Craigslist made the momentous decision to close its Personals section. AuctionBytes blogger Bob takes a look at what's behind the move, and while readers will have differing opinions about the consequences, one thing's for sure - the Internet will never be the same!
Are you a lonely widow looking for a mate to spend your twilight years with? Are you a gym rat looking for an exercise partner? Or are you a virile young couple searching for another virile young couple to share cookouts, concerts and (*ahem*) carnal knowledge with?
Well if you are M4W, M4M, W4M, W4W, MW4M, MW4W, M4T, T4MW or practically any other combination of capital letters, you won't be able to rely on Craigslist any longer as a fast and free way to hook up with others.
This is because Congress recently passed, and the White House looks ready to sign; H.R. 1865, which "imposes penalties - a fine, a prison term of up to 10 years, or both - on a person who, using a facility or means of interstate or foreign commerce, owns, manages, or operates an interactive computer service (or attempts or conspires to do so) to promote or facilitate the prostitution of another person." I'm no lawyer (thank you) but it sounds like sites like Craigslist could be accused, fined and its operators jailed as pimps. No matter that they gained no real financial benefit from the transactions and regardless of how much effort they put into monitoring and discouraging the behavior on their site! (Please read those last couple sentences again, they are as important as they are scary).
The law also encourages civil suits aimed at these so-considered virtual-pimps.
Reliable sources tell me (because, of course, I have no firsthand knowledge of this) that the Personals section was rarely ... no, um ... occasionally ... nope, nope ... okay ... regularly, frequently, quite often or otherwise routinely used as an outlet for (egad!) sex worker ads. Primarily by women seeking "donations" for a half-hour of their time (I'm not exactly sure what the extra 28 minutes is for).
This new law is aimed at sex trafficking, though the definition of this is highly debatable.
Given Congress's approval of this bill, Craigslist chose to quickly delete its entire Personals section. They discontinued everything from Strictly Platonic to Casual Encounters while they moved the Missed Connections and its notorious Rants & Raves section into the Community subsection. Overkill? Perhaps. Was this what Congress wanted and expected? Probably not though who knows what in hell they're thinking up there (down there?) nowadays.
There may well be other unintended consequences with this measure. Imagine owning any website where the public is allowed to post. How confident would you now feel that absolutely none of your users were using your platform for this sort of illegal activity? Could sites like Facebook, Match.com and PayPal also be impacted? Could Craigslist still be charged because a sex worker uses their site to sell their talents under the Skilled Trade, Barter or Activities sections?
Will sex workers be forced out onto the street (both dangerous for them and unattractive for their communities)? Will low-income men and women be forced deeper into poverty? And what about all the vice cops that used Craigslist to attract and arrest johns and pros alike? And how will they conduct stings going forward?
This is the notice that Craigslist posted about this issue:
"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!"
About the Columnist
Bob has been buying and selling online for almost 20 years. Some experts claim that his limited budget was the major cause of the 2001 dot-com crash. He denies the charge.