Craigslist has shut down its popular personals category, which has long been criticized as a base for sex trafficking and prostitution, in response to new U.S. legislation.
Congress passed FOSTA, the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex and Trafficking Act of 2017, last week. Craigslist’s decision comes before the bill was actually signed into law. (President Trump is expected to do that soon.)
Visitors to Craigslist’s personals section now see the following note:
US Congress just passed HR 1865, “FOSTA”, seeking to subject websites to criminal and civil liability when third parties (users) misuse online personals unlawfully.
Any tool or service can be misused. We can’t take such risk without jeopardizing all our other services, so we are regretfully taking craigslist personals offline. Hopefully we can bring them back some day.
To the millions of spouses, partners, and couples who met through craigslist, we wish you every happiness!
Craigslist didn’t close its Missed Connections section, even though it also operates as a personals board (albeit without the same hookup focus). Missed Connections is now on Craigslist’s Community section. Slate has already reported seeing some of the old Personal section activity now appearing in Missed Connections.
While FOSTA’s official aim is to combat sex trafficking, it’s come under criticism by groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation; who worry that it will have more wide-ranging ramifications.
FOSTA essentially expands the criminal and civil liability of website operators regarding user-generated content. It does this by amending the “Good Samaritan” clause of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act; which has protected websites from being sued over posts made from third parties as long as the sites “tried their best” to moderate potential illegal activities.
The change in Section 230 was a direct response to the failed criminal charges filed in California court in 2016 against Backpage.com executives Carl Ferrer, Michael Lacey and James Larkin who were accused of knowingly profiting from prostitution and pimping. A judge dismissed those charges in January 2017, saying that the website and its executives were shielded by Section 230.
Craigslist isn’t alone. The Erotic Review and CityVibe shut down ads the sites felt would run afoul of the new FOSTA rules. The website Reddit also closed its Escorts, Male Escorts, Hookers and SugarDaddy sections.
Unlike Craigslist, Reddit didn’t say whether its policy change was related to FOSTA, although it did sign a letter to members of Congress earlier in March specifically protesting the coming bill. Other signees included WordPress-parent Automattic, Patreon, Cloudflare, Twitter, Match Group (Tinder, OKCupid, Match.com), Pinterest, the Wikimedia Foundation, Github, Medium, and Yelp.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation released a statement on why it opposes any changes to Section 230, calling it:
The most important law protecting free speech online. Section 230 protects online platforms from liability for some types of speech by their users. Without Section 230, the Internet would look very different. It’s likely that many of today’s online platforms would never have formed or received the investment they needed to grow and scale — the risk of litigation would have simply been too high. Similarly, in absence of Section 230 protections, noncommercial platforms like Wikipedia and the Internet Archive likely wouldn’t have been founded, given the high level of legal risk involved with hosting third-party content.
Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut), a co-sponsor of the bill, defended the 97-2 decision by Congress to amend Section 230 and responded to the notice posted by Craiglist. “If Craigslist is really telling us that they can’t run a page on their website without knowingly facilitating sex trafficking, that would certainly be a damning admission,” he said in a statement.