Craigslist, arguably the Internet's largest online classified advertising site, has been pressured into shutting down one of its most popular advertising sections: adult services. Yes, as in services of the oldest profession kind. Wink. Wink.
Seventeen state attorneys general, including Montana's Steve Bullock, signed a letter to Craigslist founder Craig Newmark and chief executive Jim Buckmaster strongly suggesting that the company shut down the adult hi-jinks or suffer consequences.
The San Francisco-based company's adult services section came under scrutiny in April 2009 when Philip Markoff, a former medical student in Boston, was arrested for killing a woman he met through a Craiglist's ad of an adult nature. The company responded to media hoopla and public outcry at the time by tightening guidelines for adult services ads. Measures taken included hiring a cadre of attorneys to screen them — the ads, not the actual professional "escorts."
To pay for this humanitarian effort, Craigslist started charging $10 per ad and $5 per ad renewal, garnering $45 million in one year as a result, according to a report by Advanced Interactive Media Group. That's a nice chunk of change, gentlemen. Better than actually being pimps.
And the world was good for Craigslist ... until that darn Markoff went and committed suicide in August, once again drawing moral and legal scrutiny, and that huffy letter from the attorneys general. Over the Labor Day weekend, the site had its adult services link replaced with a "Censored" tag that was subsequently removed from the site as of Wednesday.
For all I care this is the end of the story except for a "where are they now" type wrap-up. I'll leave it up to people with a keener intellect and a less ambiguous moral compass than mine to debate subjects inspired by this situation, such as freedom of speech, censorship, government over-control, the federal Communications Decency Act and the ramifications of legalizing prostitution in the U.S. — outside of Vegas, that is.
In the end, the attorneys general are happy because they got some good press during what just happens to be a key election year for two-thirds of them. And they were able to score a win in the court of public opinion against evil villains whose actions provide second-hand support to people trafficking in human flesh. The only downside for these folks is the pain from twisting their arms around to pat themselves on the back.
Craigslist may be losing what had turned out to be a lucrative business for a year, but, hey, they got more press from the incident than money can buy. They got to stir up a little trouble in World Wide Web. And their deletion of the adult services site didn't really end their prostitution ads. Online visitors from other nations still get their semantics-free link to erotic services. Plus, the U.S. prostitution ads are now simply listed under other categories like personal ads and therapeutic services, but with tag lines like "make a date for sweetest taboo" and "24hr massage from attractive brunette." Or is that just me being suspicious?
The people offering their services of such sketchy nature now get to save a few bucks by using the free-ad sections, and they get a language education as they figure out what word choices get their ads bounced of the site, and what savvy writing techniques get them a full dance card. It's kind of a combination of written and practical-application tests in the school of hard knocks, if you will. Definitely a plus in the skills set.
The only losers in this sordid affair are the attorneys hired by Craigslist to screen the adult services ads. I know it's a cliché, but I hate to feel sorry for lawyers when their jokes provide so much laughter and good cheer. There it is, though, sympathy. Go figure.
Those poor schmucks probably only got paid base-scale attorney wages in the first place. They had to suffer through reading $45 million worth of poorly written sex ads. Imagine it, all day long blah blah blah, baby. Ugh.
And then they got let go due to termination of employment position during these tough economic times. Send a letter of thanks to an attorney general near you, dudes. When they apply for their next job, what are these lawyers supposed to say about their last position held that sounds marketable?
Uh, yes, I was a legalese control specialist for an Internet sales-based business, specifically assisting in the evaluation of advertisements from customers in the physical conjugation for hire industry."
"Right ... . So, Mr. Desperate For A Job, you were a pimp assistant? Hmmm."
(We're down with that, dawg, at http://viewnorth40.wordpress.com.)