Craigslist adult services takedown could lead to more crime, Microsoft researcher says

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By Cecilia Kang
Tuesday, September 7, 2010; 3:59 PM

A senior researcher at Microsoft said Tuesday that censoring of adult services on Craigslist.org could lead to more sex crimes, not less.

Danah Boyd wrote in a column in Huffington Post last Monday that the Web has made it easier for prostitutes and traffickers to connect with clients. The Web has also, however, made it easier for law enforcement to peer into those contacts and Craiglist has become a one-stop shop of sorts that makes such activity easier to follow.

"From the bottom of my soul and the depths of my intellect, I believe that the current efforts to censor Craigslist's "adult services" achieves the absolute opposite" affect of stopping sex crimes, Boyd said.

"Rather than helping those who are abused, it fundamentally helps pimps, human traffickers and others who profit off of abusing others," said Boyd, herself a victim of sexual violence. Boyd wrote in her column that her views are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of Microsoft.

Last weekend, Craigslist, under pressure from U.S. attorneys general, took down adult services ads on its free classified Web site.

As my colleague, David Farenthold reported, the site replaced tis blue-letter link to "adult services" with a black box containing the word "censored."

Prosecutors have criticized Craigslist as an online forum that allows for "rampant" ads for prostitution, including ads for trafficking children. Attorneys general have called the San Francisco-based Web site founded by Craig Newmark and with 50 million users as "the Wal-Mart of child sex trafficking."

Their solution has been for the site to take down ads for sex services, a move First Amendment advocates say goes against free speech.

Craigslist executives didn't respond to requests for an interview, and there is speculation that the move may be a stand against regulators. Craigslist this year said it would help law enforcement officials fight against sex crimes and trafficking by manually filtering adult services ads to catch crimes.

Boyd, however, said the issue is not about free speech versus protection against sex crimes. Instead, Craigslist ¿ as a medium that acts as the channel for communication ¿ has become a forum that in some ways provides more transparency into sex crimes, she said.

Web users seem to disagree with prosecutors' demands. In a Washington Post poll, 51 percent said thin the adult services ads should have continued. Also read The Post's On Leadership panel discuss what the move says about executive decisions at the online classified giant.


© 2010 The Washington Post Company

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