Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Blaming Craigslist for Child Prostitution...

When most of us think of Craigslist we think of job postings and free furniture. But there is a population out there that has a completely different association with the site... prostitution.

I've been to Craigslist a million times, yet it wasn't until this afternoon when I read this Mashable article that I ventured over to the "Erotic Services" section. If you take a look yourself, you might agree that Craigslist seems to have implemented just about every measure to protect people from the "Erotic Services" section as possible - including warnings, disclaimers, and methods for flagging as "prohibited" anything illegal or exploitative.

That is, they've done everything possible except actually removing the section itself. And that's where the current debate is being waged.

CNN recently ran a news report on the role Craigslist plays in facilitating prostitution, and child prostitution specifically. In defending the website, CEO Jim Buckmaster offered the following tepid response:

It would be a bigger problem if we removed that category and had those ads spread throughout the site... If the 'erotic services' section remains in place, it makes it all the more easy to track illicit activity; if it’s all centralized, you can spot the illegal stuff more easily.

He did also re-assert that Craigslist "voluntarily works with authorities in tracking sexual crimes that have connection to the usage of their system".

So the question, then, is whether you believe that keeping the "Erotic Services" section up-and-running does more good (by enabling stronger law enforcement) than bad (by providing a forum for child pornographers)?

I, for one, cannot see the logic of keeping the forum up-and-running, and find Buckmaster's weak excuse exactly that. It's like saying that we should purposely leave ways for terrorists to blow up our national landmarks in order to (hopefully) catch a few of them beforehand. But wouldn't it be better to protect our landmarks and make life as difficult as humanly possible for the terrorists to carry out their plans in the first place?

Of course, it's delusional to think that eliminating erotic services from Craigslist would have any real impact on ending the online sex trade, and Mashable is right to point out that "there is nothing to prevent that same culture from migrating over to MySpace, Facebook, or any other number of very popular social networks that have dark corners that are difficult to police". It is indeed a game of whack-a-mole, but that still doesn't justify Craigslist enabling that culture any further.

For that reason, so long as the "Erotic Services" section continues to exist, Craigslist ought to be considered at least partially to blame for those illegal activities, including child prostitution, which it is (inadvertently) helping to facilitate.


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