Commentary

Craigslist Strikes Back

With South Carolina's grandstanding Attorney General Henry McMaster continuing to threaten to bring criminal charges against Craigslist execs, CEO Jim Buckmaster is publicly defending itself.

"Many prominent companies, including AT&T, Microsoft, and Village Voice Media, not to mention major newspapers and other upstanding South Carolina businesses feature more 'adult services' ads than does craigslist, some of a very graphic nature," Buckmaster writes. He then links to 11 not-safe-for-work Web pages of other publications.

On one level, he's only stating the obvious: Adult ads have long run in print publications. And law enforcement officials haven't generally objected to such ads -- at least not to the extent that McMaster is complaining about Craigslist. One reason has to be that such ads help the police make arrests. How many other lawbreakers advertise their intentions?

Still, the question remains, why is McMaster attacking Craigslist and not ads in news publications? One reason could be that it's fashionable right now to pick on Craigslist, given the recent attention paid to the site in light of the murder of masseuse Julissa Brisman. She was allegedly killed by a student who had answered an ad for "erotic massage" she placed on Craigslist

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But there might also be another explanation for why McMaster publicly objects to Craigslist ads and not ads on the pages of Village Voice Media: Craigslist is an easier target than news publications because condemning news outlets for ads they run would be perceived as an attack on journalism itself. After all, at least some of those ads subsidize news reporting and writing.

Craigslist, on the other hand, is seen as taking ad dollars away from journalistic enterprises, hastening the demise of newspapers. That perception might not be fair, but it seems to have left Craigslist without as many people circling the wagons for the company.

Yes, digital rights groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation support Craigslist. But it's not yet clear whether the same First Amendment advocates who typically defend the media's right to run graphic not-safe-for-work ads will just as vociferously speak up for Craigslist.

5 comments about "Craigslist Strikes Back".
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  1. Frank Dobner from The Startup Source, May 18, 2009 at 5:58 p.m.

    I absolutely agree with this. Craig's List is an easy and tempting target for traditional print publications (i.e. newspapers). The erotic ads in Craig's List are no different than any other newspaper. Stop picking on Craig's List. For those who are adventurous enough to frequent erotic services, caveat emptor, baby.

  2. Robert Zager from iconix, inc., May 18, 2009 at 6:13 p.m.

    While you can clearly apply First Amendment analysis to this situation, you really don't have to work that hard. The Communications Decency Act immunizes the provider. McMaster should be lobbying Congress to change the law rather than abusing his office in this manner.

  3. John Rettie from jgr productions, May 18, 2009 at 6:15 p.m.

    I also agree....stop attacking Craig's List.

    Let's just admit that drugs and prostitution are here to stay and finally learn to live with it. Fighting it just causes more problems than it solves.

  4. Linda Lopez from Independent, May 18, 2009 at 6:31 p.m.

    Wendy, you absolutely nailed it.

    There will always be erotic services, and it will always be a risky business, because there will always be predators who target sex workers. No one knows the risks better than those who place the ads. To blame the Web sites or newspapers that carry the ads is pointless; the traffic in sex will always be there -- or somewhere -- and every so often, some psychopath will take a victim. In this way, there is not a whit a difference between Craig's List and the Village Voice.

    Statistically, it is astounding that, with all the ads that get placed and answered on Craig's List, these crimes don't happen more often than they do.

  5. Catherine Ventura from @catherinventura, May 19, 2009 at 5:07 p.m.

    And let's not forget how much publicity McMaster garnered for himself in the mainstream media!

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