Friday, May 15, 2009

Craigslist Shuts Down Erotic Services Section

Craigslist has given in to the immense media attention regarding its "erotic services" ads and announced they are shutting the section down. In its place they are now adding an "adult" section, which appears to hawk the same type of personal adult services.

A lot of this occurred after it was discovered that a killer used Craigslist to stalk his victims, who were offering adult services. Since then the nasty subject of teenage prostitution on Craigslist has been covered in the mainstream press and the site has been referred to as an "online bordello."

Of course, Craiglist isn't the only place that advertises "adult services." They can be found in newspapers, alternative weekly rags, and a whole slew electronic venues besides Craigslist.

Craigslist announced the change on their blog and made some points in their defense. At the same time, they announced they will be charging for the ads in the new section and the proceeds will go to charity. All of the new ads will be reviewed by Craigslist employees before they are posted.

The post refers to statistics that the chances of a predator abusing their forum are less likely than a predator using print ads to commit a foul deed. Also pointed out was that Craigslist has safety features built into the site that most "classified advertising" venues don't have. These include blocking, screening, telephone verification, and a community flagging system. The company also claims they cooperate (at a high level) with law enforcement and that predators can be tracked electronically back to the computer they are using. Last but not least, they point to safety tips prominently posted on all forums. These safety tips run the gamut of illegal schemes commonly found on the Internet.

Investigations are normally confidential matters, but if someone was tracking a sexual predator some of these forums could provide real-time investigative capabilities to resolve the case. They could literally track everything to a particular location given the right circumstances and cooperation by the forum and the ISP. Quite often, the frustrations voiced by those tasked with investigating internet crime are that the site and or the ISP do not cooperate as much as they should. If these sites aren't going away, then maybe the solution is to make is easier to tag the offenders?

Craigslist claims they do cooperate with investigative inquiries, but thus far no one is publishing any of these stories. It does state that law enforcement personnel provided feedback on how to design their new "adult section." Again, I'm not sure, but I imagine they couldn't claim this unless there was some truth to it; there is probably an army of lawyers monitoring this situation.

I doubt a flurry of media attention directed at Craiglist is going to solve the "people abuse" problem caused by anonymous venues. The problem will merely move from one anonymous venue to another one. The key will be the ability of the people doing the abuse to remain anonymous, or at least think they are. When sites and ISPs cooperate, it really isn't hard to track a lot of these individuals.

Since none of these sites are going away anytime soon, perhaps the best solution is to make it easier for the authorities to obtain cooperation from them when abuse is suspected or occurred, which is exactly what Craigslist is claiming to do. But Craigslist is hardly the only place where people are victimized by those with sinister intent on the Internet or via advertising in the print media. We need to begin to take a realistic look at the entire issue.