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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Filed Under: adult services, attorneys general, erotice services, section 230
Companies: craigslist

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  1. identicon
    Trerro, 13 May 2009 @ 1:01pm

    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.

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

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