Craigslist Shutters Erotic Services Listings

sexyFaced with intense pressure from law enforcement officials, Craigslist has agreed to discontinue "erotic services" ads. Instead, the site will launch a new "adult" section where listings will be pre-screened for compliance with the terms of service.



The deal was forged late Tuesday night between Craigslist and the attorneys general of Illinois, Connecticut and Missouri. In addition, Craigslist will now charge $10 per new ad -- up from $5.

CEO Jim Buckmaster characterized the pact as a compromise between law enforcement, legitimate businesses, users and free speech advocates. "We are optimistic that the new balance struck today will be an acceptable compromise from the perspective of these constituencies, and for the diverse U.S. communities that value and rely upon craigslist," Buckmaster said in a blog post.



Craigslist intended for the erotic services section to house ads for services like phone sex and erotic dancing, but law enforcement authorities have complained for months that many ads are obviously related to prostitution.

Criticism had accelerated in recent weeks, sparked by the murder of masseuse Julissa Brisman. She was allegedly killed last month by a Boston University student who answered an ad she had placed on Craigslist's "erotic services" section.

Despite complaints about prostitution listings, many cyberlawyers said that Craigslist was under no obligation to filter the site because the federal Communications Decency Act provides that sites are immune from liability for unlawful ads posted by users.

Ironically, now that Craigslist has attempted to compromise, the company might be worse off legally than if it had simply ignored the law enforcement authorities' request. That's because a federal appellate court recently ruled that a site that reneges on an agreement to remove certain posts can be held liable for breach of contract -- even if the site had no independent obligation to delete the material. In that case, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Yahoo might be liable for reneging on a promise to delete lewd photos.

While that lawsuit did not involve Craigslist, the principle could apply to the listings site. "That's a risk for Craigslist," said David Ardia, director of the digital rights group Citizen Media Law Project.

"If Craigslist were to simply decide on its own which posts to remove and which to leave up, without making any promises to anyone, that form of moderation wouldn't typically change its protection," Ardia said. But, he added, agreeing to bar posts could create a legal obligation to do so, given the recent ruling in the Yahoo lawsuit.

It's also not clear that prostitution ads will not migrate to other sections of the site, including personal listings. Cara Smith, deputy chief of staff for Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, said the authorities are aware of that possibility. "That's something that we have been and continue to be concerned about," she said. "We will be stepping up our reviews of those other sections."

6 comments about "Craigslist Shutters Erotic Services Listings".
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  1. Mike Mcdermott from Bash Foo Social Media, May 14, 2009 at 8:02 a.m.

    While I am sensitive to the freedom of speech concern, Craigslist has done the responsible thing using available technologies. Eventually I see local communities building their own social filtering to protect their individual prurient interests. For example, if you live in Midwest, USA and the vast majority of people in the community want to disallow online prostitution and such listings they can enable edge filters to remove that content. If you live in Sincity, USA and the majority of people in that community are indifferent or want to see these postings the filters would not be enabled.

  2. Gerard Mclean from Rivershark, Inc., May 14, 2009 at 8:10 a.m.

    All of this is not about free speech or community standards or any of that highfaluting stuff. It is about people making decisions about the amount of risk they want to take on with personal decisions.

    If you are an adult and you go into a dark alley that smells of beer and urine and has lots of folks in varying stages of undress lurking about, you are taking a risk that you will not come out the other side unscathed. Same thing with these areas of CraigsList. It's not a secret.

    CraigsList hoped to treat adults like adults. Our local governments want to treat everyone like a child. Maybe someday we'll be able to tell the difference. In the meantime, enjoy the "Happy Bubble" place all these law enforcement people have stuffed you into.

  3. MediaMark Walker, May 14, 2009 at 11:02 a.m.

    Hey, here's an idea: if you don't like something, don't do it! And stop forcing your opinion onto other people.

  4. Sarah Grant from adMarketplace, May 14, 2009 at 1:10 p.m.

    Another way to look at it - the CraigsList killer could just as easily have searched for masseuses other sites. Why is CraigsList getting the brunt of the blame, when the murderer should?

  5. Marilyn Lee from Directions Media, May 14, 2009 at 5:18 p.m.

    I have to agree with Sarah on this one. As distasteful as I find those ads, there are certain safety rules one should follow when using a site like Craigslist. Meet the person in a public place, take a friend along, never reveal information that could lead the person to your work or home. Of course, these safety rules are hard to enforce when you're posting for erotic services, but shouldn't those who are posting and responding in this particular section be responsible and aware of the inherent dangers of posting in that particular forum?

  6. Stacey Schaller from SBS Advertising, May 14, 2009 at 5:34 p.m.

    There is a time an place for the "live and let live argument," and I'll agree that it is good — in its place. However, there are some activities that, simply by virtue of doing them, force unwanted and negative consequences on those who had no input or choice in the matter.

    Let's apply MediaWalker's idea to another action: "Hey, if you don't believe in robbing banks, don't. But don't force your opinion on someone who believes robbing a bank is fine."

    I think even MediaWalker would say that robbing a bank should not be allowed, even for those who would like to.

    Ideas and actions have social consequences — real, dollar-value, quality-of-life consequences — that impact those outside of the decision. There are costs to allowing bank robbery, prostitution, gambling, running red lights, embezzling from your employer, lying to you mother ;), etc.

    In the case of "Erotic Services," the costs include, the general devaluation of women, transmission of deadly (and often incurable) STD's like AIDS, HPV, Gonorrhea, and Syphilis, broken homes (and the poverty directly related thereto), and a host of other social ills for which someone (usually innocent) must bear the cost.

    When the social costs of an activity outweigh the social benefits, we do have a right to say, "I don't believe in it. I'm not going to do it. You won't either." After all, that's what the car pool lane is all about. ;)

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