Like Craigslist before it, Backpage.com has closed the “Adults” section of its classified ad website, amid a seemingly endless stream of government pressure. In both cases, state and federal authorities have argued that the mere presence of open forums for user-generated adult advertising creates a market for child sex trafficking.
Backpage CEO Carl Ferrer and his associates were the subject to prosecution, criminal charges, economic intimidation, and Congressional hearings– the last of which will take place today, January 10, before the Standing Subcommittee on Investigations of the US Senate – in an attempt to thwart this alleged sex trade. But after proclaiming innocence and pushing back and for several years, Backpage will now – “as a direct result of unconstitutional government censorship,” his lawyers said in a statement – comply with demands to end his section of adult advertisements.
Last fall, former California attorney general Kamala Harris attempted to convict Ferrer and former Backpage.com executives Michael Lacey and James Larkin (founders of Village Voice Media) for pimping and conspiring to commit a crime. procuring. A the judge threw the charges, claiming they were unconstitutional and violated federal law, which specifies – under section 230 of the Communications Decency Act – that third-party publishers cannot be held criminally responsible for the content of messages generated by the users. Section 230 not only prevents sites like Craigslist and Backpage from getting into trouble if someone posts a prostitution ad there, but allows Reddit to exist without its CEO being charged for every credible user threat. , prevents Facebook from being closed after about 20 years. -old takes a 17-year-old girl there, stops Craigslist from being convicted every time someone scams someone for a used washer, and stops the federal government from going after Reason.com when the section comments contains unsavory content.
But despite alleged Section 230 protections, government officials have lashed out at Backpage for allowing adult ads, even though those ads do. do not refer directly to illegal activity and any illegal activity that results from people meeting through Backpage is taking place well outside the jurisdiction of its owners or operators. How should Backpage operators know if a woman offering dominatrix services or a “sensual full body massage” on the site is really offer dominatrix services or a sensual full body massage, and not just have sex for money? How do they know if the poster that says she’s 18 is actually a few months away? They can’t do it, and yet this lack of omnipotence and precognition will apparently not be enough. As Backpage, and Craigslist before it, have shown, websites are more than welcome to offer open forums for user posts without government interference as long as none of the posts have anything to do with sexuality. Yet, the moment “adult” work kicks in, all free speech protections and anti-censorship agendas dissipate. Lawmakers, prosecutors and the media that criticize them are starting to say things like, “If this saves just one child …”
However, closing Backpage won’t even save a child, adult, or anyone. Backpage.com is a neutral publishing platform, although it has become popular among sex workers, ranging from strippers and erotic masseuses to people who offer sex for a fee. Without its adult section, sex workers of all ages will have to find another way to advertise – perhaps just by switching to a more low-key section of the site, as has been done on Craigslist (anyone who thinks rid Craigslist of its adult services section effectively thwarted commercial sex advertising it should check out the “Casual Encounters” section of the site now); perhaps by advertising elsewhere online (the Internet is a big place); or perhaps reverting to older methods of collecting customers, such as word of mouth or street walking. But what does not happen in all the most fervent prohibitionist imaginations is that people whose livelihoods depend on prostitution or more legal forms of erotic labor simply stop doing that work because a website will no longer take their advertisements.
And the authorities know it. In the criminal complaint against Ferrer, Larkin and Lacey in California, officials noted that many women they spoke with who now advertised services on Backpage had previously advertised on the adult section of Cragislist, on MyRedbook.com ( closed by the federal government in 2014), and on other escort websites and forums that had since been banned. The only way the authorities are going to stop online advertising for prostitution is to increase their already intensive efforts by a hundred and go after all websites that allow user-generated content. I’m starting to think they might try.
“As Federal Court of Appeal Judge Richard Posner described it, the goal is either to choke” Backpage or to use the government’s awesome powers to force Backpage to follow in Craigslist’s footsteps and abandon its section of adult advertising, “Backpage lawyers said in a Monday statement.” Posner described these tactics as “a formula to allow unauthorized, unregulated, infallible and lawless government coercion.”
Unfortunately, these hammer attempts have actually injured most of the people they claim to be helping: young people who are forced or forced into prostitution. Backpage helped the police in hundreds of investigations of missing minors and potential victims of sex trafficking by passing their contact details and financial information (or those of those who posted their announcements) to authorities when such announcements are discovered, as well as by reporting ads containing images of young suspicious people. And because Backpage operates nationwide, authorities looking for traveling victims or perpetrators can sometimes track their movements through Backpage ads.
“This is a sad day for American child victims of prostitution,” said Lois Lee, founder and president of the sex trafficking victims organization Children of the Night, mentionned Monday. “Backpage.com was an essential investigative tool upon which US vice-detectives and field officers depended to locate and recover missing children and to successfully arrest and prosecute pimps who prostitute children.” The ability to find and track potentially exploited children on a website and have the website bend over backwards to help and cooperate with the police like Backpage did was totally unique. “
“I have worked in this field my entire adult life,” added Lee. “Child prostitution existed long before Backpage or the Internet. Backpage is not the cause or even a cause. Backpage was an opportunity to better tackle the problem.”