Craigslist Targeted by South Carolina Attorney General

Craigslist finds itself the focus of possible legal action less than a week after it announced that it would remove its Erotic Services category. South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster has threatened to prosecute the popular Website for posting "graphic material," while Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster defended the site's South Carolina page as tamer than other, similar venues.

Craigslist's promise to remove its Erotic Services category, replacing it with a screened Adult Services section, was apparently not enough for South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster, who announced plans to prosecute the popular online classifieds Website, of which eBay owns a minority stake.

"As of 5:00 p.m. this afternoon, the Craigslist South Carolina site continues to display advertisements for prostitution and graphic pornographic material," said a statement on the Attorney General's Website. "This content was not removed as we requested. We have no alternative but to move forward with criminal investigation and potential prosecution."

Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster vigorously defended himself against the allegations.

"He evidently feels justified in singling out Craigslist for investigation, and publicly condemning me personally as being worthy of criminal prosecution," Buckmaster wrote in a blog posting. "Seriously? The Craigslist adult services section for Greenville, S.C., has a total of 1 ad for the last 3 days, featuring a photograph of a fully clothed person."

Buckmaster went on to cite the overall tameness of Craiglist's South Carolina postings, compared to the adult services ads in other traditional media venues throughout the state.

"Would you target a venue with 9 PG-13 rated ads, or one with 250 XXX rated ones?" he wrote.

Last week, Craigslist bowed to external pressure in shutting down its Erotic Services category, which attracted a fair amount of criticism from law enforcement as a thinly veiled front for prostitution. Craigslist claimed that it spoke with not only law enforcement, but also businesses, legal experts and attorneys general before coming to that decision.

The new "Adult Services" category will have its entries individually reviewed before posting; the postings themselves will cost $10, with an option to repost for $5.

On May 5, McMaster's office sent a letter to Buckmaster asking that "immediate steps" be taken "to end Craigslist from being used to facilitate harmful activities in South Carolina."

"Recent national events, along with ongoing law enforcement efforts in South Carolina," the letter continued, "indicate that Craigslist has not installed sufficient safeguards since November to prohibit the Internet site from being used as a vehicle to advertise or solicit prostitution."

McMaster is apparently considering a run for the South Carolina governorship, according to reports.