The Ultimate Showdown: Blumenthal v. Craigslist – by “Thad D”

“Seeking Partner In Crime”

“looking for fun”

“Looking for some ACTION!!!!!!”

Ranging from apparently harmless to incredibly graphic, the “Adult Services” section of Craigslist has long provided people far and wide with the ability to search for and find others looking for “adult services”, whatever that may mean.  That is, until last week, when Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, along with 17 other state attorneys general, told Craigslist to permanently remove their adult services section worldwide.

Before delving into the obvious issues with censoring Craigslist (net neutrality, questions of jurisdiction, website application immunity), it’s important to understand what Craigslist is and its history.  Founded in 1995 by Craig Newmark, Craigslist is a website that serves as a sort of virtual bulletin board for local postings.  With subdomains for major metropolitan areas around the world, users can post solicitations for anything from old TV’s, to job inquiries, to requests for relationships.  Listed as the most used classifieds service in any medium, Craigslist sustains its operating revenue mostly from small fees required to post job openings in major metropolitan areas.  The site’s annual net income is undisclosed.

However, the seemingly noble intentions of Craigslist have not stopped many from abusing its site.  For example, in early 2009, Julissa Brisman, a young masseuse, was murdered in a hotel room by a man who hired her through Craigslist.  Then, earlier this year James Sanders, a father and devout Christian, was gunned down in his home by criminals who responded to an ad he posted on Craigslist to sell his wife’s diamond ring. (Credit to NBC and NewsRoomJersey)

Three weeks ago, 17 state attorneys general jointly wrote to Craigslist telling owner Craig Newmark to permanently remove its adult services section worldwide.   Two weeks after that, four other private, Washington D.C. based non-profit organizations spoke out about their disapproval of the site’s adult services. In response, this past week Craigslist put a black and white “CENSORED” bar where the adult services hyperlink had previously been.  However, as of today, the black and white bar has officially been removed and there is no adult services section on the site’s home page.

Craigslist Adult Services Section Censored
Wait, You Didn't Want to Remove Your Adult Services Section?

So, now that we’re all on the same page, I would like to throw something out there: I believe Richard Blumenthal is putting up this huge front in order to be elected to the U.S. Senate.  What?  “No!” You cry out, “This cannot be!”  Well, consider the following conversation between two average voters:

Joe the Plumber: Gosh, the Senate election is coming up, soon.
Bob the Builder: Well, who’s running?
Joe the Plumber: Looks like it’s **Googles for ten seconds** Linda McMahon and Richard Blumenthal.
Bob the Builder: Wasn’t she a wrestler?  And who is Richard Blumenthal?
Joe the Plumber: I don’t know.  But apparently **Googles for five more seconds** Blumenthal is really against prostitution and human trafficking on Craigslist.  And Linda McMahon never said she didn’t like prostitution or human trafficking.  Looks like I know who I’m voting for.
Bob the Builder: I second that.  I am no fan of the Internets or prostitution.

Take it for what it is, that is my personal opinion.  Beyond the questions of political pandering and insincerity raised by the timing of his attack on Craigslist, Blumenthal’s offensive raises several other important issues.  Unfortunately, I do not have time to discuss all of them, but I would like to discuss what I think is the most important: net neutrality.

What do we mean when we use the term net neutrality?  Generally network neutrality means that for any network (be it peer to peer or the Internet), the principal service provider (i.e. Comcast, Charter), the government, or any other regulatory body should have no right to censor the content posted by members of the network.  In fact, the original design choices of this Internet such as decentralization and the FCC’s Broadband Policy Statement lend the Internet to being an open, neutral network.

Blumenthal and the attorneys general joining his suit are directly challenging the fundamentals of net neutrality by forcing Craigslist to remove its adult services section.  I want to make a very clear and unequivocal distinction.  Telling Craigslist it needs to seek out and remove postings soliciting illegal activities such as prostitution or human trafficking is NOT challenging net neutrality.  Without the rule of law, the Internet would become a safe haven for criminals and create an environment no one would feel comfortable entering.  However, Craigslist should not be told to remove a whole section because certain users abuse the site’s services.

If users demanded content controlled by a single source, with government interference and site material changing based on mere political whims, everyone would still be getting their Internet content from Compuserve.  Think I’m wrong?  Why do we have Google, Facebook, MySpace, Amazon, ESPN.com, streaming video of any sort (thanks porn industry), or all of the amazing web applications we have today?

For now, Blumenthal will not let sleeping dogs lie.  Although Craigslist has removed the whole adult services section Blumenthal insists, “Simply removing one portion of your site where you permitted and profited from prostitution ads is insufficient if ads go elsewhere.”  (Credit to The Associated Press)

Vinton Cerf, father of net neutrality and, the best thing it brings with it, competition on a previously unparalleled scale, we salute you.  Richard Blumenthal may be thinking that Craigslist is “thumbing their nose at the public interest”, but let’s be honest: since when did a 64 year old whose alma maters include Yale and Harvard ever represent the public interest?

One thought on “The Ultimate Showdown: Blumenthal v. Craigslist – by “Thad D”

  1. I think you’re right about Blumenthal to some extend (…not sure I want to just presume that a Harvard-Yalie is devoid of public interest) , and accurate on the opinion that the net shouldn’t be mandated to close a site (or portion of a site) due to ‘a few bad apples’.

    But, if you believe that the government should be able to force censorship of some items online (restricted solely from completely shutting down entire pages), I think you’re fighting for space on a very slippery slope; and I don’t agree with your fuzzy grey line in the sand. Neutrality means neutrality –not almost, kinda, sorta, sometimes neutrality. Why is the U.S. government, or any government, allowed to censor a worldwide communication? (…to any degree!)

    What is the difference between the U.S. government telling [worldwide] Craigslist, ‘Hey! You can’t let have a POST for marijuana because it’s illegal according to our federal laws’, and the U.S. government saying, ‘Hey! You can’t have a PAGE that allows users to post advertisements for ….’ If Craigslist has to choose between the options of having to take down posts or never having posts to begin with, then aren’t both mandates effectively doing the same thing?

    Like

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