Craigslist shuts down its controversial adult services site for good but warned its users would simply move elsewhere.
The popular online marketplace Craigslist officially announced it
would be permanently shutting down its adult services section after
forceful pressure from U.S. Attorneys General and conservative
organizations. William Clinton Powell, director of customer service and
law enforcement relations at Craigslist, made the announcement in a
statement before the House Judiciary Committee on child trafficking.
The company had previously covered the adult services link with a
"Censored" bar, prompting some to wonder if Craigslist was turning the
very real controversy into a publicity stunt.
"As of Sept. 3, 2010 Craigslist has terminated its adult services
section. Those who formerly posted adult services ads on Craigslist
will now advertise at countless other venues," Powell said, noting that
Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster and founder Craig Newmark were unable to
make it to Washington, D.C. It is our sincere hope that law enforcement and
advocacy groups will find helpful partners there."
Earlier when giving his statement, Powell explained the lengths to
which the company was actively involved with both the FBI and the
National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) CyberTipline
program, as well as leading all awareness efforts for the National
Trafficking Hotline. The adult services category was added to the site
in 2001, at the request of Craigslist users tired of seeing adult ads
mixed into the personals categories, Powell said. "They wanted a
separate category of such ads, similar to what yellow pages, newspapers
and other advertising venues have done for decades," he explained.
Powell said the company prides itself on their responsiveness to law
enforcement requests for information, with the goal being to turn
around inquiries within one business day. He testified that he had
personally been told many times by law enforcement officers that
Craigslist is "by far" the most responsive Internet company they deal
with. "Indeed, we receive these compliments both verbally and in e-mail
correspondence on a regular basis," he said.
The adult services section was removed after attorneys general from 17 states
sent Buckmaster a scathing letter demanding the site remove the Adult
Services market immediately and asked the company to consider "the
suffering of the women and children who will continue to be victimized,
in the market and trafficking provided by Craigslist." The letter goes
on to charge the company as playing a variant of the "blame the victim"
The EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation), which had defended Craigslist
against what it called "censorship" of the site, posted an article
written by senior staff attorney Matt Zimmermann, accusing government
officials of constantly threatening the company, promising lawsuits and
criminal prosecution. "No one (including Craigslist) disputes that sex
trafficking is a reprehensible practice that should be vigorously
opposed," he wrote. "The dispute lies in whether law enforcement
officials should be permitted to bully and dragoon private Website
operators into becoming de facto censors."
Center for Democracy & Technology President Leslie Harris said
while her organization also agrees that child sex trafficking is a
horrific crime, the right way to address criminal acts is through
aggressive law enforcement, not by making online content platforms
liable for the inappropriate or illegal actions of the users of those
services. "Congress took strong action to insulate online
intermediaries from liability for user-generated content in the
Telecommunications Act of 1996," she noted. "It is precisely these
protections---known as Section 230---that led to the dramatic growth of
social networking and made the United States the engine of Internet
innovation and free expression it is today. We urge this Subcommittee
to exercise great caution before it considers any action that would
narrow this important legal framework."