Village Voice Media came under additional pressure over its adult listings on Monday, when the social service organization FAIR girls unveiled an ad campaign aimed at convincing
the site to stop allowing adult ads on Backpage.com.
The video ad, which went live online today, features an actress portraying a real 13-year-old sex trafficking victim who talks about her experience. "My pimp advertised me on Backpage.com," she says at one point. The 30-second spot will air in the Washington, D.C. market on Sunday, during "This Week with George Stephanopoulos," and on cable next week. The ad calls on people to sign an online petition asking Village Voice Media to stop accepting adult ads.
FAIR girls, along with other critics of Backpage.com, says that the listings site contributes to the victimization of young girls. Backpage.com argues that it works "cooperatively with law enforcement to identify, arrest and prosecute human traffickers."
The ad campaign comes as Backpage.com is embroiled in litigation over its adult ads.
Washington state recently passed a law (SB 6251) that makes it a felony
for Web site operators to allow users to post ads for "commercial sexual acts," when those ads contain images of minors. Tennessee also recently enacted legislation that would make it a crime to sell
an ad that appears to offer a minor for "a commercial sex act" -- even if the ad isn't ever published.
Backpage.com is challenging laws in both of those states. In Washington, the company obtained a temporary restraining order banning law enforcement authorities from enforcing the law. In Tennessee, state officials agreed to hold off on enforcement until a hearing later this month.
Backpage argues that the laws run counter to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which provides that Web sites aren't responsible for illegal posts by users. The listings site also says that the laws could affect a broad swath of companies that accept user-generated content by imposing new policing duties on them.
The Internet Archive, which maintains records of more than 150 billion old Web pages, has joined Backpage.com in fighting the Washington law in court. The Internet Archive argues that the law's language is so broad that it could apply to "any Web site that provides access to third-party content, including user comments, reviews, chats, and discussion forums, and to social networking sites, search engines, Internet service providers, and more."
Last year, Backpage.com prevailed in a lawsuit by a teenage sex trafficking victim who alleged that the company aided and abetted prostitution by allowing sex ads on the site.
Craigslist also prevailed in litigation about adult ads on the site, but the company decided two years ago to stop running adult listings. At the time, Craigslist predicted that the ads would migrate to other sites.