Earlier this month, the arrest of a bakers dozen from the Gambino family for their alleged illicit activities advertised on Craigslist heated up the scrutiny surrounding the posting and use of cash collected in the advertising of what the feds and several state attorney generals claim is the unlawful solicitation of teenage girls. The New York Times reported in April that they estimate Craigslist will collect in excess of $36M this year for the placement of these ads. A subpoena issued by Attorney General Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, who although recently cinched CT’s dem nomination for the senate seat being vacated by Chris Dodd (who has his own trials with the truth) was met with knee-jerk defensive ridicule from Craig himself in a blog posting.
Come on Craig, young girls are getting sold on Craig’s list! At least have the presence of mind, or the publicist, to denounce the unlawful solicitations and vow to help eradicate the abhorrent activities versus attacking the AG and saying that what you are doing is “legal”. What about “moral?”
To date, Craigslist, and other online resources for the unseemly and unlawful, have hidden behind Section 230(c) of the Communications Decency Act, which says: No provider or user of interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider. This provision of federal law has allowed Craig and his list to successfully defend a case alleging the site was liable for offensive ads posted on Craigslist that violated the Fair Housing Act, the federal law that makes it unlawful for landlords to refuse to rent to someone because of their race or religious background (for example, ads were posted on Craigslist that said NO MINORITIES).
My question–and go ahead, call me a prude–is why is it that regulators aren’t doing more around this? Sure, the first amendment reigns supreme, both in my house and in this country, but it does not give you the right to advertise unlawful activities, especially unlawful activities involving minors. If online resources are knowingly being used to advertise these services, it seems to me the law should be crafted in a way to both protect lawful free speech, and to curtail the unlawful peddling of pre-pubescent girls by renown crime syndicates. It’s true, the law is taking its time to catch up to the web, and mostly, that’s a good thing; leaving the internet unregulated has created an environment that is ripe for innovation and I’m all for that, but this is different. If given the chance to save one 12-year-old from being hawked on Craigslist I’d take it, even if it means I don’t get to unload that horribly uncomfortable and equally hideous sleeper-sofa on some unsuspecting college kid who has no option but to furnish his room with Craigslist cast-offs. And sure, as the Craigslist defense asserts, if these girls aren’t being exploited on Craigslist they might be elsewhere, in either the virtual or bricks and mortar world. Hey, I’m a dreamer, I’d like to think our regulators might actually get ahead of this one and find a way to prevent the sale of girls in plain site (intended misspelling).
Apparently…Craig might have a conscience (or more likely a belabored pool of PR consultants). First, in early May the SF-based company sent out a bunch of unsolicited checks to human rights groups–at least some of which were returned un-cashed. Then, in the middle of the night Craigslist unilaterally announced it would no longer host the ever-popular “Erotic Services” category on its site, and, as of last week, there would be a new category called “Adult Services”, which would be scoured for impropriety by some new Craigslist employees. So, the news: mobsters–new category to advertise in; unemployed voyeurs–apply to Craigslist, apparently they’re hiring…
Cross-posted on DailyKos