Over the weekend, Craigslist blocked access to the “adult services” section of its website, replacing the link with a bar reading “censored.” Spokespeople for the site were bizarrely reticent about the change, which is probably a response to the severe criticism that Craigslist has received from law enforcement officials and human rights activists concerned with sex trafficking through the site. Right now, it’s not clear whether the “censored” bar is permanent, and some have speculated that the move is a statement to the site’s critics, who have not been successful in getting Craigslist “adult services” shut down by legal means, but who have very effectively stirred up popular anger against the site.
Craiglist says that it is protected by the Communications Decency Act. As one legal expert explained to the NYT, “They can absolutely keep it up. The law is pretty crystal clear on this. What’s happened here is the states’ attorneys general, having failed to win in court and in litigation, have decided to revisit this in the court of public opinion, and in the court of public opinion, they have been much more successful.”
The “adult services” section of Craiglist is a significant source of revenue, although it has been subject to increasing criticism, especially after prominent cases like that of Philip Markoff, the man who committed suicide in jail last month after being charged with murdering a woman he had met on Craigslist. But many question whether shutting down this part of Craiglist will do anything – in fact, some pointed out that Craigslist’s transparency both protected sex workers and gave crucial information to the police when things went wrong.
Some see the “censored” bar as a deliberate political gesture to an establishment that seemed intent on depriving the site’s creators of free speech. And clearly, this move is not going to change much. There are still many places to buy sex online, and much of the traffic from “adult services” has moved to the Craigslist “personals” section, where it’s much more challenging to regulate. Sex workers and other activists have spoken out against the change, saying that it will make it much more difficult for sex workers to operate independently, without the influence of pimps and other powerful intermediaries.
We’ll see whether the Craigslist move is permanent, but for now, the change seems not to be as much of a triumph as Craigslist opponents would hope.
Photo from Flickr.