SESTA's First Victim: Craigslist Shuts Down Personals Section

from the more-to-come dept

It’s not like people didn’t warn about this. But, following Congress passing SESTA (likely to be signed soon by the President), a bunch of sites are already starting to make changes. Craiglist is probably the most notable, announcing that it was completely shutting down its Personals Section:

US Congress just passed HR 1865, “FOSTA”, seeking to subject websites to criminal and civil liability when third parties (users) misuse online personals unlawfully.

Any tool or service can be misused. We can’t take such risk without jeopardizing all our other services, so we are regretfully taking craigslist personals offline. Hopefully we can bring them back some day.

To the millions of spouses, partners, and couples who met through craigslist, we wish you every happiness!

This is interesting on multiple levels, since the moral panic against online sites that eventually resulted in SESTA actually did start with Craiglist nearly a decade ago, with various state Attorneys General ganging up on the company — despite no legal basis — even threatening criminal charges. Because of all that, Craigslist eventually shut down its “adult” section, which was really what pushed Backpage into the spotlight.

And, as we noted last fall, a recent study showed that when Craigslist shut down its adult section, there was a dramatic increase in homicide, which many attributed to sex workers being unable to use the website to screen clients and protect themselves.

But, either way, the site dropped its adult section entirely all the way back in 2010. And, yet, now it realized it must shut its entire personals section, or potentially face crippling criminal liability. Remember how all the SESTA supporters insisted that SESTA would only target those willfully supporting sex trafficking and wouldn’t do anything against other sites? That’s already been proven wrong.

There are some additional reports of sites or online services no longer working, though it’s not clear if any of them are directly because of SESTA or not, and at least some of them appear to be “escort” sites, which SESTA was clearly targeting anyway (so not “collateral” damage). Some are also suggesting that Reddit closing some subreddits is connected to SESTA as well, though the link there is not entirely clear either.

But a straight up “personals” site like Craigslist? It’s certainly at risk (as is any online dating site) of being declared in violation of SESTA. We’ll be seeing the fallout from SESTA for quite some time.

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Comments on “SESTA's First Victim: Craigslist Shuts Down Personals Section”

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69 Comments
The Wanderer (profile) says:

"That's already been proven wrong"

I suspect people will argue that this doesn’t prove any such thing.

The rationale would be something like “just because Craigslist (claims to) believe that SESTA would be used against it if it doesn’t shut down its personals section, doesn’t mean Craigslist is right; the fact that SESTA doesn’t target sites not willfully engaged in sex trafficking means that Craigslist is either wrong, or engaged in grandstanding”. (Taking that “fact” as true on the same basis as the previous assertions of it did.)

An Onymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: "That's already been proven wrong"

This will end something like the Y2K episode where non-techies laugh at how all the hype was for nothing when, in reality, absent the hype and all the fixes that were deployed the year 2000 would have been a catastrophe. Now, all the sites that proactively prepare for SESTA to avoid litigation will be laughed at when 5 years from now they still haven’t been sued.

The general public is chock full o’ morons.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: "That's already been proven wrong"

So actually, it doesn’t even matter if sites remove their personal sections or anything that could be construed as banned under the new law. The fact that it was ever there in the first place makes them all guilty and open to prosecution.

Whoever thought up this misguided legislation should be placed in the stocks and have rotten fruit thrown at their heads.

PaulT (profile) says:

I’ll never get this. In response to people opening advertising their illegal services for law enforcement to see as easily as potential clients, they force everything to be hidden, legal and illegal. If it weren’t for the obvious answer – grandstanding by moralistic idiots who don’t care if anything’s made better other than their re-election chances – I’d be mystified as to why anyone would think this was a good thing.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: SHOULD BE risk to host "personals": long been solicitations,

“What’s the problem? How am you or I harmed? “

Even if you and Mike weren’t harmed there’s plenty of people being harmed, not only honest sex workers and their customers. I’ve been seeing stories about people who met via CL popping up all around and ended up building a family.

This kind of question is typical of sociopaths who can’t see beyond their own noses.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: SHOULD BE risk to host "personals": long been solicitations,

“What’s the problem? How am you or I harmed?”

You have had the ability to speak in a perfectly legal manner removed from you. Whether or not you actually chose to speak in this way or in that venue is irrelevant to the fact that it’s been arbitrarily removed from you.

I hope you’re not the regular moron who whines about being censored whenever people tell him to shut up, by the way. The irony would be thicker than your usual persona.

David says:

Uh no?

Remember how all the SESTA supporters insisted that SESTA would only target those willfully supporting sex trafficking and wouldn’t do anything against other sites? That’s already been proven wrong.

Non sequitur. I can perfectly well target exactly your neighbor with a nuclear bomb. Sure, your town will be gone as well but that does not imply me missing the target.

You call that terrorism, striking at the heart of society and the ends justifying the means?

Well, you aren’t wrong but don’t change the topic.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Laws are for those that don't write them

Strangely enough I suspect that even if you did manage to slip something through, assuming they even have sites that the public can comment on, not one prosecutor would be interested in going after a politicians and/or political group.

With a non-government site, clearly the site should be held responsible if they don’t catch everything.

With a government site, clearly the people posting should be liable if they post something in violation of the law.

Anonymous Coward says:

If you ever browsed personals on CL, you’d know that there was an army of vigilantes, which flagged any post that offered or solicited sex for money (even without explicitly saying so) – while ignoring blatant phishing scams.

Now, since the personals section is gone, we have an army of nutjobs, which had been occupied by their misguided mission, on the loose.

I don’t expect those loonies to declare their mission accomplished and retire. They’ll fine a new goal. What kind of a goal? I don’t know, but sure it will be similarly misguided and harmful.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Dark Web, here we come

The demand for such sites still exists, therefore someone will supply. If it means that they just move to a place that is more difficult to find and/or regulate, so be it. The users, those that want these services as well as those that supply these services, might take a while to figure out how to set them up or get to them, but they will figure it out. Then, other than creating damage that the Internet will route around, what have they achieved?

Anonymous Coward says:

members of congress, like all politicians, are not in the least bit interested in the damage they do in any respect to anything or anyone. their only concern is exerting the power they get from the position they hold so they can say ‘i am responsible for that’! that is until it all goes down the crap chute then the denials fall into place quicker than anything believed possible!!

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Pro-censorship groups cheering

Hey now, free speech and the ability of others to engage in acts between consenting adults is far less important than the feelings of some child pretending to be an adult, who simply cannot stand the idea that there might exist something they find offensive.

If stomping on free speech and risking lives is what it takes to make sure that they can go through life slightly less offended(can’t not be offended after all, where would be the fun in that?), then it’s a sacrifice they are valiantly and bravely willing for others to make.

Anonymous Coward says:

It’s wild how conservatives think that these kinds of laws will fix the sex trafficking problem. It never comes to mind that the problem is that victims of sex trafficking are often prosecuted along with the traffickers. But this is America we’re talking about where having cartoon levels of blood and gore in your films gets an R rating but full frontal nudity gets you an NC-17 (or whatever the rating is these days). It’s absurd how this kind of stuff gets touted as a fix when it’s really a fancy way to sweep such problems under the rug (out of sight, out of mind).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

If pretty much only one group opposes something, what’s wrong with calling a turd a turd?

By your logic, saying that only Nazi’s advocate for killing black people is also playing identity politics. Or are you saying that we’re all hypocrites for hating on Nazis because we do the same thing?

Note, he’s not saying conservatives are wrong about everything, just this specific thing.

Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

The word you’re looking for is “authoritarians.”

There are feminist SJW types who also hate prostitution and pornography and try to ban it.

The trouble here is that this SESTA nonsense is based on “principles,” not on empirical evidence. Result: none of them care what harm is done as long as they can a) at least TRY to scare some people straight and b) satisfy their damn principles.

While I’m socially conservative and don’t approve of porn, etc., I’m aware that it’s a demand-side problem. Fixing the cause, i.e. people wanting it, is a hell of a lot harder than Being Seen To Be Doing Something.

Anonymous Coward says:

How could sex trafficking even occur on Craigslist anymore?

Didn’t Craigslist already get rid of their sex work section years ago? So what, do they think sex trafficking is happening in the casual encounters or dating sections? Do they not even realize that’s where people hook up for free*, which is a price that doesn’t really work** in the economy of sex trafficking?

The only way this could make sense is if pimps across America had collectively planned on doing a free fuckmeat giveaway — this weekend only — but got thwarted by the quick-thinking administrators at Craigslist.

* Okay, so you still get some losers on there thinking they’re being clever by putting stupid euphemisms in their ads like “gen r us only” and “looking for gentleman”, but they get flagged in like two seconds after being posted.

** Not counting film-and-blackmail operations on high-profile targets, of course, but those targets typically don’t use Craigslist and you’re very unlikely to get a random VIP with a Craigslist ad. Asterisks are neat-o.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: How could sex trafficking even occur on Craigslist anymore?

Craigslist has become a target of ambitious politicians and so they will have cases launched against them if there is the slightest ground to do so. The intent will not be to r drive them into bankruptcy via legal costs if they can’t win a big case against them.

Isn’t it grand that because everybody usually pays their own costs, the US legal system can be used to bankrupt a company while losing every case against them, especially when the attacks are on the taxpayers dime.

John Smith says:

They didn't just shut down the personals

It now costs $3-5 to place a “talent gig” ad, and the section is almost barren. They want name verification I guess, but the site is much better off for it. They were definitely risk doing business the old way under the new law and got out of Dodge.

Techdirt could put up its own personals section if it feels so principled.

An Ominous Cow Herd says:

This law had to be passed but it needs to be limited in scope. there’s a serious trafficking problem going on and just listen to the crickets on CL now if you think otherwise.

The argument on the other side is that the ads help law enforcement, kind of like how legalized bookmaking helps catch fixed sporting events (paper trail), but no children are violated just because Slam Dunk U shaved points against Catholic St.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“there’s a serious trafficking problem going on and just listen to the crickets on CL now if you think otherwise.

There’s a serious problem with or without Craiglist, and it’s not their job to stop it. Which is why leaving the ads, with co-operation with anything required by law enforcement, is the best solution. They’re keeping silent, because they’ll be blamed somehow for the negative consequences whatever happens unless they do stay quiet.

“The argument on the other side is that the ads help law enforcement, kind of like how legalized bookmaking helps catch fixed sporting events (paper trail), but no children are violated just because Slam Dunk U shaved points against Catholic St.”

See, what you did there seems to be a good example of what’s going on here. You recognise that leaving the extra information available for law enforcement is important and effective. But because it’s about “the children”, you’ll demand that something be done, even if that “doing something” actually makes things worse.

The fact that victims are suffering while these ads are visible is no reason to make them suffer worse by removing the ads and making it hard for authorities to investigate.

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