I’ve never met Jim Buckmaster, and the chances are good that you haven’t either. But you’ve no doubt heard of Craigslist, the online site he’s run since 2000.
What started as a “hobby” of the company’s founder, Craig Newmark, is now a major presence on the Internet. From selling a bicycle to buying tickets to the big game, Americans have embraced its convenience and ease of use. What used to take days and dollars to pull off – placing a classified ad in a local newspaper – can now be done in a matter of mere minutes.
But there is a dark side to an otherwise bright story. For years, Craigslist has accepted ads for “adult services, i.e. sexually oriented business. In fact, they’ve long defended the practice, even going on the offensive at times by suggesting federal law protects them from being held responsible for companies who break the law. They’ve also suggested they’re expressing a strong belief in and support of the First Amendment.
Critics have pointed out that Mr. Buckmaster and his small staff has had over 40 million additional reasons to maintain the status quo. By some estimates, Craigslist has pulled in $44 million a year from these postings, nearly a third of their annual income.
What can be done about it? Prostitution might be one of the oldest “professions,” but the fight against it remains ever new.
This past August, seventeen state attorneys general collaborated on a letter to the company, demanding that they close the section altogether. Their rationale struck a chord of common sense: Although widely considered a victimless crime, the sex industry is anything but. Each year, thousands upon thousands of women and children fall into its wicked clutches.
Sadly and tragically, human sex trafficking is alive and well on the Internet. The FBI estimates that over 100,000 children and young girls are exploited by the sex trade in the United States alone each year.
So what, if anything, have Craigslist executives done about their part in the problem?
Mr. Buckmaster has openly railed against those who criticize his company for accepting the vaguely worded ads. But after receiving the letter from the state attorneys general, Craigslist pulled down the “adult services” section and replaced its link with a single word: CENSORED.
The public was left to wonder: was the move a matter of conviction, convenience or a publicity stunt?
Just yesterday, during testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, Craigslist officials acknowledged they were permanently closing that section of the site. Yet, they refused to elaborate on motive or rationale. In fact, they even suggested that by closing that area the enforcement of current law might suffer.
“Craigslist has more than fulfilled its obligations, and now it has removed the adult services category,” said their attorney, Elizabeth McDougall. “With the removal of adult services and its manual review, Craigslist fears that its utility to help combat child exploitation has been grossly diminished.”
Should this really be that difficult?
Doesn’t common sense and common decency dictate that it’s just a bad idea to openly (or even subtly) advertise prostitution online?
To me, wisdom dictates that a society has an obligation to protect its most vulnerable and most easily exploited members.
By pulling down this objectionable section, I’m encouraged to see that Craigslist has taken a step in the right direction.