Craigslist sucks.

[I’m in a column-writing class this quarter, and basically I have to write a column every week for ten weeks. So I might as well put them on here, right? This is the first one.]

September 12, 2010

Last week, the ever-wise and tactful Craig Newmark, Craig of Craigslist, and the chief executive of Craigslist, Jim Buckmaster, decided to block access to the “adult services” section of their Web site.

Last week, Craig?

Attempts to censor or destroy that section of Craigslist have gone on for years. Many organizations, such as the Rebecca Project for Human Rights and the Polaris Project, have sprung up for the direct purpose of combatting Craigslist, and other organizations against human trafficking have added Craigslist to their list of causes as well. Though the controversy is about how much responsibility a public forum has to censor the actions of its users, even people who use Craigslist regularly for business haven’t necessarily been winking at the goings-on in the adult services section.

If you asked me, and you don’t have to because I’m already writing this column, any defense of human trafficking is a weak defense. A student I talked to, who I assume doesn’t support online censorship for fear it will halt his own “business transactions,” said that he couldn’t support the Polaris Project, which encourages Ohioans to promote criminalizing human trafficking in the state. As a woman and as a human, I can’t even pretend to see both sides of the issue.

How far are people willing to go to feed their own vices at the expense of others? It astounds me.

In the past several years, Buckmaster has promised in his blog that the ads in the adult services section were manually screened before being put online, but proof of that was never noticeable in the listings. In August, CNN aired videos containing confessions from teenage girls who were forced into prostitution, owned by pimps and unable to leave. When the story made it to ABC, the movement against Craigslist surged. Newmark’s response was to ask concerned people to report ads to the police, despite his previous promise to control the site’s content.

Obviously, by the time anyone could report an instance of rape or prostitution, the legal damage and emotional trauma to women and young girls would have already been done.

Eventually, it was the work of the public and not the work of the law that got Buckmaster and Newmark to take the section off Craigslist this past week. The nice people at the Rebecca Project have thanked Craigslist for omitting adult services on the site voluntarily, but I am not so forgiving and cordial. Newmark has made no comment about their recent actions, and hasn’t promised that the section will stay off the site forever – not that his promises have proven to be relevant in the past.

The issue with Craigslist shed light on how the law is ill equipped to act in these areas of the internet. The great thing about our freedom is that it’s supposed to be freedom, but not at the expense of others. I’m all for the First Amendment, just like I’m all for the Second Amendment as long as no one is shooting innocent people. Don’t be reckless and irresponsible.

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