Since I last blogged about the topic, the situation for Craigslist and the controversy surrounding Philip Markoff's alleged use of the site to find victims has gone from bad to worse. Yesterday, attorney generals from Missouri, Connecticut, and Illinois met with Craigslist representatives to discuss how to "minimize" misuse of the site. Some state officials aren't as friendly--South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster sent a letter to Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster saying that the company's management "may be subject to criminal investigation and prosecution" unless Craigslist removes all erotic services solicitations from the South Carolina portions of its site by May 15 at 5 pm.
My take: This is a perfect example of politicians trying to "do something" about a problem without really doing anything. Demonizing Craigslist is a convenient way for these attorney generals to look like they are protecting their citizens, when removing these ads, at best, just shifts the problem.
According to Ian Paul at PC World,
Craigslist created the "erotic services" section "at the request of Craigslist users, who were tired of seeing ads for escort services, sensual massage, adult Web cams, phone sex, erotic dancing, adult Websites, nude housecleaning, etc. mixed into the regular personals and services categories," according to the management.
If Craigslist has to remove "erotic services" as a category--whether through negotiation with attorney generals, or through direct legal action--what will happen? It's likely that the ads that have the attorney generals so upset will go right back to where they were before--intermixed with totally legitimate personal ads.
If Craiglist is forced to crack down even further, there would be two likely impacts: First, the ads would have to be heavily policed, making it more difficult for users to post without fear of being deleted. For example, a slightly salacious personal ad might run afoul of a ban on erotic ads. Second, those offering erotic services will continue their online marketing at lesser-known, more disreputable websites.
Both impacts would, contrary to the attorney generals' aims, stand in the way of making the Internet a friendlier, easy-to-use place.