After years of increasing criticism for their facilitation of child sex trafficking, Craigslist has unceremoniously put a black “censored” bar over what used to be their adult services section. But is this just a brief hiatus? Is it a political statement? Or is Craigslist listening to the nearly 10,000 Change.org readers who have asked for real and tangible reform?
On Friday before the holiday weekend and without an explanation on their normally loquacious blog, Craig Newmark and CEO Jim Buckmaster replaced the live link to their “adult services” section with a black bar reading “Censored”. With no official explanation from the company as to why the change was instituted, what it means, and how they will operate moving forward, we are left to to the sad wilderness of conjecture. The move has come, however, shortly after 17 states’ attorneys general wrote a letter to Craig asking him to cease and desist and after almost 10,000 Change.org readers petitioned Craig and Jim for change.
The exact motives and strategy behind the move, though, remain unclear. Was blocking the link (which, notably, is still active outside the U.S.) the fastest way to stop people accessing a section they intend to keep permanently closed? Is the block to give the company time to reform, after which they intend to re-open “adult services?” Or is the sudden, silent posting of the single word “censored” a political statement? Do they hope the use of the word “censored” will cause the public to forget all the stories of children being bought and sold on their site? Or do they realize that self-censorship without warning will disorient both human traffickers and men who buy sex with kids, sending them scrambling for a new place to go?
Regardless of the company’s intentions, children and human trafficking victims that were sold on Craigslist surely saw a drop in business this weekend. And when that business was rape, a decline in demand is a wonderful thing. But even if Craigslist makes permanent changes, other websites like Backpage.com will continue to advertise for sex with minors and people in the industry against their will. Until, of course, they agree to make changes as well.
The campaign against Craigslist, whether for reform or abolition, has been and continues to be about protecting children and other vulnerable people from sexual exploitation. It’s about the 11-year-old girl, forced to advertise for her own rape on Craigslist, who courageously wrote its founder an open letter asking him for change. And it’s about the countless other children like her, whose stories of exploitation on Craigslist may not be published, but after today may end for good.
Photo credit: blmurch