Details Of Charges Against Backpage Execs For 'Pimping' Look Totally Bogus

from the you-can't-do-that dept

Backpage.com has been the target of lots of moralizing, grandstanding law enforcement types, who absolutely hate the fact that there's a classified site out there where some users use it for prostitution (I know that some of the comments will discuss the question of whether or not prostitution should even be a crime, but right now it is, and so this article won't focus on that other discussion). As we've noted time and time again, it's bizarre that law enforcement folks keep blaming the platforms, when those platforms are actually really useful for law enforcement to track down, arrest, prosecute and convict people actually breaking the law. Still, the grandstanding forced Craigslist to completely shut down its adult section, and most of that traffic moved over to Backpage.

And now, the CEO of Backpage, Carl Ferrer, has been arrested in Texas for "pimping," with both Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and California Attorney General Kamala Harris pushing out grandstanding press releases to talk about how tough on prostitution and pimping they are.

There's just one big problem in all of this: the charges are almost certainly completely bogus, and Harris and Paxton are flat out ignoring federal law on this matter. Specifically, they're ignoring the law we talk about all the time: Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. As we've noted over and over again, CDA 230 says that internet platforms are not liable for the content created by users. There's an exception for federal criminal acts, but not for states. Various state Attorneys General have been whining about this for years, and demanding Section 230 get a new exception just for them, but that hasn't happened. So Harris and Paxton clearly know about Section 230, and clearly know that they're just ignoring the law. They apparently don't care. They're either too focused on the publicity grandstanding value of pretending like they're "tough on crime," or they're hoping that by presenting emotional stories, they'll win over judges and convince them to ignore Section 230.

Harris is currently running for the US Senate, so the timing of this is particularly interesting. Paxtron isn't up for reelection for another two years, but is currently enmeshed in a securities fraud scandal in Texas, facing criminal charges in Texas and civil charges from the SEC, so perhaps he's looking for something to distract the press from that.

But the simple fact is this arrest is almost certainly bogus. The criminal complaint is really light on details, repeatedly claiming that Ferrer and two other Backpage execs (Michael Lacey and James Larkin) "knew" about specific underage victims being trafficked on the site, but presents no evidence to support that. The much more interesting read is the declaration in support of the arrest warrant for the three men, signed by California special agent Brian Fichtner.

While it does note that there is a "confidential attachment" to this declaration, what's in the declaration itself doesn't come anywhere close to being enough information to get around the protections of Section 230 -- and, in some cases, actively seems to work against the case, even as the declaration seems to think otherwise. I kept waiting for the "smoking gun" in the declaration, but instead, it appears that Backpage not only does go above and beyond what's required by the law, but when contacted by law enforcement was quick to take down specific ads they called out.

The declaration notes that the California DOJ contacted people being advertised on Backpage, and met with some of the individuals, and it always resulted in offers of sex for money. That may be true, but again, Section 230 makes it clear that the criminal act is the prostitution, not the fact that they used Backpage for ads. Then, there's this weird situation where Fichtner talks about creating some ads himself, which seems to really undermine the DOJ's overall argument:
In March 2015, I created two undercover advertisements on the website BACKPAGE. One of the ads was posted in the "Escort" section and offered the service of adult companionship for money, the other ad was for the sale of a sofa and was posted in the "buy, sell, trade" section of BACKPAGE. The minimum fee to post the "Escort" ad was $10.00. Posting the sofa was free of charge. BACKPAGE also offers the ability to upgrade an ad for an additional fee. I upgraded both ads, allowing the ad to be automatically reposted to the top of the page several times during the day. The total cost of the "Escort" ad with the upgrade was $111.20. The total cost of the sofa ad with the' same upgrade was $1.22. Both of the ads were posted using the same undercover cell phone number. DOJ Special Agent (SA) Tera Mackey monitored the undercover cell phone. Within minutes of the "Escort" ad going live, SA Mackey began receiving calls and texts. SA Mackey told me she received hundreds of inquiries for the "Escort" ad, but received only one inquiry for the sofa. SA Mackey said all the calls and texts related to the "Escort" ad were requests for sexual acts in exchange for money.
So? The fact that the escort ads are more popular than the sofa ads isn't exactly news -- nor is the fact that they're more expensive. Basic economics says the more popular ads should cost more, right? But none of this means that Backpage is guilty of anything. Again, so much of the affidavit seems to basically be based on this argument: lots of prostitution happens on Backpage, therefore Backpage is guilty. But that's not what the law says. The law is quite clear that Backpage has to actually be much, much more involved in the prostitution than just providing a platform that prostitutes and pimps use -- even if Backpage knows that some (or even a lot) of its ads are for prostitution.

And then there's the next bit, which seems to totally undermine the case against Backpage and its execs:
After letting the undercover ads run for approximately (ten )10 days, I decided to call BACKPAGE and ask them to remove it. My goal was to learn the process of removing an "Escort" ad from BACKPAGE that law enforcement identifies as an ad for prostitution. My first call was to Liz McDougal, BACKPAGE legal counsel, but I received her voicemail. My next call was to FERRER. When FERRER answered the phone, I identified myself as law enforcement. I told him that I had identified a prostitution ad in the "Escort" section of BACKPAGE (I did not tell FERRER that I posted the ad) and that I was seeking a way to remove the ad. FERRER initially directed me to report the ad by email to abuse@BACKPAGE but then he asked for the name of the ad. I provided him with the Post ID number for the ad. It was apparent that FERRER was looking up the "Escort" ad on his computer because I could hear him typing as I provided him with the Post ID number. He explained that if I report the ad to abuse@BACKPAGE, I should include my phone number in order to confirm that I was law enforcement. He mentioned that they have been "spoofed" by individuals claiming to be law enforcement when they were not.

FERRER told me he located a second ad from the same "user," but it was for a "sofa" and did not appear to be illegal. FERRER said he would personally report the ad and "lock it out." He said it would be removed by the end of the day. A short time later, I searched the website to try and locate the "Escort" ad and the sofa ad, but both ads had been removed. I tried to repost the "Escort" ad, but Backapge.com did not allow it to go through.
Uh, so... how is this evidence of a crime? It seems like the exact opposite. It appears that when directly informed about illegal ads, the company takes them seriously, deletes the ads, closes accounts and blocks reposting of the same ads. That's exactly the kind of thing that CDA 230 is supposed to encourage. By making platforms protected from liability for the actions of their users, the law also says that any efforts at monitoring/filtering/blocking cannot be used to argue for liability on the content that was not blocked. Yet that's exactly what Kamala Harris and Brian Fichtner do here. It's as if they don't know or don't care about the law!

And then Fichtner finds more nefarious filtering that further undermines his case (and, again, which 230 says cannot be used against Backpage):
In May 2015, I created another BACKPAGE "Escort" ad with the goal of trying to post an ad containing sexual verbiage indicative of a prostitution ad. I used the words "cum" and "quickie" in the ad, but when I tried to post it, I received a message that told me those words were "forbidden in this category." I had to change the words to "come" and "quick session" in order for the ad to be accepted.

BACKPAGE may have restricted the use of the sexual verbiage in my undercover ad, but when I conducted a random search of the BACKPAGE escort section, I viewed numerous "Escort" ads that contained photos and videos that depicted full nudity. Many of these nude ads were simulating and/or performing sexual acts. BACKPAGE states they moderate their ads and implement a policy against posting obscene or lewd and lascivious graphics and photographs, however, my personal observations have indicated otherwise.
Again, this is the exact thing that CDA 230(c)(2)(A) is specifically designed to prevent. It says that "No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be held liable on account of any action voluntarily taken in good faith to restrict access to or availability of material that the provider or user considers to be obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable, whether or not such material is constitutionally protected." I'm guessing that prosecutors will argue that these efforts are not done in "good faith," but that seems like a really difficult hill to climb.

And, of course, it's not like this is the first time Backpage has gone to court. All the way back in 2011 a court said that Backpage was protected by Section 230. Then in 2015, it won a big case in Massachusetts thanks to Section 230. That case was appealed and the appeals court also gave Backpage a solid 230 win. And then, in a different case, where Cook County Illinois sheriff Thomas Dart strong-armed credit card companies into no longer doing business with Backpage, the 7th Circuit appeals court slammed him for doing so, pointing out that it was a clear 1st Amendment violation, and also citing Section 230.

So far, the only real win against Backpage was an odd ruling from last year in Washington state court, which basically argued that a case shouldn't be dismissed outright, but could proceed in spite of 230.

Bizarrely, this new criminal case against Backpage's execs uses the illegal act by Sheriff Dart to its advantage.
In July 2015, major credit cards stopped processing BACKPAGE transactions and BACKPAGE began to allow users to post Adult ads for free. Nonetheless, BACKPAGE has continued to collect fees for promoted or sponsored ads and created complex payment processing procedures to avoid detection from financial institutions.
Note how the document conveniently leaves out the fact of why they stopped processing, and how that was later found to be unconstitutional? Also, check out the "complex payment processing procedures to avoid detection from financial institutions" line. You know what that was? It was Bitcoin. That's it. After Dart illegally pressured credit cards into no longer working with Backpage, they started allowing people to pay with Bitcoin, because that was basically the only option left to stay in business. To paint that as some sort of nefarious attempt to "avoid detection" is ludicrous.

The declaration also involves interviews with various users of the site, and even then, some of them work against the case, including one underage user of the site who flat out says that it's not Backpage's fault, since they have no idea how old she is:
I asked A.C. if she knew of any policy restrictions for advertising on BACKPAGE. A.C. said she knew there was a restriction about posting adult ads on their website. I asked if she ever encountered a problem posting in the adult section on BACKPAGE as a minor. She said, "Well no, because how are they supposed to know I'm underage?"
And, again, that's the very point of CDA 230. Platforms have no way of knowing such details and any attempt to hold them liable for not knowing what they couldn't actually know would be ridiculous and crippling for basically every internet platform (including our own).

This lawsuit is bad news. It should almost certainly be tossed out, but it appears Harris is more focused on using the publicity to move up a notch to her next job. Her grandstanding press release is basically completely ridiculous:
“Raking in millions of dollars from the trafficking and exploitation of vulnerable victims is outrageous, despicable and illegal,” said Attorney General Harris. “Backpage and its executives purposefully and unlawfully designed Backpage to be the world’s top online brothel. Thank you to the California Department of Justice Special Agents, investigators, attorneys, and our partners in law enforcement who have worked tirelessly to bring the operators of this online brothel to justice and protect thousands of victims of trafficking.”
That's ridiculous. First, they didn't design it that way. The fact is that various State AGs have harassed lots of other sites into shutting down and had all the traffic flow to Backpage. So perhaps she should be arresting herself for promoting Backpage to this position. Also, that history should show that this won't do a damn thing to "protect thousands of victims of trafficking." They'll just move on to the next site.

If Harris really wanted to protect victims of human trafficking she'd go after the people actually doing the trafficking. And you know the best way to find them? Maybe to use Backpage as a tool to track them down. But killing Backpage will just make that harder, allowing traffickers to move on to other venues that may be a lot less willing to cooperate with law enforcement.

I know that there will be some people who will jump in on the comments and argue that because so many ads on Backpage were clearly for prostitution that Backpage must be guilty. But that's not how the law works, and it's not how the law should work. You blame the people actually doing the crime, not the people who made the tools they use. But I guess when Kamala Harris and Ken Paxton want to grandstand, it's easier to go after the internet companies than actual human traffickers.



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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 7 Oct 2016 @ 7:55am

    Getting the job done vs Making yourself look good

    You blame the people actually doing the crime, not the people who made the tools they use. But I guess when Kamala Harris and Ken Paxton want to grandstand, it's easier to go after the internet companies than actual human traffickers.

    Going after the site is easy, the contact information is public, you can file a lawsuit and have it served to them with minimal trouble, as everyone is known ahead of time.

    Going after the people actually responsible for breaking the law though, that takes work. They need to chase down leads, investigate details, gather evidence, all of this is time consuming and might end up getting them nothing.

    If you want to find those breaking the laws and stop them from doing it again, you work with the sites to find them. A smart cop/prosecutor should absolutely love sites like Backpage, I mean where else can they get potential criminals practically writing out confessions of their crimes and attaching contact info to said confessions?

    If all you care about is getting a bunch of PR for being 'tough on crime' though then you go after the site(s). If you're lucky you shut them down and drive the criminals to an even less visible site/service. Sure it makes actually finding the criminals harder, but 'out of sight is out of mind', if it's harder to see then you can spin it as being less prevalent when you boast about how you 'struck a blow against criminal activity'.

    Given what the two are doing in bringing this case it's not hard to see where their priorities actually are, and it's not with those they pretend to be so very concerned with helping.

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    • identicon
      I.T. Guy, 7 Oct 2016 @ 9:47am

      Re: Getting the job done vs Making yourself look good

      "If all you care about is getting a bunch of PR for being 'tough on crime'"

      Pimpin aint easy yo.

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

    • identicon
      Quiet Lurcker, 7 Oct 2016 @ 9:47am

      Re: Getting the job done vs Making yourself look good

      Going after the people actually responsible for breaking the law though, that takes work. They need to chase down leads, investigate details, gather evidence, all of this is time consuming and might end up getting them nothing.


      At the risk of offending, I believe Sir may be mistaken.

      We here in the law enforcement community are entirely too busy protecting and serving. We protect our brethren from the consequences of their possibly poor decisions. We serve our political masters' bank accounts through the civil forfeiture of thousands of dollars of money and goods, all of which are involved in the drug trade. Of course, this keeps these dangerous criminals off the streets (a happy accident, I must admit, but still...).

      But to investigate? To follow up on leads? To gather evidence? I do beg Sir's pardon, but may I recommend that Sir turn that work over to those persons in the private sector of provide such services for an appropriate fee?

      /s

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 Oct 2016 @ 10:05am

      Re: Getting the job done vs Making yourself look good

      Going after the people actually responsible for breaking the law though, that takes work.


      Except they DID do the work...

      In May 2014, agents conducted an undercover sting operation targeting individuals being advertised in the Adult Escort section of BACKPAGE. The operation involved an undercover agent responding to Escort advertisements listed on BACKPAGE by calling the phone number listed in the ad. Throughout the duration of the operation, undercover agents arranged several "dates" with female "Escorts." Each "date" resulted with the "Escort" agreeing to meet the undercover agent in a hotel room. Once in the hotel room, and within a few minutes of arriving, each "Escort" began negotiating sex acts for money with the undercover agent. Based on this behavior, there was no mistaking that the sole purpose of the "Escort" ad posted on BACKPAGE was to offer sex for money.


      ... it's just that they wanted to go after Backpage instead.

      Each "Escort" was interviewed, but not arrested.

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      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 7 Oct 2016 @ 10:38am

        Re: Re: Getting the job done vs Making yourself look good

        Going after the site is easy, the contact information is public, you can file a lawsuit and have it served to them with minimal trouble, as everyone is known ahead of time.


        What do you mean, lawsuit? There's no lawsuit here. These are criminal charges, not against the website, but against the individuals running it.

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

        • icon
          That One Guy (profile), 7 Oct 2016 @ 5:01pm

          Re: Re: Re: Getting the job done vs Making yourself look good

          Yeah, I was undecided which term would work better, lawsuit of criminal charges, guess I went the wrong way.

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

      • icon
        Rick Mycroft (profile), 7 Oct 2016 @ 4:47pm

        Re: Re: Getting the job done vs Making yourself look good

        Was that a five minute interview, or the full half-hour?

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

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 7 Oct 2016 @ 5:44pm

        Re: Re: Getting the job done vs Making yourself look good

        Except they DID do the work...

        ...

        ... it's just that they wanted to go after Backpage instead.


        That just makes it even worse, that's time and effort they could have been spending going after the actual pimps and prostitutes, and instead they went after the site. As if it wasn't obvious enough already what their actual priorities are...

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 8 Oct 2016 @ 5:14am

          Re: Re: Re: Getting the job done vs Making yourself look good

          Wohooo, why should they go after prostitutes? Pimps yes, but not prostitutes, I don't believe that they are doing anything wrong, it's their bodies and they should be able to do whatever they want with it. It's the human smuggling and pimping that is the problem, as it exploits people.

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

          • icon
            That One Guy (profile), 8 Oct 2016 @ 2:53pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Getting the job done vs Making yourself look good

            Oh I agree, if someone's of legal age and consenting they can do whatever they want with their body for all I care, whether that's charging someone to wash their car, mow the lawn or offering more personal services. Go after those situations where the above two conditions aren't true, underage and/or non-consenting, that's where the problem is.

            My point was that for all their feigned concern they spent all their time and money going after the site, rather than the criminals/victims, nicely demonstrating where their true priorities lie.

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            • identicon
              Wendy Cockcroft, 10 Oct 2016 @ 6:02am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Getting the job done vs Making yourself look good

              It's law enforcement theatre — all the appearance of tracking 'em down and bringing 'em in while not actually doing anything useful.

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

              • icon
                That One Guy (profile), 10 Oct 2016 @ 8:20pm

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Getting the job done vs Making yourself look good

                Absolutely, it's a PR stunt, nothing more. They don't give a damn about the criminals/victims, this is all about how they can benefit from it, being able to show that they're 'tough on crime'.

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      • identicon
        Anonymous4DD, 10 Jan 2017 @ 2:51pm

        Re: Re: Getting the job done vs Making yourself look good

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

  • icon
    GMacGuffin (profile), 7 Oct 2016 @ 8:04am

    Material Contribution ...

    A couple of mainstream articles on this said Congress found that Backpage had altered ads to hide the fact they were for minors/sex. §230 immunity has been found inapplicable when the platform makes a "material contribution" to the posted content.

    However, if that were true, one would think that "material contribution" would be the big point in the charges. Certainly not a secret point. So it may be any ad changes were really the automated system that kicks out certain keywords -- which would not be "material contribution" by the individuals, and thus not destroy the immunity. Smells bogus across the board.

    Anyway, Harris had already lost my vote. Besides, her competitor "dabbed" at their debate this week. So there's that.

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    • icon
      zboot (profile), 7 Oct 2016 @ 9:17am

      Re: Material Contribution ...

      Backpage filters out certain terms, as you can see from reading this article. I don't know what "alteration" to ads you mean, but I suspect at one point, Backpage filtered/replaced/removed "banned" words without notifying the user (CL used to do this).

      So, from the POV of an eager prosecutor, this is backpage altering ads to hide their explicit nature. This is likely why they now just reject the post and force the user to remove the offending terms themselves.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 7 Oct 2016 @ 11:19am

        Re: Re: Material Contribution ...

        Here's the thing I saw on arstechnica.com: "A Senate investigation has also said it found "substantial evidence that Backpage edits the content of some ads, including deleting words and images, before publication."
        Didn't read think link: TL/DR.

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        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 7 Oct 2016 @ 11:56am

          Re: Re: Re: Material Contribution ...

          In the same paragraph of the Senate subcommittee report: "Specifically, as part of its moderation process, it appears that Backpage will delete particular words or images from an advertisement before posting it to the web, if those words or images violate its terms of service."

          That's not exactly nefarious.

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    • icon
      Rick Mycroft (profile), 12 Oct 2016 @ 10:34pm

      Re: Material Contribution ...

      When they say that "Congress found", they mean some sub-committee with a grab-bag of members. If it really was Congress, there would be a House or Senate resolution backing it up.

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

  • icon
    Vidiot (profile), 7 Oct 2016 @ 8:05am

    Gotta have it

    Well, thanks to those lawsuits, I now know exactly where to go when I'm looking for that special kind of pleasure I crave so much.

    Who knew they sold sofas on Backpage? Baby, here I come...

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

  • icon
    ottermaton (profile), 7 Oct 2016 @ 9:13am

    More than meets the eye

    Paragraph 4, sentence 2:

    Paxtron isn't up for reelection...

    Not yet, but he'd better watch out. I've heard Optimus Prime is considering running for that seat.

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

  • identicon
    Bender, 7 Oct 2016 @ 9:40am

    Stupid anti-pimping laws!

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Oct 2016 @ 9:43am

    Here in Texas...

    We like our AG's to be corrupt as fuck! And the corrupt as fuck AG's in Californication are always welcome to help form the Police State right along with us.

    Texas may be republican and California may be Democrat, but when we see eye to eye on things, its usually because we are fucking you over!

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 Oct 2016 @ 9:50am

      Re: Here in Texas...

      Texas may be republican and California may be Democrat,

      Both Republican and Democrat are spelt Totalitarian.

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

      • identicon
        Wendy Cockcroft, 10 Oct 2016 @ 6:05am

        Re: Re: Here in Texas...

        Actually, the word you're looking for is "Neoliberal." Stoking moral panics to gain power is a major tool of the trade. See "piracy" for details. "_________ is causing massive harm to {vulnerable group}. Give us the power to block their websites, kick them off the internet, and arrest them on suspicion alone."

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

    • icon
      Padpaw (profile), 7 Oct 2016 @ 7:05pm

      Re: Here in Texas...

      I still think it's 1 party with 2 public faces. those at the top of democrat and republican are probably in on it, while those below believe the trash they are told to swallow about how it is always the other party at fault.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Oct 2016 @ 9:59am

    A lot of that is indeed bogus. For example, they have this in the declaration in support of the arrest warrant:

    "I asked A.C. if she knew of any policy restrictions for advertising on BACKPAGE. A.C. said she knew there was a restriction about posting adult ads on their website. I asked if she ever encountered a problem posting in the adult section on BACKPAGE as a minor. She said, 'Well no, because how are they supposed to know I'm underage?'"

    And then in the charges, they have the following line:

    "Defendant, knowing A.C. a minor under 16 years of age..."

    That's a funny definition of "knowing". The judge shouldn't even have approved the arrest warrant on that count, because there's no probable cause.

    But what about this? Doesn't it show some intent?

    Additionally, FERRER devised a way to promote BACKPAGE by creating other
    prostitution?related sites. BACKPAGE owns and operates EvilEmpire.com and
    Bigcity.com using content it developed from BACKPAGE users. According to internally records obtained via search warrant, this practice increased share of the online sex advertising market.

    As an example, Evilempire.com's homepage purports to be an "escort phone number directory." The site presents a series of photos, mostly featuring provocatively dressed females, with phone numbers listed. These photos are hyperlinked to posts containing common indicators of prostitution, such as donations associated with time periods, and each post includes a link to the associated BACKPAGE ad. The linked BACKPAGE ads include essentially identical information to the Evilempire.com posts, from the photos to the contact information. Evilempire.com offers no apparent way for users to submit content, indicating that all of the content was derived from BACKPAGE (in other words, a BACKPAGE escort directory). Evilempire.com functions as an additional platform for BACKPAGE Escort ads.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Oct 2016 @ 10:04am

    BACKPAGE may have restricted the use of the sexual verbiage in my undercover ad, but, I viewed numerous "Escort" ads that contained photos and videos that depicted full nudity. Many of these nude ads were simulating and/or performing sexual acts. BACKPAGE states they moderate their ads and implement a policy against posting obscene or lewd and lascivious graphics and photographs, however, my personal observations have indicated otherwise.

    Apparently they're unfamiliar with the differences between automatically checking text for banned words, and automatically checking images for banned content. As well as the differences between automatically checking for banned content, and manually checking for banned content based on user reports.

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

  • identicon
    Whoever, 7 Oct 2016 @ 10:06am

    The long game.

    Mike is only looking at the short game. It's important to see the long game.

    The intent is to have these charges die because of section 230.

    This is all part of the assault on section 230. After this guy "gets away" with "pimping" "because of section 230", there will be more pressure to remove some or all of the protection that section 230 provides.

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

  • icon
    Ehud Gavron (profile), 7 Oct 2016 @ 10:11am

    Awesome writeup

    This is informative, well-researched, on-topic [mentioned the topics not to be discussed in the thread], and full of good info.

    Awesome writeup.

    My hat is off to you, Sir!

    E

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Oct 2016 @ 10:19am

    Solution:

    ip route [all Texas state government netblocks] null0

    At some point somebody will buy me a beer to do it, and I will grep the route maps for all of the state and federal netblocks, and make an auto-updating RBL for Cisco, Juniper, Linux, BSD, and Solaris.

    Don't like the Internet? There is an app for that.

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

  • icon
    Ron Currier (profile), 7 Oct 2016 @ 10:58am

    Prostitution in California

    Prostitution in California is a misdemeanor punishable by up to $1000 fine and/or 6 months in county jail. Most arrests don't result in much more than a small fine and the woman changing her stage name. So in general, the police aren't really interested in chasing down leads via Backpage, there isn't much upside in it except during the yearly "tough on crime" sweeps. Arresting the CEO of a major company on the other hand will keep your name in the news for months. And when you are running for Senator that's a good thing. Maybe. I'm re-evaluating my support for Kamala Harris based on this stunt.

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

  • identicon
    anonymous coward, 7 Oct 2016 @ 11:08am

    Logic? We don't need no stinking logic!!!

    "You blame the people actually doing the crime, not the people who made the tools they use."

    A very logical viewpoint, one that is ignored by most of the anti-gun zealots out there who can't tell the difference between a magazine and a clip, or an automatic vs. semi-automatic weapon.

    Good luck explaining Section 230 to folks with cognitive dissonance - it's an uphill slog.

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

    • icon
      ottermaton (profile), 7 Oct 2016 @ 1:22pm

      Re: Logic? We don't need no stinking logic!!!

      A very logical viewpoint, one that is ignored by most of the anti-gun zealots out there ...

      Yea, except for that fact the your analogy totally fails in that while backpage.com can be used for all sorts of things, the only thing you can use a gun for is to kill stuff (or, in the case of target/skeet shooting, practicing to kill stuff)

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

    • icon
      JMT (profile), 7 Oct 2016 @ 2:09pm

      Re: Logic? We don't need no stinking logic!!!

      Gun control laws are enacted to control people's access to guns and what people can do with guns. There are no laws specifially against manufacturing guns. So in fact it's exactly like Section 230, and your 'gotcha' fails miserably.

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

    • icon
      Padpaw (profile), 7 Oct 2016 @ 7:07pm

      Re: Logic? We don't need no stinking logic!!!

      Brings to mind that artical about the Iranian in prison for making something other people used illicit purposes.

      Does the USA really want to use Iran as a role model for how to persecute people

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Oct 2016 @ 11:29am

    Any bets that they argue that while section 230 protects the company it does not protect individuals executives?

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Oct 2016 @ 11:53am

    The New Brinkmanship

    Both Fascists and Communists have always agreed on the needfulness of unlimited, extra-Constitutional police powers.

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

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    John Mayor, 7 Oct 2016 @ 1:19pm

    TO TEMPT, OR NOT TO TEMPT

    Again... and as I've stated in CHRIST, NATURE, PORN AGE OF MAJORITY DOGMA, THE LAW, AND THE FBI, under, https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20160925/23224235624/how-i-taught-jury-about-trolls-memes-4chan-he lped-get-troll-out-jail.shtml... (See bottom line)...
    .
    ... in James 1:13, we read... "Let no one say when he is tempted, 'I am being tempted by God'; for God cannot be tempted by evil!... A-N-D H-E, H-I-M-S-E-L-F, D-O-E-S N-O-T T-E-M-P-T A-N-Y-O-N-E." Therefore... how much more so, should those who proclaim Christ!... and abide by his words!... and Spirit!... ABSTAIN FROM THE VERY APPEARENCE OF EVIL (see, 1 Thessalonians, 5: 22)!... A-N-D, A-V-O-I-D T-E-M-P-T-I-N-G N-E-T-I-Z-E-N-S T-O S-I-N (AND!... IN THE GUISE, OF "CATCHING THE BAD GUY"!)! AND!... P-R-O-M-U-L-G-A-T-I-N-G H-Y-P-O-C-R-I-S-Y, IN THE G-U-I-S-E, OF DEFENDING THE WEAK, AND THE DEFENCELESS!
    .
    And so... as a Special Agent, Brian Fichtner (but also, California's DOJ!) should do no less!
    .
    Now... Brian Fichtner can turn around and say:... "I'm not a Christian!... in fact, I'm an atheist!... so you can take your religious 'side-show' on the road, and leave me to my TEMPTING of the 'bad guys (i.e., my 'virtual luring'!)'!"
    .
    However!... there's still the "scientific thing (e.g., the UNCERTAINTY PRINCIPLE!)", and the words of authors like Aldous Huxley (see, Ends and Means)!... and to paraphrase:... "The ends don't justify our use of just any means, for the means we use will determine the very nature of the ends produced!" In other words, Brian may "think" his TEMPTING is leading to an "O-B-J-E-C-T-I-V-E M-E-A-S-U-R-E-M-E-N-T" and "I-N-T-E-R-V-E-N-T-I-O-N" of the "bad guy/ s"!... but, what he may find-- if he cares to look!-- is that he may already have "created a bad guy/ s", where none existed before! And so... is Brian... then!... a "Special Agent for Justice"?... or, merely, a "hapless P-I-M-P" and "virtual trafficker"?
    .
    Please!... no emails!

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

  • identicon
    anonymous coward, 7 Oct 2016 @ 2:59pm

    So, I'm just imagining all the lawsuits that were pointed at gun manufacturing companies before 2005 when the PLCAA law was passed? The ones that focused on bankrupting them thru legal costs? Like the one filed against Bushmaster in the wake of the Sandy Hill shooting well AFTER 2005? Yeah, THOSE lawsuits against the people who manufacture the tools used by people who break the law.

    The original topic was about a poorly though out lawsuit against website/manufacturers shielded from prosecution by law. Ooops.

    Yeah, my "gotcha" fails... not. Like I said, cognitive dissonance.

    Oh, and just to be a jerk, there are also TONS of laws and regulations about manufacturing guns - you can't just set up shop and start making them. Well, you could, but that would be ILLEGAL.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Oct 2016 @ 3:48pm

    Can you be charged with "pimping" someone you've never met?

    So does this mean the porn slappers in Vegas can be charged with pimping??

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

  • icon
    Padpaw (profile), 7 Oct 2016 @ 7:01pm

    Americans need to realize they have no rights if those in power decide they do not as there is nothing there to protect their constitutional rights against a petty tyrant on a power trip.

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

  • icon
    mcysr (profile), 7 Oct 2016 @ 7:15pm

    Weird

    Saw no mention of 230 on mainstream sites. Sofa King Knutz.

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

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 7 Oct 2016 @ 11:55pm

    The big thing missing in all of this, is what charges the grandstanders will face.

    They wasted tax payer money on something they knew would never survive in court. They ignored the law, pursuing the case of headlines & harassment of business owners. They had no legal options, so they decided to abuse the system in the hopes of obtaining an outcome.

    This is why they should not be protected from being sued for their actions. They are willing to take on people with quite a bit of money knowing the courts will protect them, if they don't fear that situation what hope does a little guy have in fighting back against a system that refuses to punish its cogs for misdeeds?

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

  • identicon
    Cappy Chromecast, 8 Oct 2016 @ 1:23am

    So-how to remove te stigma of prefering likeable, interestingbwomen, over yeasty SA's and pndering DA's?

    Who knew that people would prefer a woman that is human over a sofa?

    This kind of sex hysteria belongs in 1921, not 2016. The means and methods they use to drive their narratives of shame, prudery, and moralizing over sex need to be stuffed back up Pandora's box. Liberate the hookers from state control, lock up the morality police-profiteers who derive literally billions in federal funds from driving a boys-v-girls narrative of 'oppression'.

    In the defense of these moral opportunists though-and considering how many police departments were having sex with, orbcashing in on Jasmine Abuslin, aka #CelesteGuap, the child prostitute who is suing the tate of CA for 66 mill- maybe these DA's are actually trying to root out the cops who pimp these girls. Which might also explain why hundreds of hits are for teen sex, and only one for a couch.

    What's truly perverse is the tools te state uses behind the scenes to orchestrate these moral panics.mReveal that, and the dytem will no doubt no longer profit from these narratives.

    But how...?

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

  • icon
    Whatever (profile), 8 Oct 2016 @ 2:18am

    I keep repeating and clearly law enforcement thinks the same:

    Section 230 protections are overly broad and allow very questionable behavior by online services.

    The "escort not prostitute" game has been going on for a very long time, this goes back to classified ads in weekly inkies and whatnot. For the most part, normal print publications would not even have an escort category, and would strongly police (ad by ad) things which appears in the massage or personal services categories.

    Backpage has enough knowledge of the problem to have written a filter for certain words and whatnot, but that appears actually to confirm that they know their service may be used in this manner. Since even a brief look at the ads on Backage for adult stuff turns up fairly direct escort ads, it's not a secret. If backpage was intended not to allow escort ads, then they are doing a horrible job of it.

    At the end of the day, when they have an "adult" section and have to warn you about the content. then they have clear knowledge of what their service is being used for. Forget section 230, and go have a look at laws for pimping and "living off the avails of prostitution". There is a point where clear knowledge of what is going on makes section 230 irrelevant - it cannot overrule other existing laws.

    You have to remember also that backpage has had plenty of problems with credit card companies unwilling to process for their escort / adult service ads. The backpage company and it's operators are very clearly aware of the nature of the ads on their sites, and the site makes most of it's income off of selling those ads.

    Section 230? It looks weak here.

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

    • icon
      Davelaw (profile), 8 Oct 2016 @ 4:55am

      Re:

      "Forget section 230, and go have a look at laws for pimping and "living off the avails of prostitution". There is a point where clear knowledge of what is going on makes section 230 irrelevant - it cannot overrule other existing laws."

      Except that is exactly what section 230 expressly does; it preempts ("overrules") any contrary state law claim, e.g., any clam that would impose liability on the website that arises from third-party content.

      (1) Treatment of publisher or speaker
      No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.

      (3) State law
      Nothing in this section shall be construed to prevent any State from enforcing any State law that is consistent with this section. No cause of action may be brought and no liability may be imposed under any State or local law that is inconsistent with this section.


      Has the California anti-SLAPP statute ever been used in a criminal case? The State cannot prove the requisite "probability of success" of their action because the claims are expressly barred by Section 230. A dismissal and fee burden shift would make these misguided AGs think twice before trying to pull a stunt like this again.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 Oct 2016 @ 9:15am

      Re:

      Backpage has enough knowledge of the problem to have written a filter for certain words and whatnot, but that appears actually to confirm that they know their service may be used in this manner.


      But that's true of anything with a filter. And you can't hold them liable because they have a filter, because section 230 also says:

      "No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be held liable on account of—
      (A) any action voluntarily taken in good faith to restrict access to or availability of material that the provider or user considers to be obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable, whether or not such material is constitutionally protected;"

      Having general "knowledge" that their site is used for such things isn't enough to make them criminally liable. They are, legally, not the ones publishing the information.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 Oct 2016 @ 9:50am

      Re:

      The protection of section 230 is necessary if sites are to allow users to place content on their site with no review of it before posting, or only with algorithmic checks for obvious bad content. Remove that protection and you return the world to publication via gatekeepers, or via the underground methods, i.e. the dark-net. Doing so only benefits big corporations while limiting the development of human culture. Further doing so allows all sorts of extremism to flourish, by removing the more moderate voices from any discussion.
      Beside which, removing the tools does not eliminate the crime, but rather drives it further underground where it is even harder to protect minors, and the enslaving of women by the pimps.

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

    • icon
      Ninja (profile), 11 Oct 2016 @ 5:46am

      Re:

      And you keep being wrong. Don't you get tired of being mocked?

      Every single provider out there know their service is being used for criminal purposes. Every single road operator out there knows their roads are being used to transport drugs at some point. Every single kitchen knives producer out there know their products are used for crimes at some point. I could go on. Arrest them all!

      And adult oriented products go way beyond simple prostitution so it makes sense to have an adult section. Except if you are whatever or some moronic moralist.

      That not to mention prostitution isn't going anywhere even if you impose the most draconian laws. BECAUSE THERE IS DEMAND. And it will always have. Maybe somebody should put up a law to castrate men when they are born so there won't be any demand for prostitution, right?

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 11 Oct 2016 @ 7:37pm

        Re: Re:

        I don't know about moralist, since Whatever regularly advocates invasive surveillance and no police oversight.

        Moronic, on the other hand...

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

  • identicon
    Sarah, 8 Oct 2016 @ 7:59pm

    "But I guess when Kamala Harris and Ken Paxton want to grandstand, it's easier to go after the internet companies than actual human traffickers."

    Interesting indeed. I wonder how many of the law enforcement agents in CA working on this partook in the charms of (read: exploited) Celeste Guap?

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

  • identicon
    Cappy Chromecast, 9 Oct 2016 @ 4:28am

    Re Jasmine Abuslin/Celeste

    Last I heard, nearly 30 that she admits.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Oct 2016 @ 10:18pm

    horse with no name just hates it when due process is enforced.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Jan 2017 @ 3:47am

    I am pro legalized prostitution, but if I wasn't, I don't think the argument holds up that closing down something like backpages will do *nothing* to decrease it. The easier it is to obtain, the more people will engage in it. Sure, some motivated constituency will always find a way, but the casual john isn't going to start hitting the streets. Other sites will popup, but they will have to be found, and trusted, this just adds friction to the process, and the more friction there is, the more people drop out. There are a lot of casual impulse users where ease is key.

    Again, I am pro legalized prostitution, and I am not making any claim on the legality of these actions, or their adherence to 230, but on the simple discussion of whether adding friction to something decreases its use, I say, unfortunately, that that is probably true.

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

  • identicon
    Sand Lizard, 9 Mar 2017 @ 6:22pm

    230 protections

    It seems to me that 230 simply offers the same protections to the providers of interactive computer services that other businesses have.

    How often are companies that own hotels or motels charged with a crime because prostitution is happening in some of their rooms?

    Automobile dealers aren't normally sued or arrested because someone has an accident in a vehicle purchased there.

    Just two examples, need more?

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


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