Missed Connections: Craigslist Drops Personal Ads Because of Sex Trafficking Bill
Looking for love or a “casual encounter”? You’ll have to find it someplace other than Craigslist.
Craigslist, little changed since it unveiled its spare text design in 1995 and began to crush the paid print classifieds business, will no longer offer a way for anonymous people to connect for romance or sex.
While many people used the site to find relationships — one of the discontinued categories is “strictly platonic” — it was no secret that some postings were thinly veiled solicitations for prostitution, despite the site’s efforts to fight overt solicitations for money.
Visitors to the personals section of Craigslist are now redirected to a short statement about the bill, the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act, which gives law enforcement officials greater authority to go after websites used for sex trafficking, while removing protections from legal liability for hosting such content.
“Any tool or service can be misused,” Craigslist said in the statement. “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!”
The website’s personals section has attracted listings of all kinds, reflecting a range of interests, sexual orientations and combinations of partners. Some users have found lasting relationships and marriage.
On Friday, inventive users were already turning to other parts of Craigslist, like the famous “missed connections” section, to post their personals instead.
Craigslist has faced criticism over its role in facilitating prostitution and trafficking before. About a decade ago, after reaching an agreement with 40 state attorneys general, it undertook a series of changes in order to curb the practices.
The online forums site Reddit also removed a handful of escort-related communities in recent days, though the ban was part of a broader crackdown on the exchange of weapons, drugs, sexual services, stolen goods and falsified documents.
Many survivors of sex trafficking and the illegal prostitution trade have praised the legislation as a significant advance in their fight against the practice.
“It really provides both survivors and folks in law enforcement with the tools to hold websites that are knowingly facilitating trafficking accountable,” said Lauren Hersh, the national director for World Without Exploitation, a coalition of groups that worked with the legislators who sponsored the bill.
Ms. Hersh said that some websites known to have been used for trafficking have already disappeared.
Some tech companies, civil liberties groups and organizations of voluntary sex workers have argued that the bill overreaches.
Though its goal is “worthy,” the bill may have unintended consequences, Ian Thompson, of the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a post this month.
“The bill is worded so broadly that it could even be used against platform owners that don’t know that their sites are being used for trafficking,” the Electronic Frontier Foundation said in a statement after the Senate passed the bill.
Even anti-trafficking organizations are not united in their support. Freedom Network USA, a coalition of groups, said in a statement that the bill would only drive voluntary sex workers further underground.
“Consensual commercial sex workers use harm reduction tools such as online forums to screen clients, avoid high risk activities, share resources, and protect each other,” it said.
While Ms. Hersh acknowledged that there may be some in the sex trade who use the websites willingly, the bill, she said, will save many others from exploitation.
“We work with survivors, many of whom have been exploited on these websites, and so we are seeing firsthand the extraordinary harm that’s happening to many women and children,” she said.
Follow Niraj Chokshi on Twitter: @NirajC.