FLIP-FLOP: Craigslist Yanks Sex Listings (And Why It’s a Terrible Decision)


Even after the Craigslist Killer Philip Markoff allegedly murdered Julissa Brisman (after targeting dudes and transexuals as well) and John Katehis’ “accidental” murder of George Weber, Craigslist founder Craig Newmark said his classifieds site has no plans to pull or modify its sex listings section fans know as “Casual Encounters” and “Erotic Services.” Newmark denied Craigslist helped prostitution, telling ABC News, “Sometimes a bad guy of some sort tries to pull a fast one on our site. We don’t want it there, it’s wrong, and that’s why we have the help of the general community and the law enforcement community getting rid of things like that.” That was then. Now? Newmark is yanking the “Erotic Services.”

But the website did make some concessions. It required “Erotic Services” users to verify listings by phone and enter their credit card numbers to create some accountability. It added the warning “Human trafficking and exploitation of minors are not tolerated – any suspected activity will be reported to law enforcement” as part of an agreement with the Attorneys General of more than 40 states and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to crack down on illegal and inappropriate use.

Still, Craigsilst still hasn’t pleased authorities.

The AGs of South Carolina, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Illinois, and Missouri have all pressured or threatened lawsuits against Craigslist if it didn’t remove its adult section. (Illinois’ Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart already filed a lawsuit against Craigslist earlier this year, calling it the “largest single source of prostitution in America.”)


All the threats seem to have worked: Craigslist is ending the “Erotic Services” listings.

Though Craigslist hasn’t announced the changes to the site, the attorneys general are trumpeting the section’s removal.

It was just last month Craigslist CEO Newmark was saying he’s “very proud that our site is composed of people who are overwhelmingly trustworthy and good. I am very proud that there is very little crime on our site, proportionately. Compare that to any other American community, look at the numbers.” (Craigslist’s own statement about the new changes is forthcoming.)

Is this the end of selling sex online? Hardly. It’s only the most public end to the trade. But there are hundreds, if not thousands of websites not named Craigslist that offer the same services. For the AGs, Newmark’s site made an easy target, and the press releases they get to issue will spread the warm fuzzies around their office.

But what effects will the nixing of “Erotic Services” really have? Online prostitution will now move to more shadow-y, less regulated, less restrictive, and less monitored sites whose operators might be a touch less willing to work with authorities. Like this one. And this one. And this one, PUBLISHED BY YAHOO!

Job … well done?

UPDATE: Word from Craigslist arrives. So what types of changes is the company making? They will be ditching the Erotic Services category — within the next seven days! But in its place will be something called “Adult Services,” for “legal adult service providers.” Which means Craigslist isn’t getting out of the space. And in fact, now it will profit from these listings. Before, any cash it collected from Erotic Services listings were donated to charity. Now, thanks to those muckraking AGs, Craigslist will now turn a profit from its sex listings! (And they’re sticking by their “we’re not doing anything bad” stance.) Here’s the full statement:


As of today for all US craigslist sites, postings to the “erotic services” category will no longer be accepted, and in 7 days the category will be removed.

Also effective today for all US sites, a new category entitled “adult services” will be opened for postings by legal adult service providers. Each posting to this new category will be manually reviewed before appearing on the site, to ensure compliance with craigslist posting guidelines and terms of use. New postings will cost $10, but once approved, will be eligible for reposting at $5.

Unsurprisingly, but completely contrary to some of the sensationalistic journalism we’ve seen these past few weeks, the record is clear that use of craigslist classifieds is associated with far lower rates of violent crime than print classifieds, let alone rates of violent crime pertaining to American society as a whole.

The relative safety of craigslist compared to print classifieds is likely due to some combination of:

* Measures such as blocking, screening, and telephone verification
* Community moderation via flagging system
* Electronic trail ensures violent criminals are quickly caught
* Personal safety tips prominently posted
* Unusually high level of cooperation with law enforcement

Community moderation as exemplified by our flagging system is arguably the most successful system ever conceived for eliminating inappropriate activity from a massive internet community. Working in tandem with various other protective technologies, it is an inescapable force to be reckoned with for anyone set on abusing free internet communications across a broad array of posting types.

However, with respect to this new paid category for advertising by legal businesses, we will experiment with some of the methods traditionally employed in paid print classifieds.

We’d like to thank everyone who has provided helpful input over the past few weeks, all of which we’ve closely considered:

* Our users, whose suggestions have shaped every aspect of craigslist
* Attorneys General, who have provided valuable constructive criticism
* Law Enforcement officers nationwide, who have been hugely supportive
* Legal businesses concerned at their right to advertise being questioned
* EFF and other legal experts defending free speech and Internet law

We are optimistic that the new balance struck today will be an acceptable compromise from the perspective of these constituencies, and for the diverse US communities that value and rely upon craigslist.

Note: Our announced intention to contribute 100% of net revenues for the “erotic services” category to charity has been fulfilled, and will continue to be fulfilled, notwithstanding criticism questioning our good faith in this regard. However, in light of today’s changes, and to avoid any future misunderstanding, we are making no representation regarding how revenue from the “adult services” category will be used. Our commitment to philanthropy remains however, and craigslist will continue to develop its charitable initiatives.

(Photo: ABC News)