Craig's List – Not the Problem, Just the Mirror

By Catherine Potts | May 6, 2009
More Articles by Catherine

Well, here we go again. With the recent story out of Boston of the Craigslist Killer, the focus of the blame for societal ills has moved from, say, marijuana to Craig’s List-for now.

South Carolina’s Attorney General, Henry McMaster, recently sent a letter to CL CEO Jim Buckmaster demanding that, by 5PM May 15, parts of the site containing:

“…categories for and functions allowing for the solicitation of prostitution and the dissemination and posting of graphic pornographic material.”

The accusation is that Craigslist has knowingly allowed potentially illegal activities to go on, without intervention, and the suggestion is that removal of portions of the site attracting such individuals would help alleviate the issues.

Wait a minute. Talk about ridiculous. Guess what, as I read in the reactions on TechCrunch, this is a “mirror” being held up for what already exists in society. It can’t be stopped, just stunted-for a bit. My living is made in the online world and I can tell you right now, there is only so much control that can be asserted over the Internet.

Google has done a pretty good with what they control but even they allow dirty sites and those sites can be found by merely searching for them. It’s called free speech. Additionally, people are going to do what they’re going to do. That’s what makes this freedom thing so hard. Human behavior can be predicted but not controlled and so with such freedom comes consequence. Some can handle it and some cannot.

If a person is going to use a site to commit a crime (sure it can be made more difficult) they’re going to do it and nobody can stop them. Just ask the police. Their job is to try and stay a step (or 10) ahead of criminals and check out their success rate at stopping a crime before it occurs.

Perhaps the argument can be made that by making it harder, maybe-just maybe, a criminal (or pervert) will be less likely to use the site for bad things. I think we all know this could be the case for the lazy criminals but there are those, like the Craigslist Killer, who WILL do what they’ve set out to do and almost nobody can stop them. Not even removing the special massage section from Craigslist.

Now I’m not saying the Craigslist isn’t burbling cesspool of perversion and dishonesty in some areas but is that Jim Buckmaster’s fault? Exactly how can he determine intent? He can’t. This is why, while I can see why the AG is trying to do something, I think Matt Bandyk said it best:

“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.”

There is no real answer to managing an online site that is open to any and everybody without scrutiny. Some people will handle the responsibility well and others WILL abuse it. It’s up to the individual to understand the inherent risks of exposing (for lack of a better word) oneself to a world that isn’t nice. People are bad and some are good. It’s unfortunate that blame for the tragedy of the Craigslist Killer is being placed where it doesn’t belong.

Craigslist response:

“Craigslist has been working closely with law enforcement on these very issues, and by all objective measures has decreased misuse dramatically (approximately 90%) since craigslist and 43 attorneys general entered into a joint statement less than 6 months ago. Given the progress that has been made dealing with these tremendously complex issues in a very short time, and the ongoing collaboration between craigslist and law enforcement to make further improvements, we urge Attorney General McMaster to look closely at the facts before proceeding with his threat.”

So it seems that Buckmaster has been doing what he can to help the situation but that some AGs are trying to take it to another level. The question is, what else can Craigslist do to make the situation better over and above what they’ve been doing in the previous 6 months?

If you have any suggestions, do share.

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