

    Bah, grandstanding or outright lies. I defy anyone to post a link to any ad on backpages.com or myspace or facebook where children are being sold (or rented). And I'll define children as anyone under the age of consent. This is just another internet rumor started by conservatives and the religious right. Post 'em if you got 'em.

     

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  2.  
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    out_of_the_blue, Sep 15th, 2010 @ 4:14pm

    Since when have you supported anyone labeled a "terrorist"?

    Same principle. Gov't picks an enemy group, and if others defend that for any reason, they're labeled and smeared as supporters. DIVIDE AND CONQUER.

    Specifically, WHEN do corporations ever defend others? It's dog eat dog, devil take the hindmost, how can I profit from gov't action, buzzards moving in to eat what the hyenas leave.

     

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  3.  
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    Pierre Wolff (profile), Sep 15th, 2010 @ 4:33pm

    More grandstaning on today's deliberations

    Aside from the great points you've made here Mike, to hear Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee tell it, you'd think that Craigslist was in it for the money. She held Michael Powell's feet to the fire with a set of questions directed at the fact that because Craigslist makes so much money from these ads, why should she believe that they wouldn't go back to allowing adult ads once the furor had subsided. It's almost as though she can't believe that Craigslist would pass up on the money. Clearly, she knows nothing of Craigslist's history and track record for not focusing on the profit motive, something she has probably never done. Heck, in nearly every oppty that company has had for a big exit or a windfall of some sort, they have always passed that up, generally in favor of goodness.

    I will say this, Craigslist's attorney (Ms. Dolan?) was very good in stating some good points during the hearing when she got her opportunities. Kudos to her for standing up to the bully pulpit.

    Watching these hearings reminded me of the disappointment we call elected officials ;)

     

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  4.  
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    DOlz (profile), Sep 15th, 2010 @ 4:39pm

    We need to ban the following now; cameras, printing presses, motion pictures, and anything else that can be used to exploit the children. Only be eliminating these demon technologies can we get the politicians to stop grandstanding and work on real problems.

    Like that would happen.

     

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  5.  
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    BruceLD, Sep 15th, 2010 @ 4:46pm

    Subject

    I've said it before and I'll say it again; there's something fishy going on here.

    No doubt whomever is attacking Craigslist must have a financial reason for doing so. I would not be surprised if these "organizations" that are going after Craigslist are being secretly funded by LARGE corporations that are somehow benefiting by creating precedences and by sending new business to them.

    No doubt some corporation has an ulterior motive and has sent out the dogs to go in attack so that attention can be created and laws will be changed. I think those that are grandstanding and creating attention just so happens to be on the same side of the issues that would serve to benefit the large media corporations. Coincidence? I think not. This is a very carefully orchestrated move created by the media corporations.

    They won't stop here. This is just a smaller part in a very big picture. In very tiny steps, the corporations have pecked and chipped away at very small parts of our laws, privacy, rights and freedoms. It's like chess...move your smaller pieces slowly to take over the entire board. This tactic works and they have their favourite politicians that help them out. If they don't have their politicians in certain places of power...they create and move them in there.

    So, let's just say that in the future...all web sites and data-related corporations are legally responsible for the actions of their users. Just imagine how quickly this would stifle innovation and destroy peoples faith in the internet. Perhaps this is just a another step in the "big picture"...to control consumers, to stifle innovation and technlogy. Afterall without the internet, how can people pirate...right?

     

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  6.  
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    Think of the Children, Sep 15th, 2010 @ 4:53pm

    Chipping Away at Our Rights

    It's an election year.
    Win at any cost.

     

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  7.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 15th, 2010 @ 5:10pm

    Why, sure, Craig's List and any other sleeze ball site on the internet should just be allowed to do whatever they wish and completely ignore what a large segment of society won't permit in their locality, right. Isn't that what free speech with zero responsibility is all about?

     

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  8.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 15th, 2010 @ 5:29pm

    WOW Anonymous Coward, Sep 15th, 2010 @ 5:10pm

    You are a genius who thinks so clearly about he big picture.
    NOT!

     

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  9.  
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    kd (profile), Sep 15th, 2010 @ 5:45pm

    Look at the big picture

    Think Craigslist is being singled out? Consider this:

    Craigslist has more sex industry ads around the world, and in the US, than any other entity.

    Craigslist's sex industry ads are just a click away from where a child might go to shop for a used bicycle.

    Craigslist has been making millions of dollars on these ads.

    Craigslist promised to use the money they made on these ads to clean it up, but they didn't. State AGs are not happy about being duped.

    Those going after Craigslist are not big corps. They are dozens and dozens of small nonprofits who fight for women's rights, children's rights, etc.

    If you don't buy trafficked children on Craigslist, it might seem strange that they are being "singled out." But if you are a trafficker, or a formerly trafficked person, or a john, you will know that Craigslist has been rightfully chosen as THE target for cleaning up trafficking. They're the goliath of human trafficking worldwide, the largest red light district in the world.

     

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  10.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 15th, 2010 @ 5:52pm

    Re:

    A large segment of society has no knowledge of the difference between the service provider and the person abusing the service? Well, that would fit well with a large segment of society being uneducated morons.

    Or, at least, one member of society.

     

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  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 15th, 2010 @ 6:07pm

    Re: Look at the big picture, NOT

    First of all Craigslist doesn't post a single sex industry ad themselves. Users do!

    Pornography and sexual solicitation is always just one click away on the Internet.

    Craigslist makes money from advertising and not directly from any ads.

    Craigslist is moderated by the users, feel free to flag offending posts yourself. This is a community driven sight and you are portraying them as something they are not.

    Big corporations are most certainly after Craigslist. Hell they have practically destroyed classified ads in newspapers. They have also taken a big chunk out of Ebay.

    If Craigslist disappeared tomorrow it would have zero effect on human trafficking and underage prostitution.

    What in the hell was your point again? Oh yeah, just slander a great community tool that has made a huge positive difference in millions of people's life because your "protecting" the children.

    Be wary of anyone who claims to protect the children, they are liars and deceivers that have their own twisted agenda.

     

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  12.  
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    Eugene (profile), Sep 15th, 2010 @ 6:10pm

    Re:

    Yeah, exactly! And have you heard about this: it turns out that a lot of murderers in the past have used ice picks to do their dirty work. And yet these ice pick manufacturers are getting a free pass to continue making this dangerous devices that are literally killing people! What kind of world are we living in here, where ice pick manufacturers can just avoid justice while our children die at the hands of psychopaths!

    This Blumenthal guy, he knows what's-what. I'm sure once this business with Craigslist is over, he'll go after ice pick manufacturers next. I sure hope so.

    For the children.

     

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  13.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 15th, 2010 @ 6:12pm

    Re: Look at the big picture

    "Craigslist's sex industry ads are just a click away from where a child might go to shop for a used bicycle."

    Porn sites are just a click away from...every single site on the internet. OH NO SHUT DOWN THE INTERNET NOW!!!!!

    "Craigslist has been making millions of dollars on these ads."

    Oh, good, thank you for proving to everyone that you are completely ignorant of the subject you are discussing. The only reason Craigslist has been making money on the ads is because the same grandstanding AGs *MADE THEM START CHARGING MONEY.* Oh, and the money is donated to charities and organizations that help the exploited.

    But why let facts get in the way of your (false) moral outrage? Facts have a known anti-ignorance bias, after all.

    "They are dozens and dozens of small nonprofits who fight for women's rights, children's rights, etc."

    How exciting. There are also "dozens and dozens" (your number is made up, unsurprisingly, so I just used the same one) of similar nonprofits who rightly realize that shutting down a tool will do less than nothing to help women and children, and will in fact make it easier for them to be exploited.

    Now, can you please throw your computer out the window so I don't have to have my brain cells murdered by your infectious stupidity? After all, computers are used to exploit children, and you wouldn't want to support child exploitation, right?

     

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  14.  
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    Tom Landry (profile), Sep 15th, 2010 @ 7:03pm

    i'm surprised Buckmaster backed down and removed the adult section. I did enjoy his total smashing of ebay criticisms saying CL was enabling child exploitation while one of ebays subsidiaries is one of the biggest offenders on the planet

     

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  15.  
    identicon
    Known Coward, Sep 15th, 2010 @ 7:36pm

    Craigslist

    I don't get the moral grandstanding by Blumenthal et al, going after consenting adults who want to be laid, when the authorities can't even stop real fraud, like iTunes accounts being hacked. And the president wants to help this clown get elected.

     

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  16.  
    icon
    Mike Masnick (profile), Sep 15th, 2010 @ 7:59pm

    Re:

    Why, sure, Craig's List and any other sleeze ball site on the internet should just be allowed to do whatever they wish and completely ignore what a large segment of society won't permit in their locality, right. Isn't that what free speech with zero responsibility is all about?

    It's the incredible misunderstanding of basic issues found in the comment above that bug me the most.

    No, no one said that Craigslist can do whatever they wish. But you seem extremely confused over who is doing what. Craigslist is the platform provider. Users are the ones posting the content, and no, it's not legal for them to post content that breaks the law. The point is making sure that it's THEM -- the people who actually break the law -- who are dealt with, rather than the tool provider.

    No one has ever said that Craigslist or any other company can "do whatever they wish." We're just saying that blaming Craigslist for actions of its users -- as you have done -- is a huge mistake.

     

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  17.  
    icon
    Mike Masnick (profile), Sep 15th, 2010 @ 8:04pm

    Re: Look at the big picture

    Craigslist has more sex industry ads around the world, and in the US, than any other entity.


    What does that have to do with blaming Craigslist rather than its users?

    Craigslist's sex industry ads are just a click away from where a child might go to shop for a used bicycle.

    Welcome to the internet. Seriously, though, how many kids are trolling CL for sex industry ads?

    Craigslist has been making millions of dollars on these ads.


    As explained in the post, the ONLY reason CL is making revenue from these ads is because the same AGs forced them to start charging. You don't get to bitch and complain about the crap you forced CL to do. CL is famous for not charging for the vast majority of its listings. To claim that CL is just doing this for money is totally ignorant.

    Hell, back when CL did this for free, the complaint was that anyone could post such an ad without a cc. It's tough to take people serious when they make arguments as weak as this.

    Those going after Craigslist are not big corps. They are dozens and dozens of small nonprofits who fight for women's rights, children's rights, etc.

    And that makes it better that they're making the situation WORSE? Ugh. How clueless can you be? CL was HELPING law enforcement deal with the ACTUAL problem. But pushing this stuff off CL makes it harder, meaning that more women and children will get exploited.

    If you don't buy trafficked children on Craigslist, it might seem strange that they are being "singled out." But if you are a trafficker, or a formerly trafficked person, or a john, you will know that Craigslist has been rightfully chosen as THE target for cleaning up trafficking. They're the goliath of human trafficking worldwide, the largest red light district in the world.

    And rather than actually dealing with those responsible, you've just helped make that harder.

    Proud of yourself? You just made it that much harder to help exploited women and children.

     

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  18.  
    icon
    Jeremy7600 (profile), Sep 15th, 2010 @ 9:19pm

    Re:

    Those damned Base Ball Bat manufacturers! They make those bats! People use them to assault other people!

    The same goes for gun manufacturers, all those vehicle manufacturers, why, all those cars keep killing people! How do they sleep at night?

     

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  19.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 15th, 2010 @ 9:46pm

    Because of fear and apathy.

    But never mind some day someone will go after them too.
    Some idiots get empowered when other don't care or say nothing, and so they will continue to do so until they find themselves in hot waters, which it will come to pass eventually.

     

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  20.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 16th, 2010 @ 1:27am

    Grandstanding To Avoid Real Law Enforcement

    The grandstanding is being done so as to avoid having to do real law enforcement, yet still seem to be "doing something". The trouble with real law enforcement is that it involves finding and prosecuting the real bad guys. Those guys do not want to be bothered by any of that stuff. They deliberately make it hard to find them, then if found, they shoot back, with real bullets. It makes real law enforcement difficult and dangerous. An efficient Attorney General could find himself mysteriously dead one day. So, when doing the real job is too difficult, what does an Attorney General do? Answer: put on a show. Grandstanding is wonderfully safe and easy. It is law enforcement theater.

     

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  21.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 16th, 2010 @ 2:38am

    I'm betting that money from the newspapers who's profits Craigslist has gutted is somewhere in the mix.

     

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  22.  
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    xenomancer (profile), Sep 16th, 2010 @ 4:43am

    Wastes of Money

    Perhaps someone (ie. anyone) should tell these airhead AGs to do their damn job (that would be prosecuting actual criminals) or be replaced.

     

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  23.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 16th, 2010 @ 7:07am

    This is how absolute censorship of the Internet got started in Australia under the guise of stopping the trafficking of children. They use it to snoop legally on everyone and everything. There is no proof that they have stopped any child trafficking. Where's the Tea Party now ranting on government intrusion and control?

     

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  24.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 16th, 2010 @ 7:10am

    I laugh! How did Frundt know where to find Pimp Pages and links to find children? Hell, I have working in computers all my life and I don't where to find them. I wouldn't even have thought of it. What a filthy dirty mind!

     

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  25.  
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    average_joe (profile), Sep 16th, 2010 @ 7:18am

    Re: Re:

    No, no one said that Craigslist can do whatever they wish. But you seem extremely confused over who is doing what. Craigslist is the platform provider. Users are the ones posting the content, and no, it's not legal for them to post content that breaks the law. The point is making sure that it's THEM -- the people who actually break the law -- who are dealt with, rather than the tool provider.

    I agree with that--to a point.

    Once Craigslist has specific knowledge that their service is being used for illegal activity, they lose their shield under 47 U.S.C. 230. Knowing about illegal activity and turning a blind eye while you profit off of it just doesn't seem right to me. You could make a great argument that at some point Craigslist is knowingly aiding and abetting in prostitution. Section 230 only protects them so far. It's not a blanket license to profit from crime like you seem to think.

    I really wouldn't call the AG's arguments baseless. Grandstanding perhaps, but not without merit.

     

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  26.  
    identicon
    Virginia Hoge, Sep 16th, 2010 @ 8:34am

    Re: Look at the big picture

    Look at the big picture: "Craigslist has more sex industry ads around the world, and in the US, than any other entity."

    Bulls__t! Look at Topix's Human Sexuality Forum who TechDirt defends:

    http://www.topix.com/forum/news/sex

    These forums are LOADED with child predators, incest, abuse, its insane. Take a look around and see what TechSugar is protecting while Craigslist gets smeared.

     

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  27.  
    identicon
    Virginia Hoge, Sep 16th, 2010 @ 8:37am

    topix

    check out just a few of the recent forums on Topix's Human Sexuality forums:

    Daughters watching dads masterbating
    Make love to my mom?
    how can i ask my mom to allow me to drink her milk.
    Youngest One You Licked Or Youngest When You Were Licked?
    Want to f$$k my step daughter

    and on and on and on.

     

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  28.  
    identicon
    Any Mouse, Sep 16th, 2010 @ 8:57am

    Re: Re: Re:

    You could make the argument, sure, but then... you have to prove it. And it still does not address the issue, but you know that, don't you?

     

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  29.  
    identicon
    DJ, Sep 16th, 2010 @ 9:07am

    Let me get this straight ...

    So let me make sure that I have this right. Richard B. wants to change the law to "hold websites accountable when they knowingly enable or promote illegal activity." And this "knowingly enable or promote" part deals with people putting content on the site?

    So, if I respond to a Blog post by somebody and I embed links to an illegal activity or a site not approved of by Richard B., that would also count would it not? After all, didn't the web site owner "knowingly" give me that ability? I guess this means that TechDirt is at risk because they "knowingly" let people post their comments which may contain illegal activity or a link to illegal activity.

    I guess this also means that the web site of the Republicans (http://www.gop.com) would also be at risk as they let people post comments to Blog entries that have been posted. Is this another example of not thinking through the consequences of an action?

     

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  30.  
    icon
    average_joe (profile), Sep 16th, 2010 @ 9:13am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Of course. I read through the Craigslist v. McMaster ruling this morning, which was the South Carolina AG case. It's pretty clear that the AG's claims aren't without merit. Of course they'd have to prove all the elements to make a case, and it's quite possible that their claims are preempted by section 230, but still I think Mike's claim that there's "no legal basis" is itself without basis.

    Whether or not shutting down the erotic section of Craigslist does anything to help the problem is debatable. I certainly see Mike's point there. I'm not convinced that the good from shutting it down doesn't outweigh the bad. Maybe it does, maybe it doesn't. I don't know.

     

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  31.  
    identicon
    known coward, Sep 16th, 2010 @ 9:15am

    Re:

    That lying sack of shit richard blumethal is a liberal democrat, do not blame us conservative republicans for him

     

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  32.  
    icon
    Mike Masnick (profile), Sep 16th, 2010 @ 10:21am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Once Craigslist has specific knowledge that their service is being used for illegal activity, they lose their shield under 47 U.S.C. 230.

    Not true.

    True under the DMCA safe harbors. Not under 230. There is no liability once you know.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33.  
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    average_joe (profile), Sep 16th, 2010 @ 10:55am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    You might be right. Admittedly, I haven't studied section 230 much. I picked up that bit reading some brief, but I didn't check it out. Thanks for the head's up. I'll look into it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34.  
    icon
    average_joe (profile), Sep 16th, 2010 @ 2:41pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    In reading up on Section 230, I realize that it only protects against civil liability, not criminal. The liability I'm talking about is criminal, so Section 230 wouldn't protect them. Make sense?

    (e) Effect on other law
    (1) No effect on criminal law


    17 U.S.C.A. 230

     

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  35.  
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    Hephaestus (profile), Sep 17th, 2010 @ 8:31am

    Re:

    I was thinking the same thing.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36.  
    identicon
    gurcharan singh, Sep 17th, 2010 @ 10:22pm

    math

    fuhkj x

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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