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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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Mar 2018 @ 9:36am

    Slight correction

    Mike, Craigslist was the 2nd victim. Common Sense was the first one.

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

  • icon
    The Wanderer (profile), 23 Mar 2018 @ 9:40am

    "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.)

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

    • icon
      An Onymous Coward (profile), 23 Mar 2018 @ 9:59am

      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.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 23 Mar 2018 @ 1:40pm

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

        There are varying degrees of morons. The ones that are the loudest are usually the highest level.

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

    • icon
      Ninja (profile), 23 Mar 2018 @ 10:31am

      Re: "That's already been proven wrong"

      One of the fears was the chilling effects it would cause in speech and innovation making sites proactively avoid moderating and closing up services due to fear of being targeted. So yes, it's SESTA at fault here.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 23 Mar 2018 @ 10:56am

      Re: "That's already been proven wrong"

      Yup. This is just a tantrum by Craigslist because things didn’t go their way. The bill isn’t even law yet lol

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

      • icon
        Mike C. (profile), 23 Mar 2018 @ 12:17pm

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

        Doesn't matter that the bill isn't law yet. It's retroactive so any content currently available is subject to it's terms. All it needs is a signature and they have the votes to override a veto so sites might as well act as if it is law.

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 23 Mar 2018 @ 2:56pm

          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.

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

  • icon
    PaulT (profile), 23 Mar 2018 @ 9:52am

    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.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 23 Mar 2018 @ 10:10am

      Re:

      Well, once one problem has third party liability attached with the help of the AAs, extending this to copyright becomes so much easier.

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

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 23 Mar 2018 @ 6:33pm

      Re:

      Oh, sounds like you got it just fine. It was never about the victims they hid behind, this was always about a cheap bit of PR, and to hell with the consequences for others.

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

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Mar 2018 @ 9:57am

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

    even in printed magazines.

    What's the problem? How am you or I harmed?

    Until QUANTIFY it (as you demanded for piracy / copyright infringement), you're just spreading predictive FUD, as usual.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 23 Mar 2018 @ 10:00am

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

      Yes, how could removing an entire section of a website used by large quantities of people harm anyone?

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

    • icon
      An Onymous Coward (profile), 23 Mar 2018 @ 10:00am

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

      You're one of those morons who claim Y2K was a bunch of hype for nothing, aren't you?

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

    • identicon
      I.T. Guy, 23 Mar 2018 @ 10:11am

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

      "How am you or I harmed? "

      C'mon wiLLie... Now how will you find a "date" for the weekend?

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

    • icon
      Ninja (profile), 23 Mar 2018 @ 10:29am

      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.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 23 Mar 2018 @ 1:37pm

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

      I was harmed by reading that awfully written post. If only someone had warned me that it was bad via some reporting system.

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

    • icon
      Gwiz (profile), 24 Mar 2018 @ 7:22am

      Re:

      What's the problem? How am you or I harmed?

       

      In the United States, they came first for the personals sections, and I didn't speak up because I didn't use the personals sections....

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

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 25 Mar 2018 @ 4:48am

      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.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Mar 2018 @ 9:58am

    All this puritanical crap is a precursor for the psuedo holy holograms in space nasa plans to usher in the false religious icons to hornswoggle the planet.

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

  • identicon
    Crix of Water, 23 Mar 2018 @ 9:59am

    How long?

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

  • identicon
    Crix of Water, 23 Mar 2018 @ 10:02am

    How long?

    How long until Craigslist as a whole shuts down? I mean if I'm an old man looking for a piece of ______, then I might just post in the 'Antiques' for sale section... something along the lines of "I have an old duff looking for a new young fluff!"

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

  • identicon
    David, 23 Mar 2018 @ 10:06am

    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.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Mar 2018 @ 10:07am

    I Have A Plan

    Use the comments sections of government websites and pro-SESTA partisan news networks to solicit prostitution. If you can't bring the government to the problem, bring the problem to the government.

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

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 23 Mar 2018 @ 6:18pm

      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.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Mar 2018 @ 10:15am

    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.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Mar 2018 @ 10:20am

    Under this law there is no possible legal personal section anywhere.

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

  • icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 23 Mar 2018 @ 10:21am

    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?

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Mar 2018 @ 10:26am

    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!!

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

  • icon
    Mike Masnick (profile), 23 Mar 2018 @ 10:35am

    Pro-censorship groups cheering

    So I just received a press release from a group that self-describes its goal as ridding the world of "the public health crisis" of all pornography, cheering on this move.

    Those who seek to censor the world are cheering.

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

    • icon
      Ninja (profile), 23 Mar 2018 @ 10:40am

      Re: Pro-censorship groups cheering

      "self-describes its goal as ridding the world of "the public health crisis" of all pornography"

      They should try to eradicate gravity, it's a major cause of orthopedic injury. And I suspect it's a more feasible goal ;)

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

    • icon
      An Onymous Coward (profile), 23 Mar 2018 @ 10:47am

      Re: Pro-censorship groups cheering

      So when will TD shut down its comments section for fear of litigation?

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

    • icon
      Ryunosuke (profile), 23 Mar 2018 @ 12:55pm

      Re: Pro-censorship groups cheering

      gotta love the moral superiority of people who put the public at risk and in danger of harm or death for their imaginary friend.

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

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 23 Mar 2018 @ 6:29pm

        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.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 23 Mar 2018 @ 1:45pm

      Re: Pro-censorship groups cheering

      While I applaud their desire I doubt it will work and wish they would not cause major damage in their wake.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 23 Mar 2018 @ 6:23pm

      Re: Pro-censorship groups cheering

      On the bright side, no more MPAA trying to shoehorn in their old practices via secretly supporting the porn lobby...

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

  • icon
    TheResidentSkeptic (profile), 23 Mar 2018 @ 10:49am

    Ah the irony...

    The current ad on this page is for "Elite Singles". Gotta love the ads that follow the discussion on the page....

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Mar 2018 @ 11:24am

    I'm not in the United States, and my local Craigslist still has its personals section intact. Hope it lasts.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Mar 2018 @ 11:36am

    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).

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 23 Mar 2018 @ 12:06pm

      Re:

      Conservatives have the same "my group is right" no matter how wrong they are problem just like liberals.

      You might say... its a human problem that people like you play identity politics with and hypocritically accuse others of as if you don't do the very same yourself.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 23 Mar 2018 @ 2:53pm

        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.

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

        • identicon
          Wendy Cockcroft, 26 Mar 2018 @ 7:26am

          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.

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

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Mar 2018 @ 3:21pm

    Windows 10 sucks.

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

  • identicon
    jessie, 23 Mar 2018 @ 4:11pm

    is everyone going to go to doublelist now? that would make sense

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Mar 2018 @ 3:02am

    I bet the big news organizations/newspapers and their prostitution adverts won't be forced to close.

    Did i say prostitution, I meant "personal ads"

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Mar 2018 @ 8:51am

    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.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 24 Mar 2018 @ 9:11am

      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.

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

  • identicon
    John Smith, 25 Mar 2018 @ 8:33pm

    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.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Mar 2018 @ 2:19am

    Would these laws have any effect on online advertising - for example if a site gets banner ads from an ad broker - and one of the ads is for a site which is bad, could the site displaying the advert be held liable?

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

  • identicon
    An Ominous Cow Herd, 26 Mar 2018 @ 9:58pm

    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.

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

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 27 Mar 2018 @ 12:17am

      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.

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


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