Craigslist Is Our Mirror, Nothing Better (Or Worse)

I flipped on the news today (yes, my actual television, not sure why) and the big story was Craigslist gone wrong. Someone placed an ad on Craigslist saying that anything at a home in Jacksonville, Oregon was up for grabs. People responded, and carted away most of the belongings of resident Robert Salisbury. He arrived home to thirty people picking over the last of his stuff. Even the man’s horse was taken.

It’s common for people to offer stuff for free on Craigslist, as long as you come and pick it up. It’s a bit of a stretch to imagine that people would think that an entire home’s worth of belongings would be given away on the site, but that’s a post for a different day. It’s worth pointing out, though, that this isn’t the first time something like this has happened.

I spoke to a couple of attorneys this afternoon about the potential liability of Craigslist for stuff like this. The victim has little recourse, other than insurance (I’m betting he has none) and a possible civil case against the person who posted the listing should he or she be caught. Could a litigiously minded individual find a winning argument to get Craigslist to pay for the damages? Perhaps, said the attorneys. And there are certainly plenty to lawyers who’d consider taking the case on contingency, hoping for a quick settlement/shake down to keep PR exposure over this to a minimum.

But what I really think is that Craigslist is just a mirror, and we have to take the good with the bad. Countless connections and transactions are made on the site, and the vast majority are of benefit to everyone involved.

Sure, mainstream press feasts on the occasional accident scene, making it seem like the site is a den of predators waiting to strike at anyone who drops by. Craigslist has it all – Sex, drugs, humiliation and more.

But for the most part Craigslist is just a really good place to find a job, or a boyfriend, or buy cheap furniture for your dorm room. The situation today is simply an exception that proves what an important place Craigslist has taken in our culture. I feel bad for Mr. Salisbury and I hope he gets all his stuff back (especially his horse). But pointing the finger of accusation at Craigslist for what happened is not what should happen next.