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Backpage.com has certainly faced quite a bit of public controversy over the past few years, given the website's popularity for online advertisements for prostitution.
In the company's most recent effort to dodge legal trouble and controversy, it is appealing the order to turn over years of both operational and editorial data. The Missouri state attorney general seeking the information believes that there is some evidence that Backpage "played a direct and active role in creation, soliciting, and promoting advertisements for illegal commercial sex on its website."
How Involved Was Backpage?
The current investigation focuses on whether Backpage's involvement with their advertisers actually exempts them from protection under the Communications Decency Act. If evidence substantiates the AG's allegation that Backpage played an active role, the ramifications could be substantial, potentially exposing the site to additional liability from victims, as well as potentially criminal and other civil liability.
While Backpage insists that they should not be required to divulge private company information, it would seem that given the sensitivity of the investigation and what has been publicly learned about Backpage over the years, not allowing the AG to take a look behind the scenes is a tall order.
Ever Changing Communications Decency
Interestingly, a current proposed amendment to the CDA would allow victims of sex trafficking to file suit against websites that ran ads for their prostitution. These cases fail because websites, under the CDA, generally are not liable for content posted by third party users of their websites. A case on appeal to the First Circuit is a prime example. There, a group of victims are seeking to hold Backpage liable on these grounds. However, as the district court held, Backpage cannot be held liable under the CDA.