No more adult services on Craigslist: 1st Amendment issue or business decision?

No more adult services on Craigslist: 1st Amendment issue or business decision?

Summary: Most people won't argue that the now-censored adult services listings on Craigslist weren't the most tasteful and some were out and out bad news. But why the change of heart at Craigslist?

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TOPICS: Censorship, Legal, Piracy
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It's finally happened. After years of mounting concern over the relatively blatant advertisement of prostitution on Craigslist, the company has finally decided to stop accepting ads for "adult services". That's roughly $36 million worth of annual business to which Craigslist was arguably entitled by its First Amendment rights. So what pushed the company over the edge? Is this a precedent-setting decision or did one company simply decide to eliminate a source of potential liability?

Here's what the Services section of the Craigslist homepage looks like tonight:

Is it just me, or does their choice of presentation smack of duress? The folks over at PC Magazine agree:

In regards to the [paid adult services listings], the aforementioned $36 million estimation would have made up roughly one-third of the company's total yearly revenue. That's quite a chunk of change for Craigslist o just give away—especially when it's labeled as "censorship" instead of a simple, silent removal.

Last month, the San Francisco Chronicle ran an interview with Craigslist chief executive, Jim Buckmaster, whose words definitely suggested that his company wasn't planning to pull the site:

"Is moving advertising around our best hope for addressing these harms?" he said. "Then the ads fall under personals, and how long before the demand is that we shut down personals? And where do those ads go next? What other sections of our site would they like us to shut down?"

Interestingly, only US visitors see the "censored" label. The site, which many US legislators, attorneys general, and human rights organizations have repeatedly tied to the exploitation and abuse of children and women, is still active and accessible from outside the States. Craigslist isn't commenting on the move, nor on its long-term plans for any adult services listings or its ultimate motivation for censoring the site in the US. However, most analysts felt that as a small company, Craigslist simply didn't have the financial resources to handle the lawsuits that were just around the corner.

While the Digital Millenium Copyright Act protects sites from liability over the actions of its users, stepping into the territory of child sex trafficking suddenly gives the DMCA (and the First Amendment) less teeth. No matter what legal protections it may or may not have had, what growing, profitable company wants to be at the forefront of a high-profile non-consensual sex trade case? (No, there isn't a case like that yet involving Craigslist, but perhaps it was only a matter of time).

Poking around the site a bit more, one has to wonder if Buckmaster's and other activists fears will be realized. This message appears in the personals section:

Will that, along with the US censorship of the Adult Services section be enough to satisfy authorities and activists as well as keep women and children safe?

Probably not.

While this may be a business decision for Craigslist, it calls into question the extent to which a wide variety of sites are protected by both the DMCA and the First Amendment. It also begs for legislation and a law enforcement system equipped to deal with the countless bad guys hanging around the more dimly lit corners of the Web that still protects our rights to a free, open Internet.

Topics: Censorship, Legal, Piracy

Christopher Dawson

About Christopher Dawson

Chris Dawson is a freelance writer, consultant, and policy advocate with 20 years of experience in education, technology, and the intersection of the two.

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87 comments
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  • The Bad Guys Are The Ones We Elected

    All of the self righteous, first amendment trampling "do gooders" are the bad guys. Freedom of speech, no matter how offensive, should be protected and not used as political fodder. Every one of the Attorneys General who threatened legal action against craigslist did so to win votes, and to protect their jobs. This is a travesty.
    sismoc
    • The First Amendment was never meant to encompass smut

      @sismoc
      [i]Freedom of speech, no matter how offensive, should be protected and not used as political fodder.[/i]

      Freedom of speech my ass. Freedom of degeneracy would be more fitting. What constitutional amendment, amongst the unending list we have buttressing the system (or being blissfully ignored), is that one?
      klumper
      • Sorry, but you are wrong.

        @klumper <br><br>Are you a Baptist by any chance? At a time in this country before the 1st Amendment was in place, you would have been whipped in the public square as a "degenerate". Freedom of speech is actually a misnomer, because what it really means is that individual people have the freedom to judge for themselves what is good or bad, useful or useless. There is not some lord or nameless bureaucrat who decides what you can or cannot know. Freedom of speech is one reason you can own your own Bible as well as a Hustler magazine. Once you begin to limit its scope, you allow others to do the same, others who have more power than you do.<br><br>Fortunately for you, the 1st Amendment protects everyone who speaks their minds, even if they have no mind to speak of ...
        terry flores
      • Try again

        @terry flores

        Yor response is below -- due to posting restrictions.
        klumper
      • Well said terry flores

        @terry flores

        Thanks dude... Very well put.
        i8thecat
    • Freedom of Speech..

      @sismoc <br>So, by your logic, it should be perfectly acceptable to scream "FIRE!" in a crowded theater... <br><br>The bottom line is that if the service(s) being offered in the Adult section of Craigslist were thinly veiled ads for prostitution and prostitution outside of certain counties in Nevada is considered ILLEGAL, then the Attorneys General are well within their rights to prosecute. <br><br>We, as a society, have decided that prostitution isn't an acceptable activity. So in that case, yes, it would fall within the scope of their job descriptions to prosecute Craigslist for aiding and abetting? <br><br>Travesty...? Seriously. A situation that better qualifies as a "travesty" would be the situation in NY City - where they're planning a mosque within spitting distance of the World Trade Center site.<br><br>If you really, really disagree that prostitution shouldn't be prosecuted - then start a campaign to LEGALIZE it.
      Wolfie2K3
      • RE: No more adult services on Craigslist: 1st Amendment issue or business decision?

        @Wolfie2K3
        stupid
        ccutright
  • America, home of the prudes

    I'd like to see Craigslist fight to keep this section, because I see this as a first amendment issue. I'm sure CG considered that they would be facing a lot of legal challenges and that it's no longer worth it to fight even if they could win in the end.

    Before too long, some other website, probably based outside the U.S. will fill this void. That means more money leaving the country. Way to go right wing prudes.
    K B
    • RE: No more adult services on Craigslist: 1st Amendment issue or business decision?

      @K B
      How about you pay there lawyers fees? Why expect someone to fight for YOUR rights,wants,needs,battles? And i don't see how this has anything to do with prudes? The laws are very clear,in the USA only one stale/county allows prostitution and that is Nevada. You want there to be legal prostitution then fight for it or just shut up.
      Stan57
      • Did you even read all of my post?

        @Stan57
        Dude, I'm not sure what's crawling up your intestines, but you seem pretty angry.

        1) By saying that I wish Craiglsist would fight this doesn't mean that I don't understand their business decision for doing what they did.

        2) Where did I say that I expect someone to fight for my rights?

        3) This issue has to do with prudes because the attorney generals are being swayed to apply pressure on Craigslist by people who I consider to be prudes. The fact that we have so many laws banning or curbing erotic services seems to indicate that there are a bunch of prudes in the USA (my country). Not to mention, it's pretty unlikely that CG would be found legally liable for their erotic services section. In fact, a good deal of those postings are for LEGAL services.

        4) I think by stating a point about prudish American's on a public message board, actually IS fighting for my point, and shutting up would be counter-productive.
        K B
  • RE: No more adult services on Craigslist: 1st Amendment issue or business decision?

    This sucks now how am I supposed to set up my casual encounters?
    LP212
  • Profiteers of lust and degeneracy

    R * I * G * H * T ** O * N

    It's about time some institution drew a line. But go on all you clowns defending prostitution and pornography like it's some warm blanket. It's all smoke n mirrors that harms far more than it "helps" ('cept dirty old men, and horny dogs in trousers). That includes both the women and targeted children involved, and the lustful recipients who dream like fools what they're embracing is what it appears.

    Women who peddle loose wares are hookers or junkies. Those who aren't are deranged, desperate for money (and too lazy or misguided to earn it in a more fitting way), or the byproducts of broken homes (read: runaways). [b]ALL[/b] of the children are the victims of adults out of control, and out of their minds. Avarice, corpulence and criminality breeds such things in excess. Welcome to modern America.

    Just watch out that the clap you hear doesn't become your own eternally (some strains are drug-resistant for anyone who still isn't hip).
    klumper
    • RE: No more adult services on Craigslist: 1st Amendment issue or business decision?

      @klumper

      Only in your mind is this true. Only in your mind!
      Lerianis10
    • RE: No more adult services on Craigslist: 1st Amendment issue or business decision?

      @klumper
      You are an idiot.
      Droid101
      • RE: No more adult services on Craigslist: 1st Amendment issue or business decision?

        @Droid101 He's partially correct.

        Take a look into todays state of world and see for yourself.
        Keele
    • RE: No more adult services on Craigslist: 1st Amendment issue or business decision?

      @klumper
      In case you forgot, we are all prostitutes, of sorts. You study hard to perfect a knowledgeable trade and then strut your wares (Resumes, advance courses, ect.) and then exhibit youself before a prospective client (employer) and eventually sell youself to the highest bidder. Damed! Sound just like that chick I ran into last night!!!
      eargasm
      • In your scenario, bosses would be pimps

        @windozefreak

        But really, we're mostly prostitutes to half baked thinking.
        klumper
  • Addendum to above post

    As for you young horny guys, here's some free advice. Get yer noses out of that **** and go find yourselves the real thing. It's infinitely more satisfying, and, unlike abstract fantasies that twist the brain nowhere but downward in widening spirals, has a rewarding payload over the long course. That's someone to call your own, and build a productive life around.

    Everything else amounts to a self defeating tail chase. Live and learn, well, if you don't twist and corrupt for good the lusting receptors of your brain first. That applies to prostitution [i]and[/i] pornography in basically equal measure. Whereas the former melts the stick, the latter melts the psyche. You heard it here first.
    klumper
    • A tired tirade

      @klumper

      And you are going to get rid of the world's oldest profession how? It is like trying to outlaw breathing.

      Like it or dislike it, it is here to stay. It always amazes me that in the US, when a breast appears on family TV, it is a scandal, but when people regularly beat each other senseless in the octagon, that is OK.

      Go figure.

      I have never visited that particular part of Craigslist, and I do not plan to. Not because it offends me, but because I am happily married and do not feel the need. I do not have a problem with prostitution, but I abhor pimps. I also feel a need to protect children from sexual or other abuse. Having said that, adults can do whatever they want, IFF they do not hurt anyone else.

      Sometimes, the most righteous "family values" individuals are the ones with the skeletons in their closet, because they need the respectable front to hide behind.

      How about it klumper?
      Economister
      • Tired cliches from you

        @Economister

        Look below as it won't post here.
        klumper