Is Craigslist’s adult services section gone for good?
The classifieds site, which shut down the sex ads section last weekend and replaced the link with a “censored” bar, has now removed that label. The sex ads section is still gone. Craigslist has refused to discuss the move and on Thursday, Susan MacTavish Best, its spokeswoman, would not say anything beyond confirming that the ads were still blocked.
Analysts had speculated that Craigslist used the word “censored” to make a statement. Though Craigslist is not legally responsible for what people post on its site, state attorneys general and advocacy groups have been pressuring the company to shut down the adult services section. But analysts also said that the outpouring of attention that Craigslist’s sex ads have received in recent days would make it very difficult for the site to bring back the ads.
“I’m very convinced that this is permanent, even if it was not their intention to make it permanent,” Peter M. Zollman, founding principal of the Advanced Interactive Media Group, a consulting firm that follows Craigslist closely, told The Times in an interview Sunday. “I think it will be difficult, if not impossible, for them to go back and reopen that section without really running into a buzzsaw of negative publicity and reaction.”
The battle has, for the most part, been about free speech and about the responsibilities Craigslist has to fight sex trafficking and other sex crimes. (The company has long said that it opposes such crimes and works to screen ads and consult with advocacy groups.)
This week, Craigslist has received support from people who say the adult services section should be reopened. Danah Boyd, a Microsoft senior researcher who says she was a victim of violence, wrote on the Huffington Post that the adult services section on Craigslist increases visibility for victims and helps law enforcement track criminals. “If you want to end human trafficking, if you want to combat nonconsensual prostitution, if you care about the victims of the sex-power industry, don’t cheer Craigslist’s censorship,” she wrote.
Matt Zimmerman, senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, wrote that “supporters of the First Amendment should loudly voice their opposition to this type of misguided rhetoric from elected officials.”
Meanwhile, pressure on Craigslist to permanently block the ads has continued. Attorneys general, led by Richard Blumenthal in Connecticut, have continued to speak out against Craigslist. On Wednesday, four nonprofits that work to end sex trafficking held a press conference and issued a statement calling on Craigslist to shut down the adult and erotic services sections on the site in other countries, where they are still accessible.
“Craigslist is a global company, and it has a global responsibility. It should immediately shut down the ‘erotic’ services sections across the globe,” said the statement from the groups, which are the Polaris Project, Rebecca Project for Human Rights, FAIR Fund and Courtney’s House. “We hope that closing this section only in the U.S. was not simply a PR move in advance of a Congressional hearing on September 15th on sex trafficking where Craigslist has been called to testify.”
In the past, Craigslist’s chief executive, Jim Buckmaster, has said that if the adult services section closed, the sex ads would simply migrate elsewhere on the site. Indeed, as of Thursday, similar ads seemed to be popping up in other sections, like those for casual encounters and therapeutic services.