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State AGs Go After Illicit Craigslist Ads

A number of state attorneys general met yesterday with Craigslist to urge shuttering parts of the site that advertise illicit offerings.

A number of state attorneys general met yesterday with Craigslist to urge shutting down what they described as an online brothel.

The scrutiny comes following the murder of a Boston-area masseuse, who was killed after placing an ad for her services on the site. Philip Markoff, nicknamed the "Craigslist killer," has been charged with her murder. He was also charged with assaulting and robbing a woman in Rhode Island and another woman in Boston -- both of whom he allegedly met on Craigslist.

Craigslist offers advertisements for "adult services," primarily in its Personals section. Back in November, under an agreement with 40 state attorneys general, the site agreed to revamp its system, but the AGs are displeased with the progress. The group of law enforcers claim that Craigslist's measures to combat prostitution and pornography are inadequate, and do not discourage human trafficking, child exploitation and other crimes.

"My ongoing investigation recently tested Craigslist's self-policing system -- flagging for removal ads featuring hard-core pornography, nudity and obvious offers of sex for money," said Connecticut State Attorney General Richard Blumenthal in a statement. "Almost none of the ads were removed, indicating that Craigslist's self-policing is inadequate and ineffective."

The AGs are pushing Craigslist to remove all prostitution ads and pornography, as well as halt other illicit activity. That would mean eliminating the erotic services section, employing image blocking to expunge pornographic and naked photos throughout the site and removing immediately those ads flagged and confirmed as violating Craigslist's terms of service.

Although Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster recently was quoted by the Boston Globeas saying he wouldn't consider any part of his site "sex-related," a brief glance at the Erotic Services section for the Boston area seems to dispel that.

Buckmaster said in the Globe article that "roughly 1 percent of ads posted on CL are in the 'erotic services' section." And in his statement, Blumenthal agreed that the offensive ads were only a tiny fraction of the site, but warned they threatened "to overshadow and undermine the site's overwhelmingly positive impact."

Although Craigslist seems protected from liability under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act-- no provider of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider -- it doesn't mean Craigslist is immune from litigation completely.

At least one AG is threatening prosecution. South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster sent Craigslist a letter Tuesday giving the site until May 15 to remove illegal content and prostitution. South Carolina alleges that Craigslist managers knowingly allowed the site to be used for illegal and unlawful activity, despite earlier warnings from law enforcement officials and after the November agreement.

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