Craigslist says it shut down U.S. adult services ads for good
Craigslist, the world's biggest classified Web site, said Wednesday that it has no plans to reinstall the adult services category that it took down more than a week ago amid pressure by law enforcement and anti-prostitution groups. But it also defended itself, saying that shutting down that category won't necessarily curb child trafficking and sex crimes.
The company's announcement, the first since it surprisingly replaced its adult services section with the word "censored" Sept. 3, was made to lawmakers at a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing on child sex trafficking.
"Craigslist has been virtually alone in combating exploitation," said William Powell, director of customer service and law enforcement relations for Craigslist.
Powell said the firm has worked closely with law enforcement to help curb criminal activity. It reports suspicious activity, hands over credit card information of perpetrators and manually screens its ads for prostitution and advertising of services by minors.
The San Francisco-based company has been pressured for months by state attorneys general and anti-trafficking and sex crimes groups for taking money for the placement of such ads, which critics say fuel a growing problem of crimes against women and children.
But Powell said that by shutting down the service, those ads won't go away but may migrate to other sites. "It may be a step backwards," he said.
But human rights groups and federal law enforcement applauded Craigslist's decision.
"I do think people that post on Craigslist are aware of other sites and may go there," said Andrea Austin, the program manager for human rights group, the Polaris Project. "But this sends a strong signal for the biggest site of them all to say that trafficking and posting girls online for sex won't be tolerated."
And the firm seemed to received support from the White House for its policy that would allow it to maintain adult services.
Powell said that in July, Craigslist executives met with White House staff to discuss best practices in combating sex crimes online. From that meeting, Powell said executives and White House staff were in agreement
"We left with the consensus of all present that craigslist's best practices for managing adult services advertsiing could be used as a model for countless other venues that currently host unmoderated adult content, do not assist law enforcement, and do not engage in best practices generally speaking," according to Powell's testimony.
Craiglist's actions to remove adult services has highlighted a debate over free speech and the responsibility of Internet Web sites that serve as a platform for the placement of ads for sex with minors and prostitution. Some public interest groups have called for an update of laws to make sites such as Craigslist liable when their sites are involved in sex crimes.
“Speech in the form of postings that incite violence against children is not protected speech,” Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) said at the hearing. Craiglist has since taken down the "Censored" label on U.S. sites.
Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), who represents the San Francisco Bay Area, criticized the lack of oversight over Web sites that have helped propel child trafficking.
“Websites escape liability when an ad on their site results in rape, prostitution and even death," said Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), who served as a witness at the House Judiciary Crime Subcommittee hearing. “Our priorities are out of balance and perpetrators are taking advantage. A person is more likely to go to jail for selling marijuana than selling a child for sex.”
But free speech advocates say the focus is wrongly placed on Web site operators in fighting sex crimes. And by punishing Web sites and Intenret service providers, speech rights are hindered and companies are strapped from new innovations.
The 1996 Telecom Act protects “intermediaries” like Internet service providers and Web sites such as Craigslist even when illegal activity occurs on those networks and sites.
“This intermediary liability protection has been extraordinarily successful and is directly responsible for the explosive and innovative growth of online services that the United States has experienced over the past few decades,” The Center for Democracy & Technology wrote in testimony to the subcommittee.
The company did not address demands by dozens of advocacy groups that have asked Craigslist founder Craig Newmark to stop placing erotic ads on Craigslist sites in Asia, Africa, Latin America and Canada.
But Elizabeth McDougall, an attorney for Craigslist, said in a testimony at the hearing that Craigslist doesn't agree with some of advocacy groups who have pushed for Web sites to stop services.
Instead, she said Craigslist believes a solution is to work with law enforcement to report suspicious activity. Containing those criminals on one site helped.
Newmark and CEO Jim Buckmaster were invited by the subcommittee to speak. Buckmaster couldn't attend because of the short notice of the hearing and Newmark isn't involved in day to day operations, Powell said.
A report released Wednesday showed Craigslist generated $30 million in revenue from adult services ads from Jan. 1 to Sept. 3, making it the biggest site for sex-related advertising.
The Post's On Leadership surveyed a panel of experts on Newmark's decision to shut down adult services. Check it out here.
This post has been updated since it was first published.
September 15, 2010; 6:26 PM ET
Save & Share: Previous: Online sex ads market to reach $63 million this year, report says
Next: White House to announce $5 million science, math, tech education initiative
Posted by: mrsrobinson1 | September 15, 2010 5:05 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: mrsrobinson1 | September 15, 2010 5:31 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: DwightCollins | September 15, 2010 5:45 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: purpanaire | September 15, 2010 8:17 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: purpanaire | September 15, 2010 8:24 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: blasmaic | September 15, 2010 8:40 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: madstamina | September 15, 2010 11:16 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Nymous | September 16, 2010 12:07 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: 6thsense79 | September 16, 2010 11:46 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: ian807 | September 16, 2010 1:30 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: revbookburn | September 16, 2010 6:36 PM | Report abuse