Visitors to Backpage.com today were greeted by a simple message from the U.S. Department of Justice, noting that it had seized the classifieds site. According to the static image, the move was a joint effort that included the FBI, IRS and the U.S Postal Inspection Service.
The action, while brash, perhaps wasn’t unexpected. The site has come under scrutiny from authorities in recent years for its adult ads, which helped make it the second largest classifieds site behind Craigslist.
After pushback against specific ads promoting illegal activity, the site has been insistent that it simply hosts third-party content, removing offending ads when brought to its attention. A Washington Post story from last year, however, noted that, “A contractor for the controversial classifieds website Backpage.com has been aggressively soliciting and creating sex-related ads, despite Backpage’s repeated insistence that it had no role in the content of ads posted on its site.”
Along with the site seizure, FBI officials raided the Arizona home of founder Michael Lacey. According to a local news station, the move included the indictment of seven people on 93 counts, including some related to money laundering and facilitating prostitution. Back in 2016, officials raided the site’s Dallas headquarters, arresting CEO Carl Ferrer in the process. At the time, warrants were also issued for Lacey and co-founder James Larkin.
The move comes in the wake of the Senate and House passing the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA). The act is still awaiting the president’s signature, but the impending bill was enough to drive Craigslist to shutter its own personal ads section late last month, while coming under fire from internet activists and sex workers alike for the onus it put on sites hosting listings.
We’ve reached out to the DOJ for additional comment.