Craigslist Gives In To Misplaced AG Anger… Again

from the what-are-you-going-to-do... dept

Back in November, a bunch of Attorneys General forced Craiglsist to change how it managed its “erotic services” category. The whole campaign by these AGs to blame Craigslist for the fact that prostitutes used the service was aimed at the wrong target — smart law enforcement officials recognized that they could use Craigslist as a tool to fight prostitution. And, of course, the original changes to Craigslist did little if anything to stop prostitution. Instead, they just made that prostitution move elsewhere, making it more difficult for law enforcement to track it down and deal with it. It’s difficult to see how that’s smart policy.

Yet, even with the changes — which required those posting to the erotic services category to use a credit card (and pay $5) to prove their identity — some prostitution ads were getting through. Once again, though, this should have been seen as great news for law enforcement. That’s because now it was even easier to track down those involved in prostitution. So what happened? You guessed it. The AGs continued to freak out and insist that Craigslist was somehow to blame, even threatening to put Craigslist execs into jail. Yes, seriously.

Given all of this, it’s disappointing, though hardly surprising, that Craigslist has caved in and agreed that it will now have people on staff preview every ad in the erotic services category to make sure it’s “okay.” Also, according to at least one report, the new “adult services” (rather than “erotic services”) group will cost advertisers $10 instead of $5 — and unlike the in original agreement, this time the money apparently may not go to charity. There really is absolutely no legal basis for this move. The AGs would have had no case (hello Section 230!), but given the public pressure from the AGs and the fact that Craigslist probably was getting sick of answering this question, it gave in.

Of course, it’s difficult to see how this ends well. Prostitution will continue. It will just move to other websites, where it will be that much more difficult for law enforcement to track it and respond to it. This move will also — unfortunately — empower AGs to once again abuse their public platform to pressure companies into doing things with absolutely no legal basis whatsoever. We saw it last year with Andrew Cuomo forcing ISPs to drop Usenet, and now that more AGs are learning how this process works, expect to see more de facto gov’t censorship, as various AGs use the press and bogus threats to pressure websites into shutting down or changing sites.

And, of course, given that it only took six months for the AGs to demand even more from Craigslist, how much do people want to bet that it won’t be all that long until those same AGs start complaining about Craigslist yet again? Especially now that Craigslist has agreed to have employees review every ad in that section, they’ll probably start blaming Craigslist if any questionable ads get through. Even though Section 230 (again) has said that moderating content doesn’t increase liability, since those AGs have been ignoring Section 230 all along anyway, you can bet they’ll ignore it again, and suggest Craigslist is even more liable, even though they were the ones who forced Craigslist to make this change in the first place.

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Comments on “Craigslist Gives In To Misplaced AG Anger… Again”

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39 Comments
Anonymous12 says:

@Mike: Erotic service ads are a front for Prostitution.
Period. Fact. End of Story. Unless you are naive enough to believe otherwise. A category that caters to the sexual desires of people, when such acts are deemed illegal in most jurisdictions, under American law, is encouraging prostitution. Does that mean that I think that Craigslist is doing the same job as a pimp? No, not exactly. Does that mean that, IMHO, it should be illegal to post such ads, under some other law (or possibly existing law)? Yes.
Your real beef seems to be that, from a liberitarianesque stance (like that new word? I do too), people can’t advertise for prostitution, while pretending they are “escort services”. Change the laws, but don’t blame the AG for wanting to stamp it out. BTW-Your argument that these ads will now go “under ground” is almost absurd.

Ever heard of a search engine? I have three words for you “KEY WORD SEARCH”. That’s all law enforcement needs to find the “hidden” underground. If the criminals use private/encrypted sites, then law enforcement will have a difficult time any how. Fortunately for LE, most criminals aren’t that clever. While I agree with you on many, many points, please drop the crusade.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Your real beef seems to be that, from a liberitarianesque stance (like that new word? I do too), people can’t advertise for prostitution, while pretending they are “escort services”.

No. You misread what I wrote. I have no problem with law enforcement going after those who *put up the ads*. The PROBLEM is blaming Craigslist for the ads.

lulz says:

Re: Re: Re:

I find there’s pattern in these people’s arguments, be they against pirating or prostitution, just want to spread the blame somewhere; anywhere, in fact. They don’t think through their arguments, they just want to vindicate themselves and condemn the other side.

Not necessarily picking on the OP, it just made me think about it.

Igor says:

Re: Re: Re:

The PROBLEM is blaming Craigslist for the ads.

Craigslist is blamed not for advertising illegal activity but for facilitating advertising illegal activity.

We all know that there are stolen goods advertised and sold on eBay. Imagine eBay creating a category “Stolen Laptops”.

Or, better yet, “Health” > “Medical” > “Drugs” > “Heroin”. Would you still think there are no problems?

If you were going to argue that “escort service” is not “prostitution”, imagine eBay creating “Health” > “Medical” > “Mushrooms” — why not, there are some mushrooms that some cultures consider “medicinal”.

Captain Obvious says:

Re: Re:

If the criminals use private/encrypted sites, then law enforcement will have a difficult time any how. Fortunately for LE, most criminals aren’t that clever.

Yet. You forgot the word “yet” at the end of your sentence.

When will people like you realize that technology is the ultimate equalizer and once you add it to situations like this it inevitably results in an arms war that never ends well for the censors, morality police or DRM enthusiasts?

Sarah S says:

War on Sex

Big deal.

Sites like LaciesList, BackPage, Olx etc etc do exactly the same thing — prostitution under the guise of legal erotic ads. So you remove the category Erotic Services? They’ll just start posting in Casual Encounters or Women Seeking Men.

This War on Sex is going to turn out just like the War on Drugs: Ineffective, expensive and intrusive. What a waste.

Anonymous Coward says:

You give hookers and pimps too much credit, and besides, is it the point to eliminate prostitution? Of course not, but law enforcement wants to make sure that it doesn’t become front page news every other day.

Do they care if it goes underground? Of course not, so much the better, because they do have better things to do than to chase down hookers. As long as the citizens and the politicians are not shouting about it, they really don’t care about it.

Beefcake says:

What about the newspapers?

I’d love to see these AsG start bullying and threatening their hometown newspaper classifieds next. But they won’t– there’s political hay to be made going after the big, bad website; and none to be made by going after the failing newspaper publishers who have been profiting off these very same kinds of ads for decades.

Anonymous12 says:

When will people like you realize that technology is the ultimate equalizer..

@Captain Obvious: I’m not for DRM. You didn’t exactly say I was, but it almost sounded that way. If that’s what you meant, then you’re wrong. I was simply pointing out that encryption exists. Period. As for cat and mouse games in technology, those will always happen, as long as humans and technology exist. Holding an opinion one way or the other isn’t going to change that. The point is Craig’s List shouldn’t be the forum for these ads, weather they should be held responsible (I’m not inclined to think so), is another matter, whether it’s being treated that way by LE, while the issue, is in some ways irrelevent. They shouldn’t be hosting these ads. Yes I think there should be a law governing hosting ads for illegal services. I’m saying, ask Craig’s list to remove them, and charge them with something.
Maybe not the same as a crime, but a civil penalty. It’s different than someone posting a threat, and holding them responsible. It may be a thin line, but in my mind it’s different. Just because the laws don’t parce things finely enough isn’t my problem.

Freedom says:

Tired of our uptight country...

Our (cough) free country would be a lot better off if we’d stop people from trying to be happy –

no drugs
no sex
no gambling

Instead of raising taxes on the middle class, which is the only real change Obama will do, decriminalize these “sins” and tax and regulate them.

What a waste of resources going after Craiglist.

Freedom

Anonymous12 says:

@Igor and Freedom: If possible in some ways I agree with both of you. While I think some of these things should be legalized, not that I agree, but on the grounds of personal freedom. Fine. Great. Except they are not CURRENTLY legal.
As Igor said:

Craigslist is blamed not for advertising illegal activity but for facilitating advertising illegal activity..

I mean read his post. Very well “fleshed” out.
If we are to have any meaningful society, then laws must be consistantly enforced. Those laws which people think are wrong/restrictive, should be given the chance to be overturned. It’s about the rule of law. Those are the breaks.

That is also why I see the difference between them being held responsible for a threat someone else made on their site, and creating a category saying “post your threats here”. See the difference? The anology as to why they should be protected under the law in this case is just wrong, and misses some key facts, and distinctions.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Anonymous12

“Craigslist is blamed not for advertising illegal activity but for facilitating advertising illegal activity..”

Performing illegal activity = the actual crime.
Advertising illegal activity = soliciting the actual crime.
Allowing someone to advertise on your system = facilitating the solicitation of the actual crime.

CL is not facilitating the actual crime, and at most, they’re facilitating the solitication of the actual crime. And if you look through state statutes, solicitation is the non-principal offense. Not only is “facilitating” not a crime (the closest thing is aiding and abetting), but most states do not extend non-principal offenses to other non-principal offenses, usually through intent. Non-principals of a crime (like conspiracy, solicitation, attempt, and aiding/abetting) usually require specific intent, while the crime itself usually only requires general intent. Simply put, CL does not have the specific intent for prostitution ads to be placed on their site. Like dozens of other sites with hookup listings, they just have a section designed for people who want to cut through the bullshit and fuck, and when someone uses that for illegal means, there’s no criminal liability.

Under your logic, they should be charging pawn shops not for just receiving stolen goods, but a non-principal of the actual theft itself. That just doesn’t happen in real life.

Anonymous12 says:

@Igor and Freedom: If possible in some ways I agree with both of you. While I think some of these things should be legalized, not that I agree, but on the grounds of personal freedom. Fine. Great. Except they are not CURRENTLY legal.
As Igor said:

Craigslist is blamed not for advertising illegal activity but for facilitating advertising illegal activity..

I mean read his post. Very well “fleshed” out.
If we are to have any meaningful society, then laws must be consistantly enforced. Those laws which people think are wrong/restrictive, should be given the chance to be overturned. It’s about the rule of law. Those are the breaks.

That is also why I see the difference between them being held responsible for a threat someone else made on their site, and creating a category saying “post your threats here”. See the difference? The anology as to why they should be protected under the law in this case is just wrong, and misses some key facts, and distinctions.

Anonymous Coward says:

I’m curious. Imagine we play the AG’s game and ignore the existence of Section 230.

If law enforcement officials are using Craigslist as a tool to properly enforce the law, and the AG’s are preventing them from doing so, shouldn’t that fall somewhere under obstruction of justice?

What if the police setup their own site as one giant, clever sting operation? Would that be legal or count as entrapment? Would interference with that site by AG’s count as obstruction of justice or be illegal in any other sense? If so, how would that be any different than Craigslist working with law enforcement officials?

Anonymous Coward says:

What resources are being wasted here? Do AG’s get paid extra for this? Do judges not get paid if this doesn’t go to trial?

What wasted resources are you talking about? Unless someone is getting overtime for this, there are none. Its the same for a big chunk of the “cost of the war” in Iraq or anywhere else. We pay the troops, we spend money in bullets and bombs (they replace them in training, or they go bad) so the cost of the war contains quite a large “fixed cost” that would have to be paid no matter what.

jacobwrangler says:

Get With The Times!

This ruling will do very little to change the way that sex is bought and sold on the internet, it will simply change the website people use to buy and sell. Craigslist ads in the erotic section diminished significantly when they began to enforce more stringent rules. Competing sites in the space like this one: Naughty Reviews, which offers free classified ads, have grown at the same pace as Craigslist has shrunk. My point is that law enforcement is simply wasting resources with this current campaign as stopping the world’s oldest profession is just not possible in today’s day and age. Instead of campaigning against the internet as a medium for selling sex, we should be embracing the fact that it keeps women off the streets.

Trerro says:

Bad all around

Erotic services includes people looking for casual (no money involved) sex, which is perfectly legal. It includes strippers for hire (legal), various forms of massage (varies, but often legal), etc.

Yes, some people are stupid enough to engage in prostitution on it, but that just makes the cops’ job easy, as not only can they arrest them when they meet, but have full evidence from the post.

The bigger issue here though, has nothing to do with sex.

For those who say they’re facilitating a crime, this is a failure to understand technology. If I’m a newspaper layout editor, and I run a prostitute’s ad, I’d be facilitating, because I actually reviewed the words and chose to print them. With software, that can’t happen – everything is automatically listed on the site. Any approach to remove illegal ads MUST be reactive, not proactive. CL has always had a flag system, automatically suspends ads that get enough flags, and upon review, does indeed remove the illegal ones.

In a world where service providers were responsible for their users’ actions, you would see the following:
1. Email would take at least 24 hours to deliver, and would have a PER MESSAGE cost, because you’d be paying an admin to read it (and yes, this also means an outside party would legally HAVE TO read all of your mail.)
2. Forums would simply die – all of them. They get too much traffic relative to the size of their staff to actually review everything that gets written… and with a 1-2 day delay on posting a message, no one would stick around for a conversation.
3. All IM and text messaging services would cease to exist. It is simply impossible to monitor everything said through those for illegal content.
4. Webhosting would cost hundreds of dollars of months, and the slightest site edit would take days as your host would have to check it for illegal content.
5. Games would have to remove all forms of player to player communication – again, it’s impossible to read them all for signs for illegal activity.
Etc.

The second you make service providers responsible for misuse of their service by users, the internet is dead.

jacobwrangler says:

Not Going to Change Much At All

This change in policy will do very little to change the way that consenting adults hook up on the internet, it will simply change the website people use to do so. As Craigslist has placed increasing barriers like fees and restrictions for those wishing to post in their erotic section, competing sites in the space like Naughty Reviews, which offers free classified ads, have grown significantly. My point is that law enforcement is simply wasting resources with this current campaign as stopping the world’s oldest profession is just not possible in today’s day and age.

Sarah Simms says:

Erotic Sections... have a place in our society.

Well I think cl’s move is responsible. Ive read on other blogs that theeroticsection.com and dontlookanyfurther.com are very observant of the adult sections they maintain. And have said they like what cl has done, to calm what was once the wild wiled west. Backpage, Olx and others have got to appreciate it too….. I’d rather see the girls on the net instead of on the way home , standing on corners.

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