Internet

The Craigslist Crack-Up

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When Phillip Markoff was dubbed the "Craigslist Killer" for allegedly killing a woman after he found her sex ad on Craigslist, it was only a matter of time before authorities put even more pressure on the free classifieds website to comply with, well, anything they want.

According to the AFP, attorneys general from Missouri, New York, Connecticut, and Illinois met with Craigslist representatives today, in part, to "negotiate" the end of the websites' "Erotic Services" ads:

"Craigslist is allowing advertisements for illegal activities like prostitution on its site," [Missouri AG Chris Koster] said in a written release. "It is blatant. It is irresponsible. It is illegal."

California-based Craigslist has defended itself repeatedly against similar accusations.

In March, [website chief executive Jim Buckmaster] argued they were having laudable results in clamping down on sex ads on the Internet bulletin board….

Buckmaster's comments were in response to a move by county sheriff in Illinois that is suing the website for promoting prostitution with free classified ads that people use to offer sex for cash.

The sheriff is asking a federal judge to order Craigslist to shutter its "Erotic Services" section.

Buckmaster pledged that Craigslist will "vigorously" defend against the lawsuit.

"Craigslist is responsible for the types of advertisements it allows, and it is imperative that Craigslist agree to tougher restrictions and to remove ads for illegal activities from its site," Koster said. "We aim to stop this type of advertising in Missouri."

Actual, Craigslist is not responsible for user-generated content. Nor is Craigslist responsible for the "dangerous" arrangements that led to the young woman's death in the Markoff case–as state officials are implying and the media is milking. As Canuck Ivor Tossell said in the Globe and Mail:

Markoff allegedly answered her ad, later corresponding with her over e-mail and cellphone. It's hard to pin down exactly why the "Craigslist killer" nickname stuck, but it did. …it's certainly more assonant than "The Craigslist, then E-mail and Cellphone Killer." But judging by the way the case sparked a moral panic about Craigslist itself, the ready association people drew between the two words seems more than just phonetic….

It didn't take long for people to start pointing out the patently obvious: There is nothing about Craigslist that contributed to this crime. Connecting Craigslist to the actions of someone who answers an ad is as silly as blaming a newspaper for the actions of someone who answered an ad and did something terrible…

Why then, have attorneys, prosecutors–nay, everyone–gotten themselves in a panic?

It's not for the safety of erotic entrepreneurs; otherwise officials would do the responsible thing and decriminalize the activity. It's not because the social networking sites are a haven for predators. If a recent report concerning the sexual predation of minors is any indication, online predators are as much of a problem as the weirdoes lurking behind your local convenience store. And it's not the erotic advertising itself. As Tossell notes, sex ads are nothing new to fans of big city alt-weeklies.

So what gives? Well, Tossell reveals –perhaps unknowingly–the worry that gnaws at the hearts of good men everywhere:

…but while there's no connection between Craigslist and the crime, it does shoulder responsibility for the panic.

Craigslist has always walked a fine line between anarchy and grungy respectability. It made its name as the under-moderated, anything-goes website….

The libertine act comes at a price. Craigslist is a pile of contradictions that nobody knows quite how to read.

What seems to worry Tossell and others is that a website (read: business, community, etc.) has flourished without being regulated. No! Impossible! Tossell might not "quite know how to read" Craigslist's success, but I certainly do: Craiglist's users have an incentive to keep the website safe, accessible, and fair because those users receive the immediate benefits of a positive investment.

The unexpected death of even one person is terrible. It's also not to be entirely unexpected for a community that has more than 40 million participants every month. If Craigslist really is "irresponsible" and panic-inducing, then its greatest attribute would also be its demise. Users have the choice to unplug, or at very least say, "it's NOT ok to contact this poster with services or other commercial interests."  

Associate Editor Katherine Mangu-Ward has an interview with Craigslist founder Craig Newman here.

NEXT: Reason's Terry Colon Wins for Best Editorial Illustration in the Western Publications Association's "Maggie" Awards

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  1. The Evils of the Intertoobs, Part 57

  2. As Tossell notes, sex ads are nothing new to fans of big city alt-weeklies.

    And as no surprise to H&R readers, or libertarians in general, authoritarian moralist cheesedicks have been waging war on them, too.

  3. Craigslist’s policy should be really simple:

    When these prosecutors produce evidence of a criminal act – namely, the successful prosecution of a person who posted on the site – Craigslist should take down that person’s ad.

    In the absence of actual convictions, there is absolutely no evidence that the site is being used for illegal purposes.

  4. The AG in South Carolina has also threatened Craigslist with prosecution

  5. .but while there’s no connection between Craigslist and the crime, it does shoulder responsibility for the panic.

    No. Fuck you. Yo, fuck you.

  6. What the fuck kind of name is Tossell, anyway? You don’t even need to argue with someone with a name that bad. OK, Tossell, Craigslist is bad, whatever you say.

  7. the weirdoes lurking behind your local convenience store.

    Hey! Umm, never mind.

  8. I need reason to do some legwork and find out if it’s permissible to pay prostitutes to “act” in your own “homemade film”. Is it possible to say “The sex is free…but here’s 200 dollars for being in front of the camera”?

  9. Craigslist – Please, I’m begging you, pretty please with sugar on top, tell those states AG’s to ram it up their retentive sphincters.

    Maybe mention that they should come back after they’ve won the War on Drugs Human Nature.

    Like those fucking asshats don’t have real crimes to solve or prevent.

    Grrrrr.

  10. Sigh, this is just terrible.

  11. TAO – I’m pretty sure that’s the thinking behind Bangbus.

  12. And to think someone recently got upset with me for accurately calling them a hypocritical asshole. I mentioned that that’s relatively genteel discourse compared to when I’m pissed off. Like I am with dumbshit retarded jackasses who play goddam games because the stupid shit electorate is mortified that people actually suck cocks, eat pussy and take it up the ol’ poop shoot.

  13. Anyone interested in erotic services on the internets knows that everything on Craigslist is a scam or cops and doesn’t use it anyway . . . uh, I’m told.

  14. In the absence of actual convictions, there is absolutely no evidence that the site is being used for illegal purposes.

    Actually, there’s plenty of evidence that Craigslist is being used to advertise for illegal purposes. So is the phone book, your local alternative newspaper, and Yahoo, for that matter. So what? Where is the victim in voluntary consensual activities between adults? If someone robs and murders one of the service providers, why does it matter where they were first contacted? It’s a real crime either way.

    Other Craigslist advertisers have posted ads saying they had a TV or a car for sale, asking prospective buyers to meet them with cash at an empty house, supposedly one the advertiser is moving out of. It turns out to be a foreclosure, and the prospective buyer gets robbed. So should Craigslist not allow ads for TVs or cars?

  15. Warty – I am solidly of the mind that Bangbus is very, very fake. As a matter of fact, I think 99% of those “amateur professional” sites are fake, fake, fake.

    What I want to know is whether I Mr. T. Angry Optimist, can call a local “non-therapeutic masseuse” and have her “star” in my video, which is protected free speech, as opposed to getting busted if she’s an undercover for prostitution, which is not.

    Regardless, the legality of porn and the illegality of prostitution is one of the shinier examples of this nation’s cognitive dissonance.

  16. Yeah, straws are being used for snorting coke, so we should therefore ban straws.

    And $20 bills.

  17. I knew what you were getting at, TAO. What I was saying is that I bet half of those gonzo porn directors started with the same idea as you, and later realized there’s money in it.

    And of course Bangbus is fake, you drooling simpleton.

  18. I need reason to do some legwork and find out if it’s permissible to pay prostitutes to “act” in your own “homemade film”. Is it possible to say “The sex is free…but here’s 200 dollars for being in front of the camera”?

    As far as my not lawyering ass can see, if the pimp filmed the proceedings and wrapped it up in iMovie and burned a DVD for you, you’d have a damn good argument under current case law.

    Presumably you could set this up as business. Just have some actresses on call, a file full of scripts, a Mac, a couple of webcams, and one geek to handle the production and away you go.

    Just be sure to obey OSHA and pay your taxes.

  19. Warty – I am solidly of the mind that Bangbus is very, very fake. As a matter of fact, I think 99% of those “amateur professional” sites are fake, fake, fake.

    I am 100% certain they are fake. They star pornstars, the action is loosely scripted, it’s an official profitable business and there are laws against filming porn without model releases, and lastly, their own website has a disclaimer saying it’s fake. All reality porn is fake, because porn is a business and there are laws dictating how porn must be made.

  20. I fully admit to being a drooling simpleton with regard to the “amateur professional” sites being fake. It only struck me like, two years ago.

    EWOTBM – next thing you know, I get busted by the state government because you can’t run a business out of your house or something.

  21. All reality porn is fake, because porn is a business and there are laws dictating how porn must be made.

    Most of which have been voided for the true amateur because it has a chilling effect on free speech.

  22. I need reason to do some legwork and find out if it’s permissible to pay prostitutes to “act” in your own “homemade film”. Is it possible to say “The sex is free…but here’s 200 dollars for being in front of the camera”?

    If you filled out a model release and filed the 2257 paperwork, then yes, it would be legal.

    . . .

    SO I HEAR

  23. So, is it the payment for services that’s regulated?

  24. Porn is legal, prostitution is not. Porn is legal because it is sex conducted for purpose of a larger entertainment business. I don’t know how the hell that makes sense, but that’s the logic. If you set up your cameras got forms filled out and got a bunch of girls, but I could prove you never actually intended to put the videos up on the internet or operate as a business on any level, that would make you officially a John and legally wrong. I have no idea what sense that makes.

    My theory, the legal limbo comes from this: people like porn, they don’t like prostitution, and if they ever have to think about it too hard they’d be afraid they’d have to ban porn.

  25. tldr

    Buying sex to get off is wrong. Buying sex to entertain people is perfectly fine. If you try and find logic in this, you will go mad.

    Probably similar to how drugs become morally legitimate as soon as one is in too much pain to actually enjoy them.

  26. “In the absence of actual convictions, there is absolutely no evidence that the site is being used for illegal purposes.”

    I don’t know if I give a hoot about it even if there were all of these convictions. There is a great deal of evidence that phones are used for illegal purposes.

  27. Most of which have been voided for the true amateur because it has a chilling effect on free speech.

    I’m not aware of any 2257 regs that have been overturned.

    (I’ve said before that I think ‘big pr0n’ secretly welcomed 2257 because it kept out the riff raff and gave them an alternate method to pursue copyright infrigement. And I’m also glad to see I’m not the only one who knows what 2257 means)

  28. Chris Koster. Misery’s A-Team. Great two articles back to back. What next? I’m starting to take this personally.

    I see an opportunity for a fee based erotic encounter site. Wait a minute!!!

  29. It’s Craig Newmark, not Newman.

  30. Didn’t the Bush administration re-interpret 2257 to require that porn websites keep records in a very demanding way, which ultimatelly hurt many providers?

    In a way iirc it was a deviously clever intepretation if you wanted to deal a blow against porn without any totally new statute. Something to do with the sites having to have certified age information on record for every model on site you could click on from that site (?)?

  31. I see an opportunity for a fee based erotic encounter site.

    Reason’s Hit & Run seems to be awfully free…

  32. MNG —

    That’s correct.

    [/lay expert on porn]

  33. I hate being put in a position to defend an assclown, but Koster did manage to get a decent eminent domain bill through MO for at least stopping it from being used for economic development. Of course he stopped there.

  34. Richard Blumenthal, the attention-whoring AG of Connecticut, has been gunning for Craigslist loooooong before Markoff. Here’s a little cut-and-pasted newsbrief I wrote about him a year ago (true anecdote: I got laid off from the alt-weekly less than five minutes after I finished writing this particular piece, which is why it still sticks in my memory to this day):

    Hookers Are Bad, Sez Blumenthal

    In a March 27 [2008] press release, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal declared himself shocked – shocked! – to discover that hookers sometimes advertise on Craigslist.

    “In spite of rules banning such content,” the release indignantly sputters, “Craiglist’s [sic] ‘erotic services’ section is rife with ads containing explicit language and images bordering on pornographic, as well as hourly rates and descriptions of services clearly sexual in nature.” In a letter to Craigslist attorneys, Blumenthal declared himself “especially troubled that Craigslist has disregarded and dismissed this serious and growing problem.”

    An informal poll of our male acquaintances indicates that they do often find something growing when they gaze upon such ads. However, they did not classify such growth as a “problem” and we find it impossible to view it as anything “serious.”

    At any rate, Blumenthal notes that his previous attempts at a cure only made the presumptive disease worse: “As a small step in response to my concerns, Craigslist now requires anyone posting a listing in the erotic services section to provide a phone number. This step, however, will hardly deter the prostitution problem on the site, and may indeed make it worse. Many of the most graphic solicitations already include a telephone number to enable prospective patrons of their services to contact them.”

    We probably shouldn’t have laughed as hard as we did, when we read that. In fact, we probably shouldn’t have laughed at all.

  35. Starting a pool for which one of these guys gets caught with a hooker first.

  36. Since it is perfectly legal to give away sex, or trade sex for alcohol (ever been in a bar?), if ‘they’ try to bust you. . . simply tell them the sex was free. . . and then thank her again for loaning you that $50 last week to get your car fixed. . .

  37. The Rhode Island AG has also been a dickish blowhard lately on this Craigslist crap.

  38. A thread on hookers and porn, and the Reason decides to show me stretchmark ads? Oh the humanity!!!

  39. Brandybuck, the proliferation of cheap HD cameras into the adult entertainment industry has been both a blessing and a curse. Nothing like seeing implant scars, stretch-marks and cellulite in glorious 1080p!

  40. Craigslist Undetected Predators !
    Attempting to work with their organization to best defend the public from crimes of opportunity, CRAIGSLIST denies help! The CRAIGSLIST operators do not care about you or your safety ! CAUTION BEWARE CRAIGSLIST IS DANGEROUS !

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
    PRLog (Press Release) – May 05, 2009 – Looking to help identify the cause, and create a solution ! We apprehensively approached CRAIGSLIST with an opportunity to help advertisers stay protected and get connected.

    When they discovered the product interfered with their business for profit model, they put money before safety!

    Imagine that ? A corporation on US soil,s hows no concern for the people it profits off of !

    Some thanks you from them, the chance that you might invite a “PREDATOR” over to your home as a journeyman mechanic, low and behold it’s a sex offender , ex killer, or even a rapist !

    Thanks for exposing the general public to a forum with no regard for human life !
    The blood that flows through them is the paper type, green in color and never enough !

    This team of highly skilled technology experts converged at their own expense and created a solution! A layer of protection that records all data pertinent to the transaction, or inquiry.

    A way to hold people accountable for their actions, and what did CRAIGSLIST say?

    They shunned the idea, removed our FREE Ads at their discretion!

    Please remove the sex ads first Mr. CEO and big wig. Oh, I see you would rather allow children an opportunity to communicate with Escorts, Hookers, and the number one transporters of STD’s in the country !

    The same kids who buy and sell their precious video games, bicycles, and other personal belongings through your system.

    Why endanger your customers ? Why ?

    Rather than request an answer time and time again, or place FREE ADS on the internet about the product that will Protect & Connect buyers and sellers.

    The CRAIGSLIST staff just keep removing our ads, that’s right, removing ads that offer a service on their system which is meant to not have a bias or discriminate !

    Ha, a very very Big HA !

    That’s right this team of technology guru’s wants to challenge to an open debate the CEO vs CEO go toe to toe and discuss the First Priority , WEB SAFETY FOR EVERYONE !

    Surely their CEO has heard of the legendary VP behind the product, in fact the multiple e-mail introductions are readily available at anytime.
    So are the ads that offered a layer of protection to CRAIGSLIST users that were removed, or banned !

    What type of company offers a FREE service to ALL? CRAIGSLIST !

    Oh wait they charge to advertise in the EROTIC SECTION. Is this part of the business model?

    I see this is the Christian Section, oops they do not have one of those. Why not?
    Maybe asking will get our IP Address permanently banned?

    Who cares, we do, about INTERNET SAFETY and CRAIGSLIST Accountability !
    If they can ban certain ads by certain users, then why not ban the hookers and Predators?

    Too much money made off of those certain clientele? Ouch, so we see the problem, it’s all about gathering e-mail addresses and Phone Numbers to sell !

    That’s right the “GIG IS UP” and everyone will know that your business is just that, a business.
    Your care and concern for the Women, Children, Men, Senior Citizens, Minorities, and Others alike who rely on a code of conduct to be applied, it only applies to them.

    Now if we all opened accounts and Advertised as Escorts, possibly , in fact for sure CRAIGSLIST would defend us and our rights.

    However as for your children, frankly they don’t give a damn!

    Join the movement to create ACCOUNTABILITY for the VICTIMS of CRAIGSLIST !

    After all if I invited you to come into my business for FREE, and then sold your personal data to anyone, ANYONE.

    How FREELY again would you hand out your phone number, name, and address?

    You do just that there ! Your Name , IP, E-mail Address and Posting a Phone Number!

    Wake up AMERICA ! CRAIGSLIST will quickly do just that, and you wonder to just who?

    PREDATORS are suppose to register their E-Mail address with authorities, with IP address and more. Does CRAIGSLIST even cross check their users there?

    It Will Only get Worse ! Make CRAIGSLIST accountable for the damages they have done and they might just think about the repercussions that lye ahead !

    They block the ads of those offering a way to defend from becoming a target or even worse, a victim ! Yet they do not screen any ads so they claim. then why remove , ban, or block the ads on Public Safety ?
    # # #
    This is a message for the general public. Please take extreme CAUTION when advertising online. Danger may be just a phone call away !

  41. He doesn’t want to put his relatives out of business. Imagine the infra-structure built in that Dynasty of Sex for Hire.
    He is the new Hollywood Madam!

  42. This guy made resolution last time by being allowed to charge the hookers! lol What a Joke, is that a punishment? Now the government is doing the right thing and taking their part.

    Who is going to defend our children, whom may I ask?

  43. GET CONNECTED! STAY PROTECTED! Keep your phone number private. Easily add a FlashCaller button to your website or online ad so that your clients or perspective buyers can connect to you directly.
    Advertise Without Exposing Your Phone Number
    Today’s internet savvy crook can get your information with just a phone number, don’t be the next target! Protect your identity and add anonymity to your website, digital ad, or even email responses! This service is a reveloutionary product guaranteed to increase sales leads, gather analytics, and protect your safety! Just Place the FlashCaller where your phone number would be in the ad and get instant results! As well as customers using Craigslist to place ads and control the time of the call, stay anonymous, and connect instantly while the perspective lead only has your ad in front of their eyes!

  44. “The Angry Optimist | May 5, 2009, 5:10pm | #

    Warty – I am solidly of the mind that Bangbus is very, very fake. As a matter of fact, I think 99% of those “amateur professional” sites are fake, fake, fake. ”

    I ask the following question as most of what the straight community holds as pornography is a complete and baffling mystery to me…

    But is there a “straight” version of this “Bangbus” concept or do we have two commenter guys here who are more on my wavelength?

    AS to whether “amateur porn” are “fake, fake, fake”; I simply choose to believe that Sean Cody, Randy Blue, etc really are employing straight boys who are being paid to have sex with each other and find that they really really really like it. 🙂

    Some one tangentially on “amateurs” but mainly on the subject Intellectual Property: How does xtube.com prevent any IP from appearing on their site? The website does an amazingly effective job (I should know I’ve looked) and should be able to give youtube a few pointers.

  45. Brandybuck, the proliferation of cheap HD cameras into the adult entertainment industry has been both a blessing and a curse. Nothing like seeing implant scars, stretch-marks and cellulite in glorious 1080p!

    I’m not sure why this is making a big difference. I’m familiar with several strip clubs in my town (Greensboro has three all-nude, fuck yeahh!! You can even get decent Thai here, double fuck yeahh!!!), and the vast majority of the women in the clubs are fuckable at any resolution.

    It shouldn’t be the that difficult to get nice looking models, perhaps it is the industries reliance on aging porn actresses with name recognition who have had two skin grafts and one damaged liver too many
    that is the problem, Jenna Jameson has looked light shit these days and it ain’t because of HD.

  46. Jenna Jameson has looked light shit these days and it ain’t because of HD.

    that should be,

    Jenna Jameson has looks like shit these days and it ain’t because of HD.

  47. Erotic Services ads on Craigslist are NOT free. They are $5.

    Does anybody getting paid to write fact check any more?

  48. Greensboro has three all-nude, fuck yeahh!! You can even get decent Thai here, double fuck yeahh!!!

    Interesting juxtaposition, alan. I’ve never met a Thai girl who wasn’t just dripping with sex appeal, myself.

  49. And onw more way for “daMAN” to try and control us.

    We ARE the pitchforks.

    CL is just like late night porn or family guy, you don’t want to see it. Don’t watch it.

  50. please check out reasonlist.com/animalsex

    At least we can count on Reason for keeping alive traditions as old as Old Testament warnings: ‘Whosoever lieth with an animal shall be put to death.’

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