Everyone is talking about Craigslist finally folding and taking down its adult services section. Earlier this month they took it down on the U.S. Craigslist sites without public comment, replacing it with a “censored” logo. A couple of days ago even that censored logo was removed. The debate is centered around prostitution. And in particular around sex slavery, sex crimes and underage prostitution. Nasty stuff, which is probably why Craigslist eventually surrendered. It’s hard to debate that kind of emotion with logic, even when the law is on your side.
And on Craigslist’s side the law is. The EFF rightly sees this as nothing but a freedom of speech issue, saying “Through this now years-long struggle, Craigslist’s legal position has been and remains absolutely, unequivocally correct…The federal statutory immunity upon which Craigslist relies is not some clever loophole. Rather…a conscious policy decision by Congress to protect individuals and companies who would otherwise be vulnerable targets to litigants who want to silence speech to which they object, illegal or not.”
But Craigslist folded anyway. And in the words of Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men, “You fuckin’ people. You have no idea how to defend a nation. All you did was weaken a country today, Kaffee. That’s all you did. You put people’s lives in danger. Sweet dreams, son. ”
Blame then? Absolutely not. How long could we really expect them to stand up to the righteous indignation of the masses as well as the political ambitions of no less than 17 state attorneys general. It doesn’t matter that Craigslist had already won one case in Federal court and humiliated the South Carolina AG. This cause plays well to many of their constituents, and it’s an election year after all.
Craigslist’s defense was straightforward and logical – they complied with the law and they went beyond the law in moderating and tracking harmful listings. When it came to prostitution on Craigslist, it was far more likely that it was the victimless mutually consenting adults type prostitution. Now that it’s down and driven underground again, the really awful stuff will blossom. And as Danah Boyd says, having everything so visible on Craigslist made it easier for police to conduct sting operations. So much for that.
Craigslist was always unapologetic in their approach to the situation, making it too easy to take shots at them. It was shooting fish in a barrel for the smooth talking politicians, with big media lapping it up. Sex crimes are boring. But sex crimes that had anything to do with Craigslist were front page stories for weeks on end.
They could have continued to fight, risking even personal criminal charges, but they didn’t. And none of us really stood by them, either. When they folded it we all took a hit. And the world became a less safe place to live.
I’ll always admire Craigslist for taking such an unpopular but important stand in defense of free speech. And when more dominoes fall in the future, censoring all of us, we can look back at this and realize that Jack Nicholson was right. All we did was weaken a country today, and ensure that more women will be victimized by sex crimes.