from www.cnn.com – Online classified service Craigslist’s decision to censor its adult services section could be a model for other websites, a leader in the fight against prostitution ads said Saturday.
“This step is very much in the right direction,” said Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal [pictured], who spearheaded a letter from 17 attorneys general who recently banded together to urge Craigslist to discontinue its adult services section.
The embattled website has been under fire for allegations that it promotes prostitution.
“These prostitution ads enable human trafficking and assaults on women,” said Blumenthal. “They are flagrant and rampant. Craigslist has lacked the wherewithal or will to effectively screen them out.”
The section that usually reads “adult services” on Craigslist was replaced by the word “censored.”
It was not immediately clear whether Craigslist removed the adult services and replaced them with the “censored” section, which had a link that was not active. But for users who accessed the account outside the U.S., the erotic services link was still active.
Craigslist representatives told CNN on Saturday that they will release a statement at a later time.
“The message here is put people over profits,” said Blumenthal, who is running for the U.S. Senate from Connecticut as a Democrat. He said officials will continue monitoring Craigslist and other websites for such content.
“The increasingly sharp public criticism of Craigslist’s Adult Services section reflects a growing recognition that ads for prostitution — including ads trafficking children — are rampant on it,” the attorneys general had said in an Aug. 24 letter to Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster and Founder Craig Newmark.
A Craigslist spokeswoman said at the time that the site agreed with at least some of the letter.
“We strongly support the attorneys general desire to end trafficking in children and women, through the Internet or by any other means,” said Susan MacTavish Best, who handles press inquiries for Craigslist.
“We hope to work closely with them, as we are with experts at nonprofits and in law enforcement, to prevent misuse of our site in facilitation of trafficking, and to combat such crimes wherever they appear, online or offline.”
In their letter, the attorneys general highlighted an open letter, which appeared as a Washington Post ad, in which two girls said they were sold for sex on Craigslist.
When the ad came out, Buckmaster wrote a blog post in response that said, “Craigslist is anxious to know that the perpetrators in these girls’ cases are behind bars.”
The letter also highlighted a report in May by CNN’s Amber Lyon, who posted a fake ad for a girl’s services in the adult section. She received 15 calls soliciting sex in three hours.
Earlier this month, Lyon interviewed a woman named “Jessica” who sells sex on Craigslist. The woman said a Craigslist ad was “the fastest, quickest way you’re for sure going to see somebody that day.”
In a later blog post, Buckmaster said Craigslist implemented manual screening of adult services ads in May 2009. “Since that time, before being posted each individual ad is reviewed by an attorney,” the post said.
He said the attorneys are trained to enforce Craigslist’s posting guidelines, “which are stricter than those typically used by yellow pages, newspapers, or any other company that we are aware of.”
Attorneys general from Arkansas, Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia made the request a week after accused “Craigslist killer” Philip Markoff committed suicide in jail.
Markoff was charged with the April 2009 killing of Julissa Brisman. Boston Police said that Brisman, a model, advertised as a masseuse on Craigslist, and Markoff might have met her through the website.
In 2008, under pressure from state prosecutors, the website raised the fees for posting adult services ads. In 2009, it started donating portions of the money generated by adult ads to charity.
A CNN investigation of Craigslist’s adult services section, which replaced “erotic services ads” two years ago, counted more than 7,000 ads in a single day. Many offered thinly veiled “services” for anything from $50 for a half-hour to $400 an hour.
from www.wired.com – The “adult services” listing on Craiglist was removed late Friday from its U.S.-based sites and replaced with the word “censored.”
Craigslist did not announce the move and its blog was not updated as of Saturday morning. Craigslist did not immediately respond to e-mail and voice mail messages seeking comment. Adult services listings continue to be available outside the United States.
The change comes as the service faces growing pressure in the U.S. over sex services advertised on its classifieds network, as well as allegations that it abets human sex trafficking. While most of the listings on Craigslist are free, it charges $10 to post ads in its adult services section. It also charges fees in a handful of other areas, including New York apartment rentals.
Police routinely conduct prostitution sting operations using its listings, as have some media outlets such as CNN, which has made it something of a mission to highlight the issue (see below). Wired.com has also reported on the problem.
The stakes were raised again last week when Craigslist received a letter from 17 state attorneys general demanding the company immediately shut down its adult services listing, citing the case of two girls who said last month that they were trafficked for sex through the site. Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, a democrat and a signee of last month’s letter, said in a statement Saturday he welcomed Craigslist’s apparent decision to close the section and said he was seeking to verify the site’s official policy going forward.
If Craigslist has bowed to public pressure, that would signal a major shift in the company’s strategy.
According to the Advanced Interactive Media Group, Craigslist’s adult services section accounts for 30 percent of its overall revenue — a projected $36.6 million in 2010 out of $122 million. More than half the company’s revenue comes from recruitment advertising and about 17 percent (almost $21 million) comes from apartment ads in New York City, the AIM Group estimates.
Craigslist has made numerous changes to its sex listings over the years to accommodate critics, changing its sex listings label from “erotic services” to “adult services,” imposing rules about the types of ads that can appear, and manually filtering ads using attorneys. But it has also fiercely defended its overall practices as ethical, and criticized censorship as a useless and hypocritical dodge.
When Craigslist was hit with a lawsuit by South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster in 2009, it struck back with a preemptive lawsuit of its own and won. In a blog post last month, Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster explained the company’s filtering policies in detail, pointing out its lawyers had rejected some 700,000 inappropriate ads to date, and suggested its methods could offer a model for the entire industry. He has also used the company’s blog to blast critics, most recently an “ambush” CNN video interview of Craigslist founder Craig Newmark.
Craiglist has a point: Given other sites on the web (and in print) serve the same types of ads without the same level of scrutiny, it seems politicians are making the pioneering, 15-year-old service an opportunistic scapegoat. Internet services may accelerate and exacerbate some social problems like prostitution, but they rarely cause them. The root of these issues — and their solutions — lie in the realm of public policy, not web sites and ham-handed web site filtering.
The news was first reported on Techcrunch.