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)

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  • Anthony in Nashville

    People are going to be PISSED OFF!

    Where will the married men go now?

  • Alex

    Is this really happening? When? Erotic services was still up at last check. Also, I just noticed that craigslist is a .org site. Is it a non-profit?

  • Dabq

    Interesting, but, I don’t see how it can get anymore shadowy if Criagslist starts verify things, which had they been doing it before maybe they would not be in the spotlight. That said, I still think that prostitution should be legal and the working boys and girls registered, it would be safer all the way around. And, hookups, that has never been on an upright site they are and always have been seedy and use at your own risk if you have common sense, LOL!

  • Jayson

    They should also start verifying dick size in the personals section

  • Noneyobiz

    As a licensed, legitimate massage therapist who routinely uses craigslist as a mean of attracting new clients, to this I say: Good riddance. Because sex workers & hustlers often list themselves as “massuers”, it gives our industry a really questionable reputation. It puts those of us trying to earn an honest living in the uncomfortable position of having to fend off undesireable advances & casts our profession in an unseemly light.

    If you’re a sex worker, fine. That is your choice. Say what you are and stop sullying my line of work and stop running ads on craigslist. As the above article points out, there’s other venues from which to seek out customers in this illegal trade.

  • Dr.Strogg


    Why don’t they just fight back, they can hardly lose a lawsuit if there’s an only half-decent judge/jury (however that goes in USA:-)

  • Michael W.

    Erotic services is different from the personal ads though, right? They may be banning the prostitutes but you can still go on there to find hookups for free.

  • ...

    They didn’t remove the “adult gigs” section, so I guess it’s now ok to ask for it but not to offer it.

    I think in the end the result will be pros spamming casual encounters.

  • Nickadoo

    It’ll be interesting to see how they can police this. These messageboards have already become a minefield of acronyms and codewords. Now we can just add to the existing influx of people who’ve been “listening to Tina Turner all night” and “looking for generous guys to hit the slopes.”

  • Queerky

    The hustlers will just move on to the ‘men seeking men’ site. It is bad enough now, boys claiming to 18-21 looking to give service to anybody, often indicating a preference for older men or men of color. They often post multiple ++++ or ******* within the ad which i assume is code for $$$$$

  • Zakakaka

    Nothing like Manhunt

  • mikeandrewsdantescove

    I love Craigslist and Newmark always follows up with my messages.

    The erotic services section serves a purpose and it’s unfortunately that a couple of crazies how ruined it.


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  • Dave

    Where will all the republicans find their man dates when they are at their ultra conservative retreats away from their bearded wives?

  • Nickadoo

    @Dave: Do you think it’s just a coincidence that a lot of the political gay sex scandals seemed to coincide with the cleaning up of the Navy Yard section of DC and the closing of all those seedy sex clubs?

  • Jacob

    This change in policy will do very little to change the way that consenting adults hook up on the internet, it will simply change the website people use to do so. As Craigslist has placed increasing barriers like fees and restrictions for those wishing to post in their erotic section, competing sites in the space like Naughty Reviews, which offers free classified ads, have grown significantly. My point is that law enforcement is simply wasting resources with this current campaign as stopping the world’s oldest profession is just not possible in today’s day and age.

  • Good lord

    “Yanking Craigslist’s Erotic Listings Is Going to Backfire. Badly” Really, anymore so than my experiences using Craigslist have always backfired so badly?

  • James

    Not trying to threadjack here, but what’s with the photo of the kid making horns with his hand? Am I missing something?

  • Brandon

    @Queerky multiple + simply mean that type of man is preferred it isn’t code for money. Neither is asterisks. $ or someone saying they’re looking for generous is prostitution.

    I think, that all this will result in is those advertising for prostitution simply posting in casual encounters, men/women seeking, or therapeutic services, which has already been happening all along. This was the whole point why erotic services was created in the first place so these listing would stay separate.

    Im confused by the point that Queerty was trying to make w/ those links to sex listing sites found through yahoo. None were actually sites and they simply led to advertisements and not real ads. So, maybe that demonstrates that CL was the best source for these types of services and it will be difficult for prostitutes to find another site w/ as much traffic.

  • Alex

    @Noneyobiz: You didn’t post in Erotic Services, though, did you?

  • Marius

    No. 17 James,

    That’s the kid who killed George Weber – another Craig’s List hook-up.

  • Tim in SF

    @Jacob: My point is that law enforcement is simply wasting resources with this current campaign as stopping the world’s oldest profession is just not possible in today’s day and age.

    The job of law enforcement in the realm of vice is not to clean up society, but to be maintain a high profile making highly visible efforts to clean up society. The efforts need not be effective, they just need to be visible to the community that pays for their budget. Taking down CL Erotic Services is a total win for them.

    Negative consequences to sex workers are not on their list of priorities.

    Yes, it’s a big waste of money. Vice enforcement always has been a waste of money. That’s why I always vote against pay raises and retirement benefits for cops and prison guards. And so should you — if they weren’t picking on the hookers, they’d be picking on us.

  • James

    @Marius: Thanks, Marius! I was reading the article on my iPhone and wasn’t sure if text pushed items on the page.

    Hey, Queerty? Could you caption photos? kthxbai

  • dgz

    you’re right, Queerty, this will backfire… for the prostitution industry. and Craigslist wasn’t “regulated” just because they verified credit — it was a just a virtual, seedy street corner. i can’t believe they got away with it as long as they did.

  • Qjersey

    Oh please the regular M4M listings are always filled with prostitution ads. They aren’t going anywhere, though the straight crowd might in the W4M listings will probably “flag” more them than the M4M crowd does.

  • mb00

    I think it’s stupid. I believe that consenting adults should be allowed to pay for services the so desire.
    I believe if it gets you off to pay someone for sex, then so be it. Yes, I don’t agree with the exploitation of children, or any human for that matter.
    But if there are two consenting adults willing to trade cash to have someone rub one out for them, so what?
    So long as no one is getting hurt during the process, I believe it should be left alone.

    Now, if you legalized prostitution and taxed the shit out of it, can you imagine the wonders it would do for the economy?
    America would be out of the shit hole in a matter of a couple of months.

  • Prof. O. G. Whataschnozell

    I think they are doing the community a great service. What will happen is people will have to go back to actually meeting people and having a conversation before crawling into bed for their perverted trysts. LOL whatever happened to the art of conversation. This sex on demand business is not good.

  • Flex

    The religious fascists from the mid-west believe they can stop prostitution by threatening craisgslist with legalities. Prostitution is like water, and will always find an outlet.

    Knowing that prostitution is the exchange of money for sex, does an amateur video maker on xtube, who makes money off of everyone watching his videos constitute as a prostitute?

    Is an unlicensed, naked massage ad a solicitation for sex?

Comments are closed.