Superman has more background on this story.
craigslist is committed to being socially responsible, and when it comes to adult services ads, that includes aggressively combating violent crime and human rights violations, including human trafficking and the exploitation of minors. We are working intensively as I write this with experts and thought leaders at leading non-profits and among law enforcement on further substantive measures we can take. We are profoundly grateful to those offering us their expert assistance in this regard.
One of the many recommendations we hear from experts at NGOs, in law enforcement, and from politicians and regulators, is that craigslist is uniquely positioned to lead by example, and to exert influence over other advertising venues to follow in its footsteps. Indeed, as we intensify our efforts to make further forward progress, we continue to be hopeful that other companies will take an interest in adopting measures we have had in place for years.
craigslist implemented manual screening of adult services ads in May of 2009. Since that time, before being posted each individual ad is reviewed by an attorney licensed to practice law in the US, trained to enforce craigslist’s posting guidelines, which are stricter than those typically used by yellow pages, newspapers, or any other company that we are aware of. More than 700,000 ads were rejected by those attorneys in the year following implementation of manual screening, for falling short of our guidelines. Our uniquely intensive manual screening process has resulted in a mass exodus of those unwilling to abide by craigslist’s standards, manually enforced on an ad-by-ad basis.
Manual screening matters. We are proud of the difference it has made, along with the other measures we have taken. However, there is no shortage of US companies that have not yet implemented manual screening for this ad category, or any other of the steps that craigslist has taken, and that have not yet exhibited any interest in combating human trafficking and the exploitation of minors, and other forms of violence and human rights violations.
One of those companies, interestingly, is eBay — despite their touting their sites as a “family friendly” alternatives to craigslist. In response to criticismabout their management of one such site, LOQUO.com, where eBay offers tens of thousands of exceptionally hardcore pornographic ads explicitly offering sex for sale, yesterday eBay blocked access to all US IP addresses, presumably so that eBay investors, journalists, and other interested parties could not see. All the ads are still up, and can be viewed via proxy IPs.
Techcrunch has further coverage on these developments, and notes that eBay plans to eventually take down these types of listings as part of its “process of ensuring all of its sites are in alignment with its family-friendly values.” I’ll make a friendly wager that rather than taking down such listings, which eBay has aggressively marketed over the years to a very high level of profitability, upselling their users to higher and higher fees, eBay will instead soon sell their “non family friendly” sites such as this one to the highest bidder.
Back in the US, another company that does not manually screen adult ads, or take any of the other preventative measures that craigslist takes, is Village Voice Media’s backpage.com. When craigslist implemented manual screening of adult ads in May 2009, adult ads on backpage spiked by a factor of 5-10x, and you can see from the graph below that their page view traffic, which was flat until we implemented manual screening, more than quadrupled in the year following.
In addition to public nudges such as this blog entry, we’d like to offer our help to companies such as eBay and Backpage that may be interested in developing best practices. CEOs of such companies can email me directly, or you can drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
An interesting Facebook page recently came to our attention, dedicated to the proposition that one can literally “stop human trafficking” by using eBay’s “family friendly” classifieds instead of craigslist.
eBay touts the advanced filtering technologies eBay employs to “make sure all of our categories and content are family-friendly,” technologies it no doubt applies to the “broader eBay Classifieds family including Gumtree, Marktplaats, Mobile.de and Loquo, which extends the reach of eBay Classifieds to more than 20 countries.”
As a practical example of eBay’s “advanced filtering” and “family friendly” classifieds, we’ve been shown some ads currently live on eBay’s Loquo.com classifieds site, which features thousands of paid ads offering various sexual acts in exchange for money (NSFW). The highly explicit photographs included in the following example ads depict young Asian females engaged in unprotected sex, along with rates and a listing of specific sex acts (in Spanish) on offer. DO NOT CLICK ON THE FOLLOWING LINKS UNLESS YOU ARE PREPARED TO VIEW HARD CORE PORNOGRAPHIC IMAGES OF UNPROTECTED SEX ACTS!
Ad Example #2 had been viewed by more than 10,000 users when the screen shot was taken. Appended to each “eroticos profesionales” ad is a lengthy explanation of how to get more “exposure” by paying additional fees to eBay. Linked below is a screenshot of such upsells, like “visibility pack”, “bump up”, “top ads”, “thumbnail service”, and “highlight a listing.” DO NOT CLICK ON THIS LINK UNLESS PREPARED TO VIEW HARD CORE PORNOGRAPHIC IMAGES OF UNPROTECTED SEX ACTS!
eBay acquired LOQUO in the Spring of 2005, as part of Meg Whitman’s classifieds acquisition strategy, at a time when its “eroticos profesionales” section was present, but with few ads or pictures. Changes would soon be afoot however, and Meg crowed about the growth and profitability of LOQUO on eBay’s Q2 2007 earnings call.
Today, 5 years into eBay’s “family friendly” management of this now very large business, and with eBay well aware of all the protective measures craigslist has implemented, there is no sign of eBay manually reviewing ads for content, instructing users to report suspected trafficking or exploitation of minors, or providing contacts for legal authorities or NGO hotlines. This despite the President of Spain calling for an advertising ban due to trafficking concerns in Spain. eBay does not appear to be doing phone verification or supporting parental control software either.
Some have scoffed at all of the industry-leading protective measures craigslist has taken with respect to adult services ads over the years, including a stringent manual screening process, and policies and procedures aimed specifically at combating exploitation and trafficking. It’s worth remembering what you get when all these measures are omitted. eBay’s LOQUO is a prime example. Here is another.
Meg Whitman didn’t mention eBay’s paid hard-core pornographic ads offering unprotected sex acts for sale to eBay investors when talking up the growth and profitability of LOQUO during eBay earnings calls, and I’m not aware that subsequent management has done so either.
Similarly, there is no reference to eBay classifieds depicting unprotected sex for sale with potentially underage and/or trafficked persons on the Stop Human Trafficking by Using eBay Classifieds Facebook page.
Nor is there any mention of the countless millions in eBay pornography sales revenue that earned Meg the nickname “Porn Queen.”
Malika Saada Saar,
We saw your performance on CNN, and have read your recent letter.
You claim to be “appalled that [craigslist is] requesting the police reports from young victims as proof of their trauma.”
As you must know, because it was quite clear in my letter to you, we asked for the police reports for the **perpetrators** of these crimes, not for personal information about the victims.
We are stunned and appalled that, as an “advocate” for these young victims, you have chosen to provide the case information from the District Court of Maryland for one of the victims to CNN for display to its mass television audience and to the users of its website.
What possible reason could there be for doing such a thing? The case number was clearly displayed, and by doing so you have made the victim’s full name and other very personal details easily accessible to anyone who wants to look up her case, including to the criminals who victimized her.
For the victim’s sake, please work with CNN immediately to properly redact this court record (which we did not ask for), before the victim’s misfortunes are further compounded by your error in judgement, as well as CNN’s error in judgement in actually broadcasting this information.
In our view, victims of such crimes should not be arrested in the first place. It seems wrong to treat as a criminal the very victim of such a crime. In fact the case report you publicized reveals trial is pending against one of the victims, which seems very unfortunate indeed.
Returning to your conduct, that an “advocate” would display zero interest in the actual criminals who exploited these victims, or in the fact that the victims themselves are now being treated as criminals, choosing to focus instead exclusively on craigslist, strikes us as misguided at best. Obviously your financial backers had a very particular purpose in mind.
Regardless of what you believe about those issues however, we would like to think you would wholeheartedly agree that an “advocate” should not be gratuitously publicizing victims’ personal records for the “advocate’s” own purposes. Please address this critical error before it is too late.
Finally, please do respond to our request for the police reports of the criminals who you maintain misused craigslist in commercially exploiting these girls, so that we can make sure we have done everything possible to assist in bringing them to justice.
Although the person whose case information you displayed was actually nearly 19 at the time of her arrest according to the court record, and not underage as you had implied, and although these events took place before we implemented manual screening of ads, we would also like to be able to review these reports from the perspective of potentially further improving our preventitive measures.
To AK and MC:
We saw your recent half-page newspaper advertisements in the Washington Post and San Francisco Chronicle. Hearing your accounts of being victimized by criminals who you mention also misused our site, we are anxious to know that the perpetrators are behind bars. Would you or the advocacy groups who placed the ads please let us know where the police reports were filed? We have been unable thus far to identify police reports matching the crimes you describe. If craigslist was misused, we want to learn more so we can improve our preventative measures. If anyone committing such crimes has not yet been apprehended and prosecuted, we want to do everything in our power to assist the police in making that happen. You can send the information to email@example.com. We work with law enforcement to bring to justice any criminals foolish enough to incriminate themselves by misusing our site, and want to make sure everything possible has been done in your cases.
craigslist is used by more than 50 million Americans to facilitate billions of interactions each month, and criminal misuse of the site is quite rare. We are dedicated to eliminating it entirely however, and in this regard we have been working for years to ensure that craigslist is very much part of the solution to crimes such as trafficking and exploitation of minors. In November 2008, we issued a Joint Statement with 40 Attorneys General and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, describing an array of measures to prevent misuse of craigslist. In May 2009 we went beyond those measures and implemented manual screening of each adult services ad. Based on the time period mentioned in your newspaper ads, it appears the events you describe may have occurred before manual screening was implemented.
craigslist is one of the few bright spots and success stories in the critical fight against trafficking and child exploitation. We’ve been told as much by experts on the front lines, many of whom we have met with in person, and many of whom have shared helpful suggestions we have incorporated in our approach. Even politicians looking to advance their careers by publicly criticizing us grudgingly admit (when pressed) that we have made giant strides, and that craigslist is virtually alone among advertising venues in vigorously combating exploitation and trafficking.
For example, to our knowledge only craigslist, out of countless venues, takes any of the following measures, let alone all of them:
* educating and encouraging users to report trafficking/exploitation
* prominently featuring anti-trafficking/exploitation resources
* creating specialized victim search interfaces for law enforcement
* actively participating in NCMEC’s cybertipline program
* leading all awareness efforts for the National Trafficking Hotline
* meeting regularly with experts at nonprofits and in law enforcement
* manually reviewing every adult service ad prior to posting
* requiring phone verification for every adult service ad
* implementing the PICS content labeling system
We are not content however, and are committed to making further progress. Specific information about the outrageous misuse of our site you describe in your advertisements will help prevent such crimes in the future.
Enterprising CL user Steven Ortiz has reportedly traded his way up from an old cell phone to a porsche in Glendora, CA.
Not bad, although fellow barterer Kyle MacDonald traded up from a red paper clip to a house in Saskatchewan in 2008.
Hmmm, wonder what I could get for 10 tea bags of rich, robust Guayaki fair trade Yerba Maté?
As a long-time Ann Arbor resident, I enjoyed this A2 journalist’s paeon to CL, including this nugget:
Like a bottle of Kaopectate, you may not use Craigslist on a regular basis. But it’s good to know it’s there when you need it.
Hopefully this won’t spark a “run” on bismuth subsalicylate.
Here are the top 5 search providers, as ranked by Comscore for March 2010. Just for fun I’ve added % growth since January 2009, when Jeremy Zawodny(formerly at Yahoo) replaced craigslist’s old search architecture:
Wonder how CL would rank if we were actually in the search business?