Monday, August 9, 2010

Thank you, Craigslist

Over the weekend my column for the Post Register on net neutrality (published on this site in an earlier version) caused a minor stir that resulted in a stimulating debate on the PR's web site. First thing this morning, The Guardian in the U.K. runs this story about the increasing scrutiny and legal troubles for Craigslist.

Think these are unrelated matters? Think again.

Yes, I despise Craigslist, and not just because it has stripped millions of dollars from newspaper classifieds over the last decade, though I'm not crazy about that. In a free market, a better mousetrap should attract the business.

The bigger issue is that Craigslist has become THE place to go to advertise prostitution, pornography, scams, and now, it seems. child sex and trafficking. Of course, it's also been used to lure murder victims, attract people who ransack houses of strangers, etc.

But none of this is Craigslist's fault. No, Craigslist's owners and managers are just providing a simple service on the new, open-architecture Internet and are not responsible for any of its content. They're just being good old-fashioned small "d" democrats.

This, of course, is so much nonsense. We don't get to create things that turn into monsters and then plead innocence. What does this have to do with net neutrality? Stay with me.

One of the fundamental ideas behind the principle of net neutrality is that all content should be treated equal, that everyone should have a right to create and post content on the World Wide Web. It's a romantic notion until you consider all of its implications. To make net neutrality work, the government would have to set and enforce rules requiring service providers and other Web players to carry essentially any content, regardless of its market value or its otherwise dubious nature.

Not all content is created equal. In fact, most content being created today is dross, nonsense, or, in the worst case, encourages or supports criminal behavior. It's not good enough for Craigslist's management to same, "We're trying." Not good enough at all.

It's time that content providers took responsibility for what they're putting on the Web, either directly or indirectly.

1 comment:

  1. I don't think it is well known that Craigslist makes over $36 million a year from their Adult Services category. They are the Pimp. And Pimps have been making money off the backs of women and children for centuries.

    The aftermath of the ruined lives of these victims is well reported in the August 7, 2010 Washington Post (Sex-trafficking opponents fight Craigslist's 'adult services' ads). "Andrea Powell, head of Fair Fund, a District-based group that works with girls and teens who have been sold for sex, calls Craigslist "the Wal-Mart of online sex trafficking." She said most of the young people she works with are sold through the site, which has 20 billion page views a month... Powell and Malika Saada Saar, who heads the District-based Rebecca Project, said online pimps stay one step ahead of attempts to monitor their online activity. They said pimps drop the word "innocent" from an ad intended to appeal to a pedophile, for instance, and replace it with a new code word. "Young," "new to town," and "fresh" are common code words, the women said.
    On Friday, on the Washington area Craigslist adult services section, more than 600 ads contained one of those descriptions.