Craigslist Dumping 'Erotic Services' Section, Creating 'Adult Services'

SAN FRANCISCO — Under pressure from state officials and law enforcement, it was announced Wednesday Craigslist is removing its "Erotic Services" section, to be replaced by an "Adult Services" category monitored by the site's staff. Each ad placed in the new section will be manually approved, unlike most CL ads, which post automatically through a user process.

Craigslist has come under fire this year even more so than in the past, including demands made by attorneys general in a number of states, including Illinois, Connecticut and Missouri, as well as state, county and city law enforcement. For many officials, the final straw was the recent arrest of the so-called "Craigslist killer," Boston medical student Philip Markoff, charged with murdering one woman and also robbing and beating another, both of whom had advertised in erotic services. 

The site is no longer accepting new ads in erotic services and the section will be removed in seven days, the company said.

Postings in the new Adult Services area will costs $10 each, twice the amount of erotic services listings.

An announcement of the change was made by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, while Connecticut AG Richard Blumenthal told the Associated Press, "We're very encouraged that Craigslist is doing the right thing in eliminating its online red-light district with prostitution and pornography in plain sight."

"We'll be watching and investigating critically to make sure this measure is more than just a name change," Blumenthal said "This is a good next step but by no means is it the ultimate or complete solution."

Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster planned to comment via the site blog sometime Wednesday and sent the statement to the L.A. Times:

"Unsurprisingly, but completely contrary to some of the sensationalistic journalism we've seen these past few weeks, the record is clear that use of Craigslist classifieds is associated with far lower rates of violent crime than print classifieds," the posting planned to say. "However, with respect to this new paid category for advertising by legal businesses, we will experiment with some of the methods traditionally employed in paid print classifieds."

In November 2008, Craigslist, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the attorneys general of more than 40 states drew up an agreement to reduce the proliferation of prostitution on the site. The new plan included phone and credit card verification. While the site has claimed a 90 percent drop in erotic services listings, Illinois' Madigan said that wasn't good enough.

In an April letter to Craigslist, Madigan wrote, "The agreement has now been in place for almost six months. While Craigslist has implemented a credit card verification system for posters to its erotic services section, the evidence is overwhelming that Craigslist has otherwise breached the agreement by failing to develop an effective screening process that would prevent illegal ads from being posted."

Illinois has been a particularly harsh critic of Craigslist. In March, Cook County Sheriff Thomas Dark filed a lawsuit against the site, accusing it of enabling prostitution and ordering a take-down of the erotic services section. Craigslist then filed a motion to dismiss. A hearing on the suit was scheduled in federal court Wednesday.

Also, as recently reported by South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster threatened the site with criminal prosecution if it didn't close down Erotic Services before May 15. The Electronic Frontier Foundation said McMaster's case is without merit, commenting, "Craigslist, as previous courts have held, is protected by federal law. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, passed in 1996, immunizes providers of 'interactive computer service' such as Craigslist -- website operators, ISPs, domain name registrars -- from state criminal liability for content posted by third parties. Under CDA 230, it is irrelevant that such a service might have known about the posts or could have done more to block them."

The EEF went on to say, "The notion that Craigslist (and their officers!) should be held responsible for third-party content on their site because they didn't do enough to satisfy the individual whims of respective state attorneys general is wholly inconsistent with the law. The existence of sites that rely on third-party content depends on strong uniform legal protections against liability based on material posted by users. If site operators were forced to screen all third-party contributions under risk of civil or criminal penalty, the Internet would lose many of the vibrant services that have made it so dynamic."

On Wednesday, South Carolina's McMaster rejected the new agreement and said he will not stop his plans to prosecute the site. “That just does the same thing on a different location on the Web site,” McMaster said.

When it comes to accusations of promoting prostitution and obscenity on the site, McMaster said, “The only agreement we could have is they block everything in South Carolina."

According to the newspaper, The State, McMaster also will decide how to proceed following Friday's ultimatum deadline.

Despite its defense and supporters such as the EEF, last week, Craigslist representatives met with the Illinois, Connecticut and Missouri AGs in New York City to discuss changes regarding the site and erotic services, and it appears the latest move may come out of those talks, Craigslist perhaps fearing legal actions taken against the site and its officers.