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Craigslist, already a unique and mysterious company, took an unusual step over the Labor Day weekend. It blocked access to its adult services section and replaced it with a censored label. The company has offered no explanation for the move or the censored label.
The controversy involves letters sent to the company from 17 state attorneys on August 24, which demanded that the company close the adult services section. The attorneys say that Craigslist is allowing human trafficking and prostitution on their site. In addition, last month, Amber Lyon of CNN did a piece about Craigslist, questioning Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist. The piece portrayed the company in a very negative light.
Craigslist countered that the company does more than any other company to help prevent such illegal activity. They have also pointed to other sites, including eBay, that have an adult services section and argued that they are unfairly being singled out. Craigslist further contends that by shutting down their adult services section, such activity will simply shift to another location, whether on Craigslist or on another site. The company believes that on many of the other sites, efforts to monitor illegal activity are far less than that of Craigslist.
The law is clearly in Craigslist favor. As Julie Hilden of FindLaw's Writ stated, "...Craigslist's erotic services postings enjoyed the protection of the immunity created by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA)."
Section 230 forbids treating message board owners or message board websites as, in effect, the publishers or speakers of the content the boards' users post. And as the New York Times reported, the attorney general of South Carolina was blocked by a federal judge after he attempted to prosecute Craigslist executives for listings that led to prostitution arrests.
Therefore, many believe that the move by Craigslist could be an attempt to win the battle of public opinion. Thomas R. Burke, a First Amendment lawyer, stated to the New York Times that "It's certainly the law that they're not liable for it, but it's another matter if the attorneys general are saying change your ways."