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Craigslist “Erotic Services” vs Henry McMaster

2 June 2009 No Comment
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Craigslist Threatened by Attorney General for Erotic Services

  • Craigslist vs McMasterAre you aware that Craigslist were making headlines among the internet sphere for their battle against South Carolina’s Attorney General for the controversial “erotic services” column.
  • Were you aware Craigslist even had such a category?

Craigslist has become an household name as the place to go to find jobs, to buy and sell items anything from a used DVD to cars to houses. The service boasts 40 million classified ads posted every month. Amidst all the different categories and millions of posting, what often goes unnoticed is the “erotic services” section that is unfortunately accessible to anyone. Adults, Children- anyone can access these classified section.

The Attorney Generals of several states demanded that Craigslist shut down this service as it promotes prostitution. Craigslist chose to implement changes in response to their concerns. It adopted screening measures that were recommended and removed the “erotic service” category… kinda.

Craigslist is Protected under Federal Law Section 230

To Craigslist credit, they did this despite technically being protected under federal law for content posted by users. Section 230 CDA protects free speech online and it is often used to protect sites like Youtube from being completely shut down to do user videos that violate copyright law. If a prostitute advertises illegal services and carries it out, the prostitute is guilty but Craigslist is free of any crime.

However the Attorney General of South Carolina, Henry McMaster, believed this wasn’t enough and threatened criminal charges if Craigslist did not comply. Craigslist had recently entered into South Carolina and was quickly adapted by it’s residence. McMaster sent Craigslist an ultimatum demanding ALL sexual postings be removed from Craigslist South Carolina. He first threatened legal action if Craigslist did not comply in 10 days.

“remove the portions of the Internet site dedicated to South Carolina and its municipal regions which contain categories for an functions allowing for the solicitation of prostitution and the dissemination and posting of graphic pornographic material”

10 days passed. No Compliance. Henry McMaster than stated they will start a criminal investigation.

“As of 5:00 p.m. this afternoon, the craigslist South Carolina site continues to display advertisements for prostitution and graphic pornographic material. This content was not removed as we requested. We have no alternative but to move forward with criminal investigation and potential prosecution.”

Drama Unfolds – Craigslist vs Henry McMaster!
Craigslist decided it needed to take an offensive position. Craigslist responded with a flurry of blog entries stating that he Henry McMaster was in the wrong. Craigslist demanded an apology stating that though they are constitutionally protected they complied with requests from the Attorney Generals with a strict ad screening regimen, and that many more prominent companies were doing far worse. Here is an entry:

Many prominent companies, including AT&T, Microsoft, and Village Voice Media, not to mention major newspapers and other upstanding South Carolina businesses feature more “adult services” ads than does craigslist, some of a very graphic nature. For a small sampling, look (careful NSFW) here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here.
– [All “here” were links to various companies that allowed adult advertising. Links have been removed]

No Apology came and Craigslist filed it’s own lawsuit.

Henry McMaster Office claims Victory

More importantly, overnight they have removed the erotic services section from their website, as we asked them to do. And they are now taking responsibility for the content of their future advertisements. If they keep their word, this is a victory for law enforcement and for the people of South Carolina.

Immediately the media went on a frenzy, calling this simply a PR ploy in response to the suit against the the office. They were claiming victory for something that happened over a week ago and it only came after Craigslist sued Henry McMaster seeking declaratory relief. He has also been accused of attacking Craigslist as a way to gain attention and prominence in office.

Final Thoughts – Craigslist is Right, but…

I agree with Craigslist that Henry McMaster cannot simply point them out and ignore the fact that this is happening everywhere. The big companies like AT&T, Microsoft, and Village Voice Media are all guilty of doing the same thing. All the big newspaper media companies also allow similar advertising. If you go after one you have to go after all if truly this is your conviction. Even if it means ruining one’s own standing with the media and losing political support from these big name companies. The Craigslist CEO’s response was very well written and very convincing.

However having said that, being that craigslist is so accessible by all people including teens and children i think it behooves craigslist to take the ethical route and simply rid itself from all sexually linked advertisements altogether. The step taken by Craigslist in placing strong filter is a great move and I applaud that. I also agree Craigslist is compliant to applicable laws. The point I do not agree with is the approach of pointing at others who are doing “worse”. What’s the big deal if I steal a bike when everyone else are stealing cars? Ultimately it is still the same thing. It is still wrong regardless of the “degree” of the act. Both parties should be held accountable. This is a situation where being compliant to law is not enough and the need to adhere to a higher moral law is in order. I say drop it altogether, admit it wasn’t right and become the force to encourage other companies to follow suit.

No More Erotic Services! Just Adult Services…

By the way – Craigslist got ride of “erotic services” but has now put up “adult services” open for posting by legal adult services. Postings will cost $10, reposting at $5. All proceeds go to charity.

Holy smokes. Does anyone find this a bit disturbing? Charity? That’s like taking blood money…

  • What is your take on this matter?
  • Do you agree with Craigslist or Henry McMaster?
  • What is the best way Craigslist should respond?

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