ONLINE CLASSIFIED ADS NETWORK Craigslist is facing a call for it to shut down its adult section from Connecticut's attorney general after claims were made that the online service is used to advertise child sex trafficking.
The notice board, which is part owned by Ebay, has long been accused of turning a blind eye to prostitution. Since Craigslist introduced its adult classifieds section it has taken flak from law enforcement officials who have claimed that the site is little more than a web based knocking shop.
Now those allegations have turned for the worse for Craigslist as the Washington Post has published harrowing excerpts from an advert that includes claims from a 17 year old girl that she suffered years of sexual abuse as a child prostitute hired to clients through Craigslist.
Known as MC, she claims that since the age of 11 she was forced into prostitution with adverts appearing on Craigslist numerous times. MC also said that she is "not an exception". The harrowing tale re-opened the debate as to whether the site should remove the adult section.
On Friday a federal judge in South Carolina dismissed a lawsuit in which Craigslist tried to stop authorities from investigating whether or not the site had a role in alleged prostitution activities. Later that day, Connecticut's attorney general called for Craigslist to shut down its adult section completely.
Talking to the Washington Post, Craiglist's CEO Jim Buckmaster essentially said that the authorities were shooting the messenger. He said, "Like the criticisms that [have] been levelled against the Washington Post for its adult services ads, scapegoating advertising services is a very unfortunate misdirection of attention and energy from the tough choices, hard work, and significant investments required for addressing actual causes of, and making actual progress against the scourges of trafficking and child exploitation."
The Post responded to Buckmaster's reference to the newspaper by including in its story the statement that it does "not knowingly accept advertisements from businesses engaged in illegal activities, and has long required massage parlors to produce copies of valid business licenses before we will publish their advertisements." But Craigslist could say the same thing about businesses it accepts advertisements from.
Beyond the horrific claims of the girl MC, for which The Post does not report any police investigation, and Craigslists' lawsuit loss, there is a wider debate about censorship and how the vulnerable can be protected from predatory adults.
Cyberspace has become a domain where all manner of illegal activities from abuse to spying have emerged as issues facing society. Should any website that could be used for any illegal or allegedly illegal activity, such as file sharing, be shut down as a matter of course or are there alternatives to draconian censorship?
And who benefits from these actions? Publishing companies that have lost advertising revenue to many websites would be happy for legal action or legislation to completely shut down websites like Craigslist entirely, not just the adult sections. µ