Craigslist CEO demands apology

Isn't threatening prosecution that is clearly prohibited by federal law an abuse of power?

Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster has had enough. After South Carolina attorney general threatened criminal prostitution charges against Craigslist, despite the online ad site's agreement to replace its erotic services section with a monitored "adult services" section, Buckmaster came out swinging in a blog post entitled 'An Apology is in Order.'
Two days ago you accused craigslist, and me personally, of engaging in criminal acts, reiterating your previous threat to file unwarranted and unconstitutional charges against us that are clearly barred by federal law. As you put it, “We have no alternative but to move forward with criminal investigation and potential prosecution.”

These very serious allegations followed the dramatic changes we implemented last week, widely applauded by other Attorneys General, that go far beyond the policies and procedures you yourself personally endorsed just 6 months ago, as indicated by your signature on the Joint Statement.

So effective in fact, that our “adult services” and soon-to-be-retired “erotic services” sections combined, for all cities in South Carolina, currently feature a total of 40 ads, all of which comply with our terms of use. That’s 40 ads out of a total of 334,180 currently listed on our SC sites.

... Mr McMaster, I strongly recommend you reconsider and retract your remarks, and positively affirm that you have no intention of launching criminal investigations aimed at any of these upstanding companies, because in truth none of them are deserving of such treatment. Certainly when it comes to craiglist, by any objective standard your threats and accusations are unreasonable and unfair:

  • threats of criminal prosecution are utterly unwarranted by the facts
  • the charges threatened are unconstitutional and barred by federal law
  • our adult ad screening regimen is stricter than the one you endorsed
  • our adult services ads are fewer and tamer than other SC venues

We’re willing to accept our share of criticism, but wrongfully accusing craigslist of criminal misconduct is simply beyond the pale. We would very much appreciate an apology at your very earliest convenience. As I’m sure would all of the other fine companies whose executives you’ve called out as criminals.

Buckmaster points to this piece by the Center for Democracy & Technology that explains why Craigslist is immune to the threatened prosecution under Section 230 of the Communcations Decency Act.
These threatened charges both violate the U.S. Constitution and directly conflict with federal law. Federal law is crystal clear that Craigslist has no liability under state law for content posted by users. If a prostitute advertises illegal services on Craigslist and then commits a crime, the prostitute may be guilty, but Craigslist is not. In 1996, Congress passed a law – known as “Section 230” – for the very reason that it wanted to leave sites like Craigslist free to adopt remedial measures against unsavory content – as Craigslist has done – without fear of becoming liable as the publisher of the content posted by users.