Sex Ads Are Craigslist's Dirty Secret - InformationWeek

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1/7/2008
12:55 PM
Alexander Wolfe
Alexander Wolfe
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Sex Ads Are Craigslist's Dirty Secret

Nowhere do the highest aspirations of the Internet and its sewer-dwellers come together in an unholy alliance like they do at Craigslist. On the one hand, the site is the uber-community of the online world, where anybody can connect for a job, apartment, or to sell their old junk. On the other hand, you see situations like the malicious, fake ad where someone posted a woman's name

Nowhere do the highest aspirations of the Internet and its sewer-dwellers come together in an unholy alliance like they do at Craigslist. On the one hand, the site is the uber-community of the online world, where anybody can connect for a job, apartment, or to sell their old junk. On the other hand, you see situations like the malicious, fake ad where someone posted a woman's name and phone number, saying she'd trade sex for cash.The woman had to change her phone number. Craigslist removed the ad once it was notified. But the real problem came, as the New York Daily News reported, "when Craigslist would not help her locate the pervert. Craigslist initially told [the woman] they could not turn over the ad without a subpoena. But after they were contacted yesterday [Sat., Jan 5] by the Daily News, the Web site turned over the full text."

Hmm. So Craigslist evinced a concern for the theoretical notion of privacy rights (by not giving up the information when the victimized party -- the woman -- requested it). However, when the possibility of negative publicity, in the form of a reporter snooping around, reared its head, Craiglist folded like a cheap floppy disk. Hey, this ad was so toxic, you'd think Craigslist would've wanted to help the woman from the get-go.

This is all the more mystifying, since, as our own K.C. Jones reported over two years ago, Craig Newmark, the founder of Craigslist, was working to implement features to stop abuse on the site. I recognize that systems to catch bad stuff are never perfect. And I also give Newmark props as being one of the more forward-looking Web-site proprietors, which means I believe he genuinely wants to stop this kind of stuff. However, it seems like he's got a little more work to do.

What it all comes down to is the dirty little secret that's mostly out of view, and which polite people tacitly agree not talk about it. It's the same deal which has keep many alternative newspapers afloat for years, which is that there's a lot of money to be made off of sex ads. Mostly, they don't involve mean people trying to embarrass someone they're obviously mad at. They're just commerce; free-market commerce, some might even say. (As in, if there wasn't a market for this stuff, it wouldn't be so pervasive.)

So maybe it's better that it's Craigslist that's trafficking in this stuff, rather than some really sleazy XXX site. Or maybe it's not.

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