Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Craigslist and prostitution

"I'm shocked, SHOCKED to see that there's gambling going on in this establishment." -- From the movie, Casablanca
NEWS ITEM: IDAHO FALLS – A Pocatello woman running a "holiday special" advertisement on Craigslist was arrested for prostitution at the Red Lion on the Falls in Idaho Falls on Thursday.

Cassie K. Brown, 24, was charged with a misdemeanor after she tried to have sex with an undercover Idaho Falls police officer, Sgt. Phil Grimes said.

In a random check of eastern Idaho's Craigslist's directory, officers found a posting for adult services by women. The poster, identified only as "Ashley," was soliciting sex, according to the police report.

This is the second time in six months Idaho Falls officers have used Craigslist to make a prostitution arrest.
There’s no big secret why I have reasons to dislike Craigslist – it has taken millions of dollars of classified advertising from newspapers over the past decade-plus by providing its services for free. That’s fair – capitalism is all about building a better, and cheaper, mousetrap. But Craigslist is essentially an unmonitored classified advertising source that claims not to have to bother with niggling things that newspapers must deal with.

These niggling things include such trivial matters as not providing advertising for illegal services, or ads that ignore federal housing laws or promote rather obvious scams. In at least one case, a murder suspect met his victim via Craigslist.

Of course, the people who run Craigslist don’t wish ill on their customers and don’t openly promote prostitution, fraud or murder. They simply do little, if anything, to sift that sort of material from their sites.

Newspapers, on the other hand, train their ad takers and staffs to identify potential fraudulent or otherwise illegal activity on their classified sites and have policies against publishing them. Some occasionally slip through, but it’s a rare mistake, particularly compared with what can be found on Craigslist.

If you doubt, wander around any of the Craigslist sites under “casual encounters” in the personal ads section and ask yourself how many of these ads are either completely false or will lead to a paid hook-up.

Craigslist is here to stay and in many ways is admirable in its open, democratic approach to using the Internet. It found a chink in the armor of traditional newspapers and has exploited it – that’s entirely fair and how capitalism works. But it also hides behind the idea that “we just make the thing available, we’re not responsible for its content,” and that’s not how capitalism works. If you’re going to provide a product or service, you are accountable for it.

Congress and some states are looking into how to police the content on Craigslist and similar sites, though a solution isn’t imminent. More important, consumers need to understand what they’re getting into and act accordingly.