Updated: Craigslist dumps erotica amidst prostitution claims

Chicago (IL) – Craiglist has reportedly agreed to replace its “erotic services” category with an “adult” section that will be carefully reviewed by web site employees. The racy ads had been blamed for allegedly creating the “largest source of prostitution in America.”

“We’re very encouraged that Craigslist is doing the right thing in eliminating its online red light district with prostitution and pornography in plain sight,” Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal told The Associated Press. “We’ll be watching and investigating critically to make sure this measure is more than just a name change.”  

As TG Daily previously reported, a number of states have demanded that Craiglist remove erotic advertisements from its websites. For example, South Carolina attorney general Henry McMaster recently ordered the site to remove certain “portions” of its classifieds categories that allowed for “the solicitation of prostitution and the dissemination and posting of graphic pornographic material.” McMaster also threatened to initiate a criminal investigation if the site did not comply by March 15, 2009.

According to McMaster, Craigslist had “not installed sufficient safeguards to prohibit the Internet site from being used as a vehicle to advertise or solicit prostitution.” He added that “the unrestricted manner in which graphic pornographic pictures are posted and displayed by users on the craigslist site and their accessibility to minors” was also a concern.

In response, Craigslist noted that McMaster had no legal basis “whatsoever” for filing a lawsuit.

“Given the progress that has been made dealing with these tremendously complex issues in a very short time, and the ongoing collaboration between Craigslist and law enforcement to make further improvements, we urge attorney general McMaster to look closely at the facts before proceeding with his threat,” the company said.

It should be noted that Craigslist has implemented various measures in an effort to discourage the inappropriate use of the service by sex operators. For example, in March 2008, individuals posting erotic ads were required to provide a phone number that was subsequently verified by an automated calling system. In November 2008, erotic adverstisers were asked to provide a valid form of identification and credit card number.

However, the site came under increasing pressure to remove erotic ads after a Boston medical student was accused of killing a masseuse whom he had allegedly met on Craigslist.

Craigslist responds:

As of today for all US craigslist sites, postings to the “erotic services” category will no longer be accepted, and in 7 days the category will be removed.

Also effective today for all US sites, a new category entitled “adult services” will be opened for postings by legal adult service providers. Each posting to this new category will be manually reviewed before appearing on the site, to ensure compliance with craigslist posting guidelines and terms of use. New postings will cost $10, but once approved, will be eligible for reposting at $5.

Unsurprisingly, but completely contrary to some of the sensationalistic journalism we’ve seen these past few weeks, the record is clear that use of craigslist classifieds is associated with far lower rates of violent crime than print classifieds, let alone rates of violent crime pertaining to American society as a whole.

The relative safety of craigslist compared to print classifieds is likely due to some combination of:

  • Measures such as blocking, screening, and telephone verification
  • Community moderation via our flagging system
  • Electronic trail ensures violent criminals are quickly caught
  • Personal safety tips prominently posted
  • Unusually high level of cooperation with law enforcement

Community moderation as exemplified by our flagging system is arguably the most successful system ever conceived for eliminating inappropriate activity from a massive internet community. Working in tandem with various other protective technologies, it is an inescapable force to be reckoned with for anyone set on abusing free internet communications across a broad array of posting types.

However, with respect to this new paid category for advertising by legal businesses, we will experiment with some of the methods traditionally employed in paid print classifieds.

We’d like to thank everyone who has provided helpful input over the past few weeks, all of which was closely considered:

  • Our users, whose suggestions shape every aspect of craigslist
  • Attorneys General, who provided valuable constructive criticism
  • Law Enforcement officers nationwide, hugely supportive as always
  • Legally compliant businesses wishing to advertise their services
  • EFF and other experts defending free speech and Internet law

We are optimistic that the new balance struck today will be an acceptable compromise from the perspective of these constituencies, and for the diverse US communities that value and rely upon craigslist.

Note: Our announced intention to contribute 100% of net revenues for the “erotic services” category to charity has been fulfilled, and will continue to be fulfilled, notwithstanding criticism questioning our good faith in this regard. However, in light of today’s changes, and to avoid any future misunderstanding, we are making no representation regarding how revenue from the “adult services” category will be used. Our commitment to philanthropy remains, and craigslist will continue to develop its charitable initiatives.