Thursday, December 23, 2010

Craigslist censorship now effective worldwide

In September, bowing to pressure from multiple state attorneys general, agreed to remove all advertisements for "adult services" from its United States listings. It was big news at the time.

More recently, to virtually no fanfare whatsoever, and with no explanation, all adult services listings were removed from Craigslist, worldwide:

The ouster of the controversial section was confirmed by Craigslist to the office of Connecticut Attorney General General Richard Blumenthal yesterday, according to the Associated Press. The removal of the section from dozens of countries follows a similar action that saw it taken down in the U.S. four months ago.

Responding to the global takedown, Blumenthal called it "another another important step in the ongoing fight to more effectively screen and stop pernicious prostitution ads," the AP reported.

[emphasis added]

A couple of points need to be made in response to that. If the aim was really to "effectively screen" prostitution ads, banning them from Craigslist was absolutely the wrong move to make. As for stopping them completely...well, that is completely ridiculous. In either case, there are other, less well-known sites where ads for prostitutes can be found, and, short of absolute dictatorial control of the entire internet, there always will be. There are even real-life newspapers where "escort" ads can be found, and hypocritical attorneys general make no effort to quash them in the name of "effective screening," presumably because, unlike Craigslist, print newspapers have some political influence.

It's clear that, if there was any point at all to removing the ads from U.S. listings, it certainly was not to "effectively screen" them, nor was it to reduce them in any meaningful way. More likely, the purpose was twofold: To make the attorneys general look good on election day, especially since most of them will someday be running for more meaningful political offices, and to drive prostitution back underground, where law enforcement prefers it to be. That is, when prostitutes get away with advertising openly, in reputable locations, it becomes harder for law enforcement officials to disguise the fact that their real aim is to accomplish nothing, which in turn creates a risk that people might actually realize that nothing is being accomplished, which would presumably lead to people questioning why so many tax dollars are being spent on vice cops. (Of course, this latter reason doesn't apply in locations where prostitution is legal, which is part of why this new development is so puzzling.)

As for Craigslist reporting its action to Blumenthal's office, that seems somewhat suspicious to me. It suggests that perhaps some pressure was being applied, or at least that there was some sort of involvement on the part of that office. I am only speculating, obviously, but it is rather curious that they would do that.

Getting back to the report:

No date was specified as to when the section was removed globally, but Wired Magazine apparently broke the story this past Saturday, saying that Craigslist "quietly" took down the section from all of its international sites, including those in Canada, Asia, Europe, South America, and Africa.

I have been unable to locate any reason for why they did this on all of their international sites, nor do I have any idea, other than the idle speculation about involvement of the attorney general's office which I mentioned above. While their capitulation on the U.S. listings was fairly easy to comprehend, their action this month is not.


Attorneys general and human rights groups alike complained that the section was a storefront for ads promoting prostitution and the trafficking of human beings.

I would like to see some evidence that these "storefronts for the trafficking of human beings" actually existed on Craigslist. A screenshot would be nice, preferably one which has not been photoshopped. I would also like to see some hard evidence that "human trafficking" actually occurs anywhere to the degree that is often quoted in these sorts of articles (e.g., "40,000 prostitutes were shipped into Berlin this week in preparation for the Venus Faire", etc.). Unsubstantiated and/or vague quotes by concerned sounding officials or representatives of non-profit anti-trafficking organizations aren't going to cut it. I would like to see something specific and real, preferably coming from someone whose livelihood doesn't depend on the issue.

"Human trafficking" is a hot-button issue, one which is designed to get us to reflexively turn our brains off. That almost always means there is some other agenda afoot, one which "they" don't want us to know about. I doubt it's something overtly sinister in this case. More likely, it's just an attention diverter, sympathy grabber and/or budget inflator. (That's the beauty of hot-button issues: They're multi-purpose! If, that is, you are someone who wants to utilize propaganda to achieve a political aim.)

Let's tally up the "victors" in this ridiculous sideshow:
  • Political whores (aka attorneys general and various posturing morons).

  • Vice cops in jurisdictions where prostitution is illegal (this will improve their job security because it appears that they are actually accomplishing something, even though they are really making no substantive progress at all on the very issue which justifies their existence).

  • Interpol agents and other international "cops" (that is, the ones working on the mysterious "human trafficking" problem, now that the mythical human trafficking ads have been removed from such an obvious spot--again, they appear to be making progress on "solving" the problem, while at the same time nothing real is happening).

  • Anti-prostitution crusaders, especially in jurisdictions where prostitution is already legal.

  • Psychotherapists, pharmacists and drug dealers. Go ahead and laugh, but what happens to lonely, gameless men who can't manage to find a good hooker to spend some time with? They get depressed. This is obviously good for people who sell drugs or who earn their livings listening to people yap about how much their lives suck. It's also good for the guys in white coats, who hold the keys to the padded rooms and straitjackets.

  • Self-righteous idiots of all stripes who think this was actually a good idea. There are, quite frankly, too many to list, or to even waste my time thinking about.
And, who are the losers?
  • Anyone who might actually be a trafficked human being. Not that I am willing to accept that there is a real problem with this, but if there is, and (even more absurdly) if Craigslist was unwittingly providing a platform for these traffickers, then shutting down these ads is not going to benefit the victims. It's going to make it even harder to deal with the problem, which is clearly bad for the victims.

  • Prostitutes, who have to look elsewhere for cheap advertising. This is especially ridiculous in countries where prostitution is legal. Any push to drive it underground causes exactly what benefit, may I ask? Is there any sensible point to this move at all?

  • Lonely men. This one is obvious. They'll have to look elsewhere, rather than patronizing a reputable site like Craigslist. It's also worth noting that if, as the attorneys general claim, any of these men are actually deterred, they are going to be losing an extremely valuable emotional coping tool, which could have a significantly negative impact on their lives.

  • People who actually give a shit about freedom. This should be everyone, but alas, all too many people just don't seem to care much at all.
In conclusion, this is a large step backwards, an inexplicable and apparently nonsensical act on the part of Craigslist, and one which basically helps all the people other than those who it's ostensibly supposed to.

(Props to the Antifeminist for catching this story. It's getting so little play that I don't know if I would have noticed it if I hadn't seen it covered there.)

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