Craigslist Could Still Face Prosecution, Despite Shuttering Adult Services

Craigslist says it is still concerned that South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster will attempt to prosecute company executives for aiding and abetting prostitution, although the site shuttered its adult listings at the beginning of the month.

In a filing submitted this week to U.S. District Court Judge C Weston Houck in Charleston, Craigslist says that people might attempt to post prostitution ads in the "therapeutic listings" section of the site. The company argues that although it manually screens such ads, executives still face the threat of prosecution if McMaster's office decides that Craigslist knew of unlawful ads.

"In an effort to prevent ads for sensual massage, web-cam services, phone chat services and other services that previously were intended to be posted under the now-closed Adult Services section from migrating into craigslist's Therapeutic Services category, craigslist continues to engage in manual review of third-party ads posted to this category on its web site," the company says in its court papers.

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But, Craigslist adds, McMaster "could take issue with a reviewer's judgment call as to whether a particular ad 'relates' to the solicitation of prostitution, and charge Craigslist with 'knowledge' on that basis."

The filing is part of an effort by Craigslist to convince Houck to reinstate the listing site's lawsuit seeking an injunction barring McMaster from prosecuting executives for abetting prostitution. Houck recently dismissed the case on the grounds that the threat of prosecution is remote.

Craigslist filed suit after McMaster said he would prosecute company officials unless the site blocked all adult ads from appearing in the state. The company argued that the federal Communications Decency Act immunizes it from crimes committed by users.

Many legal experts agree with Craigslist that the company is not liable for unlawful ads posted by users. Last year, when Sheriff Thomas Dart of Chicago sued Craigslist for creating a public nuisance by allegedly running prostitution ads, a judge dismissed the case and ruled that Craigslist was immune from such lawsuits.

Nonetheless, Craigslist executive William Clinton Powell recently told Congress that the site has permanently shuttered its U.S. adult ad listings.

Craigslist isn't the only classified site to come in for criticism for allegedly running prostitution ads. Village Voice Media was sued recently by a teen sex trafficking victim who alleges that the company aided and abetted prostitution by failing to investigate ads on Backpage.com. In addition, a group of attorneys general have asked Backpage.com to stop displaying adult services ads.

 

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