Craigslist Censors Adult Ads; Now What?

What is Craigslist thinking? That question is being asked after the popular classified ad site closed its adult services section on Friday. In its place, they slapped a "censored" banner. More than a dozen state attorneys general and advocacy groups have pressured the Internet company to close the section down, arguing it promotes prostitution. Craigslist has stayed silent on its latest move. NPR's Robert Siegel talks to James Temple, technology reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, about what it might mean.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

What exactly has happened with adult services ads on Craigslist? Under pressure from a group of state attorneys general, Craigslist slapped a label that just says censored where the word adult used to be. The attorneys general said the adult services site was aiding in exploitation, prostitution and human trafficking.

Today, ABC News reported that it found several ads for sexual services in other categories on Craigslist sites around the country. James Temple has been covering this story for the San Francisco Chronicle and joins us now. What did you make of Craigslist, putting up that censored sign, which suggests at least compliance under protest with what the attorneys general had signed.

Mr. JAMES TEMPLE (Journalist, San Francisco Chronicle): Well, I think that one of two things has happened here - Craigslist either got tired of basically being beat over the head on this issue of becoming the focal point of what's really a larger debate on the responsibilities Web publishers have when their users use their site to facilitate a crime, and they basically surrendered, but not without a little defiant dig in using the word censored.

Or they did this to draw attention to the issue and to cast the attorneys general complaints as blatant censorship. But because they haven't come out and talked about it, they've left us journalists and others to take it at face value.

SIEGEL: Well, is that consistent with the way Craigslist operates? That is, to do something like this and then not even issue an official explanation or a statement of what they were doing?

Mr. TEMPLE: It's not very characteristic of Craigslist not to talk to the press. They've actually usually been quite responsive to inquiries on this and other issues. And they on Saturday had said that they would come out with a statement and they never followed through with that.

So it's still a little unclear as to what's really going on behind the scenes and whether or not they're still themselves debating what the next step should be.

SIEGEL: Now, I checked this out, in addition to the adult services site that is now not there anymore, Craigslist has extensive personals. It has a category for therapeutic services. And a quick perusal of the Washington, D.C. listings suggested to me today that the therapy most needed in the capitol region is Asian massage done by pretty Asian women, according to many advertisements.

Mr. TEMPLE: I see.

SIEGEL: I mean, are ads for sexual services simply going elsewhere on Craigslist?

Mr. TEMPLE: Well, and in fairness, Jim Buckmaster, the CEO of Craigslist said that's exactly what would happen. He's been arguing all along that taking down this section of the site is not the most appropriate way of dealing with the harms that go along with these sorts of ads, because at least before Friday they were contained to one section where they could monitor the ads, where they could take them down if they were blatantly illicit. And now, as he said would happen, they seem to be spreading to other sections of the site, which makes the job presumably more difficult for Craigslist to monitor.

SIEGEL: Well, James Temple, thank you very much for talking with us about the story.

Mr. TEMPLE: Thank you.

SIEGEL: That's James Temple, reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle.

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