It Had To Happen: Blame Craigslist Gang Comes Out

from the learn-to-differentiate... dept

You knew it was going to happen. Following the stories about the guy in Boston who was allegedly killing women he found via Craigslist (leading some to refer to him as “the Craigslist killer,” eventually people were going to start incorrectly suggesting that Craigslist deserves some of the blame. Mark sends in the news that Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley has stepped up to the challenge. While she starts off by noting how helpful Craigslist can be in tracking down criminals, she quickly changes tone and suggests the company may be a part of the problem:

“I can’t say they haven’t been helpful. On the other hand, they are the enablers. It’s all well and good to say we’ll help when we’re called upon . . . but in light of what’s happened in Boston and around the country, it may be time for a little closer look or oversight.”

Of course, that makes no sense. Crimes of this nature have gone on for ages. In fact, the details sound quite similar to the famous Jack the Ripper story. Correct me if I’m wrong, but Jack didn’t use Craigslist, did he? Nor did anyone think to blame the street corners where Jack the Ripper found the prostitutes he murdered. So why are we suddenly blaming the digital equivalent?

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Comments on “It Had To Happen: Blame Craigslist Gang Comes Out”

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Ryan says:


Funny, no matter what happens, government entities always blame anything bad that happens as “lack of oversight” or some other deficit of government intervention. This, of course, is no surprise, but at some point you’d think the more intelligent among us would start calling “bull”. Yet, I’ve just finished reading something like three articles mentioning “greedy corporations” and “lack of regulation” as the cause of the depression.

Take a situation like this one: what exactly would oversight have done anyway? How exactly would the watchmen have known that this woman was about to meet a guy that was about to kill her?

Tgeigs says:

More importantly

More importantly, in the Ripper case, the strongest element that is generally agreed upon is the murderer’s alienation from society due to broadening economic divides, stigmatization of “abnormal sexual drives”, and a the general overbearing nature of English high society at the time.

In summary, if anyone is an “enabler”, it is society at large. But we can’t actually institute real CHANGE when there is such an easy scapegoat, can we?

hegemon13 says:

Re: More importantly

“In summary, if anyone is an “enabler”, it is society at large.”

Really? So, your version of misplaced blame is okay, but another isn’t. The blame belongs in one place only: on the jackass who committed the murder. Period. I get so sick of everyone looking for explanations, excuses, or sob stories to shift the blame from a cold-hearted murderer to some other aspect of society. Your blaming of “society at large” is not only vague and useless, but a dangerous and misguided distraction that could be viewed as justification by the killer and others like him.

I also think the media jumped to demonize and convict this guy a bit quickly. The original evidence was very circumstantial, and the media is risking destroying another life, like they did with that poor security guard at the Atlanta Olympics. I’m not saying that, if this guy is guilty, he doesn’t deserve our full derision. However, jumping to convict him in the press based on an “electronic trail” (we know how solid that evidence is for the RIAA) and some casino visits (where there were also hundreds of other people) seems risky and misguided.

Tgeigs says:

Re: Re: More importantly

I actually wouldn’t disagree with what you say, but there is a profound difference between blaming someone and proclaiming someone as an enabler.

For instance, I would blame Al Quaeda for their terrorist actions, and think they are responsible. However, I also see some American foriegn policies as enabling terrorism to grow/fester/etc.

On one hand, we can justly blame the person committing the despicable actions, but that doesn’t preclude us from trying to fix the conditions that might have allowed it/they to come about in the first place.

Ryan says:

Re: Re: Re: More importantly

That’s a good point about a potential U.S. policy/terrorism link, but U.S. policies are not society, and you can’t just jump to the conclusion that some particular aspect of Victorian England was to blame for a murder at the time and should thus be changed. Name me a society that doesn’t have murder and other crimes.

Besides, society is what it is–any beneficial and effective societal change will be made only at the behest of society itself, and as a grassroots movement. Any top-down change would be to an aspect of society, with the hope that an alteration to societal paradigms would be an incidental result, and would not be for the general benefit of all society’s members(a necessary motive for any beneficial change).

For instance, you seem to think that the economic divide between the wealthy and poor created the conditions that led to the Jack the Ripper murders(even though it was an isolated incident that could’ve–and has–occurred in all types of societies, and we don’t even know who the killer was or to which financial class he belonged). The solution there would most likely be to modify the system to create more general economic opportunity, a change that would benefit nearly everybody including “high society”.

Simply passing laws at the expense of “high society” with the intention of improving “low society” will ultimately help neither, would not be a de facto societal change, and most likely would have a negative impact on crime rates.

In any case, using an isolated incident as evidence that society at large is faulty is terribly deficient thinking.

Tgeigs says:

Re: Re: Re:2 More importantly

“In any case, using an isolated incident as evidence that society at large is faulty is terribly deficient thinking”

True, but I didn’t bring up the example, I was just furthuring it along the lines of The Maz’s usage.

“For instance, you seem to think …who the killer was or to which financial class he belonged).”

Two quotes to consider, both from “The Complete Jack The Ripper” by Donald Rumbelow, Penguin Putnam:

“…it nevertheless remains fundamentally true to say that Jack the Ripper inaugurated the age of sex crime.”

“We know little of Jack the Ripper…but always there is the feeling of a man totally cut off from society. Alienation craves to express itself…”

What I take away from the reading is that Jack the Ripper was something NEW, not something that has always occurred, and the Victorian society played an enormous role in alienating certain members, particularly when it came to sexual expression, as Victorian society was notoriously prudish. Also, that alienation causes a need to express itself, which leads to a direct causation from the prudish society. Hence, with an educated change in that society, one could affect a change that would have lessened the chance of producing a Jack the Ripper.

StrongArm says:

Re: Re: More importantly

TRUE!!! Blame goes to the person responsible for the action. Craigslist did not kill the girl. The murderer (not yet convicted) killed the girl. The girl shouldn’t have been soliciting on Craigslist and things would not have turned out the way they did for her as well! If you venture into risky/illegal business you take the chance of getting into trouble, whether it be with the law or another criminal.

Simon Lynch (user link) says:

Criminal enablers

There have been signs of this kind of thing starting for a while. We have a constant fight against fraud on (luckily no slasher attacks yet). We work hard to keep the stuff off the site and block the fraudsters, but – inevitably – things get through. Then one of two things happens:

1) we help with requests from police or the scammed individual


2) we get critised by the individual about how negligent we are that we can let ads go up from criminals

Luckily, we find that 2) is relatively not that common, but it never ceases to amaze us how often people can think that sending a deposit for a flat they have not seen by Western Union is a good idea… We live in a world where individual responsibilty is in short supply and where politicians and media love to defend the ‘individuuual’.

Oroboros (profile) says:


Take a situation like this one: what exactly would oversight have done anyway? How exactly would the watchmen have known that this woman was about to meet a guy that was about to kill her?

There is a potential software method to track killers. You have a user on a site who contacts others through the site, and shortly after contact those users stop visiting the site. At some level a pattern would emerge. User A causes other users to avoid us. Of course there’s potential for false positives, but it would take little work to scan news headlines looking for a potential serial killer in a region to correlate with.

Ryan says:

Re: Oversight

They found the killer without “oversight” anyway. And Craigslist users can be determined retroactively in the status quo, should the need arise(say, a Craigslist user is murdered, as happened here). The example you provide is incredibly broad–a frequent user suddenly stops using the site for a while? The false positives would outnumber the actual incidents by a billion-to-one.

Anonymous Coward says:

I’ve used Craigslist and other such websites for dating purposes. I usually educate my prospective date in protecting herself from possible slashers. You have an email address to give to friends, meet in a highly public place like an active museum… some place that will take considerable time to go through and facilitate conversation. It’s the 21st century, take a picture of the person with your phone when you meet with your phone and send it to a friend. If you don’t pay for picture sending like I do… PRETEND TO SEND IT! How the hell will they know!

All this fore planning is possible because you have many controlled variables going into it. A heck of a lot safer than meeting in a bar or a park by chance.

sam neal says:

its wrong to blame CL

while people are at blaming CL for being enablers, why not blame those who put cameras on cell phone (teens exchanging nude pics), why not blame the inventors of internet (porn, child porn, and more sick stuff), etc.
any technology can be used in any way people see fit. there were no automotive or airline accidents b4 cars and planes were invented, so why not blame the inventors of cars and planes too, as they enabled these accidents in the first place

Oroboros (profile) says:


Note: I’m not saying Craigslist SHOULD do this, and definitely not that they should even be obligated to do this. I’m just saying that there is a data mining application that could be used to track serial killers who target victims on a particular social networking site of any type. I don’t know that the overall risks to our privacy from the probable abuses are worth implementing (my guess is probably not). But hypothetically Craigslist COULD do this if they wanted to and their ToS permitted it.

MDK says:

The funny thing about all these politicians complaining about Craigslist and all the prostitution ads is haven’t they ever checked their local Yellow Pages? Look under “Escort”, and every single ad is for prostitution, and the Yellow Pages is more than happy to make a bundle of money from pimps and brothels while Craigslist doesn’t make a dime.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Yellow Pages - Let Your Fingers do the Hoaring

Excellent point. Craigslist, while obviously supporting pimps and brothels just like the Yellow pages, is allowing sex trade workers to get off of the street (where any police officer will agree is the most dangerous place for them) by providing a safe method to solicit business. This has the added effect of making pimps obsolete. Once you eliminate pimps and street violence from prostitution the issues of abuse, drugs, and even slavery can be addressed (although there is no political will to do so in most places). In Canada prostitution is legal, although the solicitation for it in public is not. Sex trade workers even have their own Canadian business tax code so they can set up retirement savings, pensions, and get tax payer benefits.

I’m not a fan of the sordid business but I would rather see a world where prostitutes are safer and pay taxes than one where pimps are free to abuse and enslave and pocket the cash.

Duvall Patrick says:

It's Not To Blame But.....

Craigslist can’t be held accountable for this crime. The perp is no different than Scott Peterson, Charles Stuart or any number of other sociopaths that kill without thought or remorse.

Of course, newspapers were not ever implicated in such problems for one reason – they had a filter. The live classified order-taker and the fact that the ad insertion required payment made this type of crime very rare for the newspaper business. Yes, it’s true, classifieds have been used to rob people, but such a crime has been rare.

Craigslist has a reputation of being a seedy, shady place to do business. They can stand on the principle that they are just a service. But, at some point, CL will lose its appeal as a free and quick way to sell your car or musical instrument, particularly if similar crimes continue to occur. The only people posting there will be scammers and desperate sellers of adult services.

Jeremy says:

Re: It's Not To Blame But.....

Duvall, have you ever used CL? I’ve used them many times to buy and sell stuff and have never had a problem. “Craigslist has a reputation of being a seedy, shady place to do business” Really? I don’t know anyone who thinks its seedy or shady. In all my dealings with people, I’ve never had a problem, but I can’t say the same thing for Ebay. I’ve had several problems with buyers not shipping and other problems like that. The best thing about CL is if you are buying/selling, you can meet the person and test whatever you are buying. The same can’t be said for Ebay. Do you think Ebay is to blame for people selling counterfeit items?



You have to keep in mind Martha is AG in one of the biggest nanny states in the republic. She is doing nothing more than following SOP for Massachusetts by shifting blame to something that’s easy to hit. This is typical behavior for a MA. AG. It worked for Harshbarger, it worked for Tom Reilly, and now it will work for Martha Coakley. It’s the ability to appear to tackle a problem while accomplishing nothing of value, and most likely damaging someones or some businesses freedom in the process. IIRC we already have laws banning murdering call girls.

DJ (profile) says:

Crimes are committed by criminals

This issue parallels one of the stupidest arguments against concealed weapons permits: “…because it’ll make it easier for criminals to carry weapons….”
That argument is stupid for one reason: criminals break the law, regardless of what the law allows!!
Craig’s List is designed for people to buy/sell/search/find something that they want/need cheaply and easily. If we blame CL for this TO ANY DEGREE, then we need to completely shut down ALL TRADE CENTERS. Those trade centers are currently known as “shopping malls”, “strip malls”, “grocery stores”, etc.

Rob Endarle says:

It's the fault of Microsoft.

Why stop at a website? Didn’t the killer also use a computer? Didn’t the killer use an operating system? An ISP?
We all know that if it weren’t for the existence of just one of these tools, this killer wouldn’t be a killer today. Right? This is obviously an attempt by certain companies that couldn’t innovate their way out of a wet paper bag and compete with And shame on mainsteam media for putting the blame on the website for this persons actions. But then again, I’m not surprised. Television sucks anyway.

Aaron (profile) says:

Lets blame it on the schools...

You want to get to the bottom of this, lets go after the teachers and places of education. They taught us how to read, solve problems, find solutions… If that doesn’t work, let’s go after the printed media, they’ve been around a lot longer than craigs list. You can add a classified ad for just about anything, such as personal ads.

If you didn’t catch the sarcasm, let me state it for you.. THAT WAS SARCASM. Why can’t people accept the blame for themselves and their own actions. This whole argument is about blame and who is an enabler. Everyone, and everything enables, and no one is to blame, but the people who commit the crimes. My set of steak knives at home enable me to hack up anyone or anything, but do I? No.

How about instilling a little responsibility, respect, and sense of consequence in your children by allowing them to be punished without having to worry about being hauled off to jail. This stems a lot more debate on several different unrelated issues…

Ken says:

Pass the blame

The Boston Strangler once posed as a detective to gain entrance to an apartment and sexually assaulted a victim, so I say the police are to blame.

He also posed as a union employed plumber to gain entrance to an apartment and killed a girl, so I say the unions are to blame.

Massachusetts AG is posing as a politician rather than a law enforcement agent to gain entrance into a higher political office, so I say the voters are to blame.

“it may be time for a little closer look or oversight.”

Michael Kirk says:


No way is Craigslist to be blamed for these very tragic and regrettable events. Psycho’s for hundreds of years have used every means possible with which to carry out their dastardly deeds. Any sensible individual should know better than to go to somebody’s hotel room on a first meeting.
If they ignore that fundamental rule, well I’m afraid they are just asking for trouble….Over and over again, people looking for a rendezvous have been urged to meet the other person in a well lit public place. Please don’t pillory Craigslist and the many great services it provides for the ill advised decisions of the few.

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