Lawmakers cautious to applaud removal of Craigslist 'adult services'

"Lacking comment or elaboration from Craigslist — after they have defended their position at every turn for years — it's hard to know what they have in mind, especially when they voluntarily took this step yet inaccurately used the word 'censored' to replace 'adult services,’” she said.

Still, she took the removal of the section as a positive sign, but noted that "adult services" is not blocked for international cities.

"For the moment ... we can be glad the adult ads are no longer available, at least in the U.S.," she said.



Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), who had written to Craigslist chief executive Jim Buckmaster to raise concerns over the section, struck a similar tone.

"The section is down but not forgotten,” she said. “We can't forget the victims, we can't rest easy. Child-sex trafficking continues, and lawmakers need to fight future machinations of Internet-driven sites that peddle children."

In an interview with The Hill, one competitor said Craigslist’s new stance might send a message to Capitol Hill.

“They are clearly thumbing their noses at lawmakers by replacing their adult services text link with the word 'censored,'” said Greg Collier, the founder of geebo.com.

The “censored” label might be aimed at illustrating that getting rid of adult ads is not realistic because they will pop up in other sections, according to Collier.

“We don't know for sure, but one possible explanation is that they wanted to prove to everyone that by removing adult services, prostitution and human trafficking posts would simply show up in other areas of the site, which of course is exactly what has occurred,” he said.

Some analysts said the company’s move could wind up making its First Amendment argument clearer.

"Craigslist's response is itself an act of free speech — a clever response to its legitimate concern that the attorneys general are over-reaching in their effort to regulate Craigslist's content,” said Thomas Burke, an attorney at David Wright Tremaine.

Craigslist has faced pressure from advocacy groups, lawmakers and a coalition of attorneys general who hold that the “adult services” section abets child trafficking and prostitution.

Critics want Craigslist to monitor its posts or do away with the section altogether. The company, however, has long said it makes every effort to limit illegal content but cannot be liable for every post.

Connecticut attorney general Richard Blumenthal wrote Craigslist on Tuesday asking the company to clarify what is means by "censored."

He urged the company to make a "public promise that the shutdown will be permanent," calling it "inexplicable" that Craigslist chose the word First Amendment rhetoric when it removed the content.


He also said technology is available to make it simple to remove ads that blatantly promote prostitution. A main line of defense among those who support Craigslist is that it is logistically impossible for the site to police its ads.

The concern reaches beyond the one site to comment boards featured in various spots on the Web.

“Craigslist is an easy and prominent target, but the legal protections that have insured its success are what also protect all other Internet businesses operating in America," Burke said.

Still, Craigslist appears to be in risky territory in the war for public opinion. Collier said if Craigslist should consider some organizational changes if it is to maintain its popularity.

Founder Craig Newmark “should seriously consider reinserting himself back into the daily operations” of the site, he said “Clearly [Buckmaster] is struggling. After all, it's Craig's legacy at stake here and last time I checked it was still Craigslist, not Jimslist.”