Craigslist Exec Adult Services Section Gone For Good, As Ads Migrate
A Craigslist executive confirmed to Congress on Wednesday afternoon that the site shuttered its adult listings in the U.S., and added that the company doesn't plan to reinstate the category.
"We do not have any intention to bring that category back," said William Clinton Powell, director of customer service and law enforcement relations for the site.
Powell's testimony came toward the end of a lengthy House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security hearing about child sex trafficking -- including the role played by Craigslist and other Web sites in enabling prostitution.
State attorneys general and others have criticized Craigslist for allowing people to post thinly disguised prostitution ads on the defunct adult services portion of its site. The company says it reviewed all such ads manually to screen out blatant prostitution ads, but authorities allege that many prostitution ads nonetheless were posted. More recently, the site has come in for blame from advocates who say that its ads contribute to the exploitation of children.
Even Craigslist's decision to shutter the section didn't stop the criticism.
"What took you so long?" Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) asked Powell on Wednesday. He said he couldn't answer why the company stopped running the ads on Sept. 3.
She then pressed Powell about whether the company might in the future reverse course for financial reasons. He responded: "Money is not a consideration."
Powell also said the company has the technology to prevent the same ads that had been posted to its adult services section from appearing on other portions of the site. But, he added, Craigslist had already seen evidence that such ads were migrating to other companies' sites.
Jackson Lee also wanted to know why Craigslist had not shuttered its adult ads in other countries, including Canada. The company's lawyer, Liz McDougall, said there were legitimate reasons why law enforcement authorities would want to keep such ads cordoned off in an adult services section, such as to prevent them from moving to other Web sites.
"Canada so far has not said that they think that is the answer," McDougall said.
Rep. Bobby Scott also questioned whether it made sense to continue to allow such ads in non-U.S. sites when people in the U.S. could post ads to those areas of Craigslist. Powell answered that users wouldn't see any value in doing so because most people use Craigslist within their own cities.
Craigslist drew much notoriety for displaying prostitution ads last year after Boston University student Philip Markoff allegedly killed a woman who had taken out an ad on Craigslist's erotic services section. The company later replaced its erotic services section with a monitored adult section. Craigslist charged users $10 to advertise in the adult section and hired people to screen those ads before they went live.
Legal experts say that Craigslist isn't liable for unlawful ads because the federal Communications Decency Act generally provides that Web sites aren't responsible for illegal material posted by users. Sheriff Thomas Dart of Chicago sued Craigslist last year for creating a public nuisance by allegedly running prostitution ads, but a judge dismissed the case on the theory that Craigslist was immune from such lawsuits.