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Striking a New Balance

As of today for all US craigslist sites, postings to the “erotic services” category will no longer be accepted, and in 7 days the category will be removed.

Also effective today for all US sites, a new category entitled “adult services” will be opened for postings by legal adult service providers. Each posting to this new category will be manually reviewed before appearing on the site, to ensure compliance with craigslist posting guidelines and terms of use. New postings will cost $10, but once approved, will be eligible for reposting at $5.

Unsurprisingly, but completely contrary to some of the sensationalistic journalism we’ve seen these past few weeks, the record is clear that use of craigslist classifieds is associated with far lower rates of violent crime than print classifieds, let alone rates of violent crime pertaining to American society as a whole.

The relative safety of craigslist compared to print classifieds is likely due to some combination of:

  • Measures such as blocking, screening, and telephone verification
  • Community moderation via our flagging system
  • Electronic trail ensures violent criminals are quickly caught
  • Personal safety tips prominently posted
  • Unusually high level of cooperation with law enforcement

Community moderation as exemplified by our flagging system is arguably the most successful system ever conceived for eliminating inappropriate activity from a massive internet community. Working in tandem with various other protective technologies, it is an inescapable force to be reckoned with for anyone set on abusing free internet communications across a broad array of posting types.

However, with respect to this new paid category for advertising by legal businesses, we will experiment with some of the methods traditionally employed in paid print classifieds.

We’d like to thank everyone who has provided helpful input over the past few weeks, all of which was closely considered:

  • Our users, whose suggestions shape every aspect of craigslist
  • Attorneys General, who provided valuable constructive criticism
  • Law Enforcement officers nationwide, hugely supportive as always
  • Legally compliant businesses wishing to advertise their services
  • EFF and other experts defending free speech and Internet law

We are optimistic that the new balance struck today will be an acceptable compromise from the perspective of these constituencies, and for the diverse US communities that value and rely upon craigslist.

Note: Our announced intention to contribute 100% of net revenues for the “erotic services” category to charity has been fulfilled, and will continue to be fulfilled, notwithstanding criticism questioning our good faith in this regard. However, in light of today’s changes, and to avoid any future misunderstanding, we are making no representation regarding how revenue from the “adult services” category will be used. Our commitment to philanthropy remains, and craigslist will continue to develop its charitable initiatives.

Classifieds and Killers

Interesting Wikipedia article on Lonely Heart Killers lists a number of high-profile murder cases that involved print classified ads or similar services.

It’s horrible to think of craigslist being used in connection with any violent crime whatsoever, let alone a murder. One crime is too many, and we must do everything in our power to eliminate it.

However, when critics rush to label craigslist classifieds as uniquely dangerous, it’s worth putting things in perspective. craigslist users have posted more than 1.15 billion classified ads to date, easily 1000x the total number ever to appear in all of the classifieds that figured in these “print ad murders” combined.

Those demanding that craigslist put in place the same procedures and protections that print classifieds have employed should be careful what they’re wishing for.

Why Dart case must be dismissed

Excerpted from craigslist’s memo in support of motion for judgement on the pleadings, filed monday:

Even assuming that all of the facts alleged in the Complaint are true, it is clear as a matter of law that judgment must be entered in favor of craigslist.  First, while Plaintiff may use his Department to pursue those who exchange sex for money in Cook County, his claims (assuming for this motion that he can assert them in this manner) against craigslist are barred by a federal statute, 47 U.S.C. § 230 (“Section 230”).  Courts across the country, including the Court of Appeals for this Circuit in a case against craigslist, uniformly have held that Section 230 broadly protects online service providers from suits seeking to impose liability on them for harmful and/or unlawful communications that originate from the users of the services.  That is precisely what Plaintiff’s suit seeks to do, and it therefore must be dismissed.

Second, dismissal is also required for the independent reason that the relief sought by the Complaint is barred as a matter of law.  The Complaint’s claim for monetary relief is facially invalid because Illinois law precludes a governmental party, such as a Sheriff, from suing in tort to recover the costs of providing police and law enforcement services.  Likewise, the injunctive relief sought by the Complaint ― namely an order that craigslist “close” a portion of its website ― violates the First Amendment’s strong presumption against prior restraints on future speech.

EFF: AGs Have No Case

This just in from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF):

Attorney General Henry McMaster has no case. Neither do AGs Lynch or Blumenthal. And neither does Sheriff Dart, as craigslist explained Monday in their motion to dismiss his March lawsuit. While the AGs may wish it was not so, federal law protects craigslist and no amount of posturing will change that fact.

And that’s a good thing. The existence of sites that rely on third party content depends on strong uniform legal protections against liability based on material posted by users. If site operators were forced to screen all third party contributions under risk of civil or criminal penalty, the Internet would lose many of the vibrant services that have made it so dynamic.

http://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2009/05/ags-v-craigslist-put

AG Meeting in NYC

craigslist had a cordial and productive meeting with Attorneys General Blumenthal, Koster, and Madigan this morning in New York.

We provided the AG’s with evidence of the huge strides that have been made since craigslist and 43 Attorneys General signed a voluntary “Joint Statement” last November.  Although the progress has been dramatic, craigslist has continued to develop further improvements, some of which have been introduced in the last two weeks.

We share the AG’s interest in minimizing misuse of craigslist. We’re optimistic this goal can be reached while preserving all beneficial aspects of a site enjoyed by tens of millions of Americans, and without compromising the quintessentially American values of free speech embodied in our Constitution.

SC AG McMaster

We look forward to speaking directly with Attorney General McMaster about his concerns, and finding ways to address them without compromising the utility of craigslist for South Carolinians, or anyone’s Constitutional rights.  However, we see no legal basis whatsoever for filing a lawsuit against craigslist or its principals and hope that the Attorney General will realize this upon further reflection.

craigslist has been working closely with law enforcement on these very issues, and by all objective measures has decreased misuse dramatically (approximately 90%) since craigslist and 43 attorneys general entered into a joint statement less than 6 months ago.  Given the progress that has been made dealing with  these tremendously complex issues in a very short time, and the ongoing collaboration between craigslist and law enforcement to make further improvements, we urge Attorney General McMaster to look closely at the facts before proceeding with his threat.

CL as Whipping Boy

Interesting Boston Herald Article:

The anti-Craigslist tirade isn’t so much about protecting women as it is about protecting mainstream media. According to some experts, Craigslist has contributed to the demise of newspapers across the country because its free services led to a precipitous drop in classified ad dollars.

Using Craigslist as a whipping boy is a nice distraction, but shutting it down will do nothing to stop prostitution. And while it feels good to have someone else to blame for Brisman’s murder, if we really care about women’s lives, we should be focusing on the social conditions that cause women to choose a virtual form of sex slavery as a career.

http://www.bostonherald.com/news/opinion/op_ed/view.bg?articleid=1169833

Meeting IL AG Madigan

We look forward to meeting with Attorney General Madigan to discuss progress made since our Joint Statement last November, and to hear any and all ideas she and others may have that could help reach our shared goal of eliminating illegal activity from craigslist, while preserving all of the functionality and positive attributes that are currently enjoyed by the overwhelmingly law-abiding craigslist community of users.

A Tribute to Katherine Olson

We appreciate the messages of support we have been receiving on the tragedy that has unfolded in Boston. Many have asked us what they can do to help. One of the best ways is to spread the word regarding personal safety precautions that can help make using craigslist (and the Internet as a whole) even safer.

In this regard we ask everyone to check out the memorial concert in Minneapolis on May 3rd, “A Tribute to Katherine,” in memory of Katherine Ann Olson. craigslist is honored to join with the Olson family in celebrating the life of their daughter, and and in keeping her spirit alive through an international scholarship program that has been founded in her name. You can download a tribute album for Katherine put together by the artists who will be performing at this concert on the LP33 website .

We share the belief expressed by the Olson family, that when the darkness comes upon us we need to band together, and we encourage everyone to join them in letting Katherine’s light shine.

CL Collaboration with AGs, NCMEC – Early Results

The early results from the collaborative joint effort announced last November between craigslist, 43 US Attorneys General, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) have been spectacular, and we have been remiss in not saying more about them.

Here is a graph of the posting volume trend in “erotic services” over the past 12 months, as we added measures like phone verification (March) and credit card authorization (November) to the site:

The percentage reductions for the 5 cities shown range from 90% to 95%

Beyond the enormous reduction in ad volume, the ads that remain on the site are much improved in their compliance with our Terms of Use and local laws, in part due to screening measures developed in collaboration with the Attorneys General and law enforcement.

In this same timespan, craigslist staff have continued to work closely with law enforcement agencies across the country to vigorously pursue those engaged in the horrific crimes of human trafficking and exploitation of minors.

Finally, net revenue is accumulating from the fees now required of those posting under “erotic services,” 100% of which is earmarked for donation to worthy charities, and we will soon be in position to begin distributing these funds.

Our collaboration with the state Attorneys General and NCMEC has only just begun, and there will be more progress and good works to announce in the months and years to come.

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