‘Craigslist Killer’ Puts Online Marketplace on the Defensive about Erotic Ads
Alleged Craigslist killer Philip Markoff has caused quite a stir in the news, and raised further questions about the credibility of ‘Erotic Services’ on Craigslist.
Markoff, a 23-year-old Boston University medical student, has been charged with the murder of New York City masseuse Julissa Brisman, and the robbery and assault of another woman in Rhode Island. Markoff’s criminal defense attorney, John Salsberg, says his client is not guilty, though he still faces severe charges.
While Markoff deals with obvious troubles of his own, he has sparked scrutiny of the safety of posting and responding to advertisements on Craigslist, causing problems for the prominent online marketplace.
According to the Associated Press, Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster defended the site, saying it’s “an extremely unsafe venue for criminal activity,” because of the likelihood that any criminal will be traced and charged via the e-mail addresses required to post a listing. The site has also been accused of knowingly facilitating prostitution.
Computerworld reported that Cook County Sheriff Thomas Dart filed a lawsuit against Craigslist, calling for removal of the ‘Erotic Services’ section of the site for being what Dart called, “the single largest source of prostitution in the nation.” Since prostitution is illegal in most of the country, if Craigslist does not alter its methods of filtering illegal content, the site could find itself facing harsh criminal charges in multiple states, according to Computerworld.
Just four months before Dart’s accusations against Craigslist, the site finalized a legal dispute requiring that it put safeguards on the site to protect against such illegal advertising.
Buckmaster said the company has policies and practices in place to filter out junk and prostitution from the site, and that the erotic section exists so people can either avoid or seek out erotic content at their discretion.
Is It Prostitution?
According to assistant U.S. attorney V. Grady O’Malley, a persuasive prosecutor could conceivably convince a jury that some ads allowed by Craigslist definitely qualify as prostitution, and the Web site could be looking at civil charges from the families of victims of crimes originating on Craigslist. O’Malley is not involved with any cases against the Web site.
Computerworld reported that one criminal defense attorney, Ken van Wyk of KRvW Associates LLC from Alexandria, Va., has spoken out in favor of the Web site, saying it’s a free marketplace, and the content is put there by users for users and should be minimally altered by Craigslist itself. He said Craigslist is an online “flea market” that the community needs, and that an “under-market of illicit material” is inevitable.
Policing the Marketplace
As a result of the allegations brought against some Craigslist users, namely the cases in Minnesota and Massachusetts, the site finds itself under great pressure to increase its security and police its advertisements more strictly.
Buckmaster said criminal users of Craigslist are creating evidence when they post advertisements, and that same evidence can later be used against them if criminal charges are filed.
He added that the Web site currently has no plans to remove its ‘Erotic Services’ section, but the company has developers working on improved filtering technology to better police the site’s advertisements.
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