Craigslist drops adult listings

Craigslist has dropped its “adult services” listings amid mounting pressure from critics who say the highly-trafficked classified ad site is not doing enough to combat prostitution. Instead of the previous link to adult services, it now displays the single world “censored”.

Last year, Craigslist replaced its “erotic services” ads with the new adult category and said it would closely screen the submitted ads.

Connecticut’s Richard Blumenthal is leading a group of states attorneys general who have been monitoring the company’s efforts to purge the offending ads. Blumenthal has suggested that Craigslist could have been earning as much as $36 million a year from prostitution and human trafficking.

Craigslist has vigorously defended its business practices and claims it has been unfairly singled out for attack. Other online listings, including those of eBay and some national newspapers, promote similar adult services without attracting a fraction of the attention that Craigslist has received.

In a blog post last month, chief executive Jim Buckmaster wrote that “Craigslist is committed to being socially responsible, and, when it comes to adult services ads, that includes aggressively combating violent crime and human rights violations, including human trafficking and the exploitation of minors.”

Craigslist has said it had donated all revenues from its erotic services listings to charity. When it switched to its adult services listings last year it said it would make no commitment to how those revenues would be used.

Although Craigslist has been under attack for some time, its liability for illegal acts committed as a result of its ad listings is highly questionable. Web sites enjoy broad immunity from prosecution over material submitted by users and numerous attempts to restrict user-generated content have been struck down by the courts.

As a result, many commentators view this latest act by Craigslist as a PR move to rally public opinion in favor of free speech. If that’s the case, then they may have miscalculated, suggests Blumenthal: “If this announcement is a stunt or a ploy, it will only redouble our determination to pursue this issue with Craigslist.”

Craigslist is used by over 50 million people in the United States, with over 20 billion monthly page views.

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