NEAL CONAN, host:
Tomorrow, the popular Web site Craigslist will replace its erotic services category with a section called adult services that will be much more carefully monitored. The change comes after the so-called Craigslist killer allegedly murdered a masseuse he contacted through the Web site last month and after many state attorneys general labeled Craigslist as the country's biggest purveyor of prostitution.
So, is Craigslist any less safe and any other kind of classified ad, and does Craigslist promote prostitution? The Web site's CEO joins us in a moment. Give us a call: 800-989-8255. E-mail us: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also join the conversation on our Web site. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.
And joining us now from member station KQED in San Francisco, Jim Buckmaster, CEO of Craigslist.
And it's very good of you to be with us today.
Mr. JIM BUCKMASTER (CEO, Craigslist): Hi. Thanks for having me.
CONAN: And obviously, the murder case in Boston has received a great deal of attention. If we accept the facts, as police have described them - it's not been proved in court yet - if those facts are as they're represented, is Craigslist in any way responsible?
Mr. BUCKMASTER: I don't think so. And, of course, that was a terrible tragedy that we hated to hear had had any connection with the use of Craigslist. But Craigslist is a tool that is used overwhelmingly for good, but like any tool you can't completely prevent it from being used for ill. So that's why it's important, and we try to get the message out there to users, to take a few simple safety precautions to lower the risks even further. And of course, those would include: if you're going to meet someone for the first time, do it in a public place with other people around.
CONAN: And is Craigslist - I guess the question comes up - any less safe than other kinds of classified advertising?
Mr. BUCKMASTER: Well, if you go down - if you go back through the history and look at the record, you see a long list of - let's just focus on homicides that occurred where killers sought out victims using print classified ads. There's quite a few of them that are documented. And when you compare that to the record of Craigslist, where so far 1.15 billion classified ads had been posted so far with exceedingly few homicides having any connection with the service - of course, one is too many. But when you're talking about whether a service is safe or not relative to others, Craigslist is clearly far safer than print classifieds.
CONAN: And as of tomorrow, erotic services will not be advertised explicitly on Craigslist. This is more to do with the earlier case of the state attorneys general arguing that this was, in effect, a promotion of prostitution.
CONAN: And is this because there's a recognition that the attorneys general had a point?
Mr. BUCKMASTER: Well, we looked at a lot of feedback not only from attorneys general and law enforcement, but from legal businesses that wanted to advertise obviously from our users, from free speech advocates, constitutional law experts, Internet law experts. We tried to bring all that feedback together and come up with the very best program that we could to, you know, ensure public safety, make sure there's no illegal ads posted to our site, and, you know, and also to try to preserve the functionality of the site and to respect speech rights, et cetera.
At this point, most of the criticism we're getting is actually coming from free speech advocates and constitutional law experts - one of whom refer to me personally as a cheese eating surrender monkey, and several of whom are now calling our site caveslist for caving to inappropriate pressure brought to bear by attorneys general.
But we're happy to take that criticism. We're just trying to do the best by our users and by the general public.
CONAN: And - but, all right, that's one criticism. And we make it calls in that regard. Nevertheless, a lot of people including some of the attorneys general suspect that in fact what will happen is that on this new adult services category site, people are just going to find more creative ways to phrase things and in fact very little would change.
Mr. BUCKMASTER: Well, they're going to have trouble doing that because, as I said, each ad is going to be closely reviewed and is being closely reviewed as to the text and image to make sure that nothing inappropriate is being suggested. In other words, we're bringing the same approach to bear that is used typically by all of the other print and online classified venues that provide such a section, including telephone yellow pages, daily newspapers, alternative weeklies, et cetera.
CONAN: And I know in a letter to one of the attorneys general, you said effectively that a lot of their advertisements are much more explicit than anything that's ever - than ever been on Craigslist.
Mr. BUCKMASTER: That's definitely true.
CONAN: Let's get some listeners involved in the conversation: 800-989-8255; e-mail, email@example.com.
Jim Buckmaster is our guest. He's CEO of Craigslist, with us from KQED in San Francisco.
And Peggy's(ph) on the line. Peggy, calling from Napa Valley in California.
PEGGY (Caller): Hi.
CONAN: Hi, Peggy.
PEGGY: I've been doing massage therapy for 16 years. I'm a certified massage therapist. And I did put an ad under therapeutic services for my massage services. And I got so many men responding with: do you finish? You know, that's the line. Or we're going to do this and this and this. And it's like, I was sick to stomach. And that's what the men are looking for because that's what their finding. And that's what I have to say.
CONAN: And it's interesting that was under the therapeutic services category not under the old erotic services category.
PEGGY: That's right.
CONAN: So and they were, not to put not to fine a point on it, asking for sex?
PEGGY: Excuse me?
CONAN: They were asking for sex.
PEGGY: Yeah, they were asking to finish, which is, I guess, a code word for…
PEGGY: You know?
CONAN: Well, we'll just leave it right there. And…
CONAN: So, Peggy, where do you do your advertising now?
PEGGY: Well, I work in a resort spa and I also look for business on the side because we get a slow season, so I'm always looking for new clients. And I thought Craigslist would be great because, I, you know, I used - I used other aspects of Craigslist.
But it's just so demeaning to have the whole sexuality thing under massage therapy. And I've had to run into this in the past. And I'm a legitimate massage therapist. So otherwise, have I advertised - I did our local paper in Napa. But I tried to do word of mouth, but I think Craigslist for the most part is an excellent service. But I find that there are lot of women advertising under therapeutic services, and they're offering more than just a legitimate massage.
CONAN: Ah, so these men were not misplaced necessarily in asking this question?
PEGGY: I'm sorry?
CONAN: And so these men were - if they had asked these same questions of other advertises on Craigslist in the therapeutic category, they might have gotten an answer they were looking for?
PEGGY Because there are ads in there with pictures of women in provocative poses wearing lingerie…
PEGGY: …under massage therapy, therapeutic services. So, yeah, I'd like to see that changed.
CONAN: Okay, Jim Buckmaster?
PEGGY: Thank you.
CONAN: Thank you.
Mr. BUCKMASTER: So miscategorized ads are definitely an issue, not just in this regard but throughout the site. We have a number of measures in place to try to prevent miscategorization, including our flagging system. One measure that we've taken recently in concert with the recent moves is to eliminate the inclusion of images in therapeutic service ads. So, that issue, which she pointed to, was addressed, I think, five or six days ago.
One thing that she can do when posting is to fully specify in detail that she is a licensed massage therapist. Here are the services that I offer. The more detailed, the better. And I don't think that she would get inappropriate inquiries.
And of course, the overall thing that I would say is that we wish that we had a magic wand that we could wave that would eliminate inappropriate behavior on the part of men out there. But that, so far, we've not discovered a way to do.
CONAN: Human nature are hard to change on a Web site, yeah. Well, let's go Mandy(ph). Mandy, with us from Hartford.
MANDY (Caller): Hello.
CONAN: Hi, Mandy. You're on the air.
MANDY: Hi. I am like your last caller. I guess, I'm an illegitimate massage therapist. I have worked as an escort for many years. And I've never advertised on Craigslist because I felt like it was monitored too heavily by the police. I think that if people are going to use the argument, that by cracking down on the erotic services section of it, that they're somehow protecting women, I think that that's not the case. I think if you're going to make an argument against prostitution and that's illegal and that these sites or papers or other avenues of promoting prostitution, that they shouldn't be allowed to do that, that that's a valid argument. But I don't think that saying that this is somehow protecting women is at all accurate.
I know that the way that I advertise through a paper, everything that I do is anonymous. If someone wanted to do harm to me, there would be no record of it. It would be very hard for the police to investigate.
In the case of the Craigslist killer, if the women that he had attacked or robbed previously had made reports against him, he probably would have been caught. And if he was killing and attacking women through another avenue other than just Craigslist, this may go on for years and years and years with countless victims before it was ever stopped. So that's all I have to say.
CONAN: Well, Mandy, thank you for your call. And we thank you for your candor. I wonder if you - there are ways to, well, you're afraid of police monitoring the site and that's why you never use it?
MANDY: Yeah. And I use my own sense of monitoring to monitor who I see, you know, take that for what it is. But I think that - you know, if you're going to make an argument against prostitution, that's a whole other argument. But as far as the site, I think that the site empowers women to a degree that it cuts up a middleman for a lot of women. It eliminates the need for - for lack of a better word - a pimp. A woman can choose to do this for herself and she doesn't have to pay a third party to be involved in this. It's something that she can dibble and dabble in at a reasonable fee and at one time at no fee. And since it is through the computer, it's so trackable. It's so traceable, that in the unfortunate instances where something horrible does happen - just like something horrible can happen with a man that you meet in a bar or anywhere.
CONAN: Sure, yeah.
MANDY: But there's something that the police have to go on. They caught this guy. That's my point. They caught him. If he had done this with girls he was picking up on the street, in a bar, through a paper or through most other Web sites, he'd still be doing it and there'd be countless other victim.
CONAN: Jim Buckmaster, I wonder what your response is.
Mr. BUCKMASTER: Well, I think the caller raises a few excellent points. One of which is that - and this is what we hear from law enforcement across the country - is that the way our site is set up and just the way that the Internet generally works, it makes their jobs a lot easier. And going after illegitimate activity in general, in particular going after traffickers and very serious criminals, they can see them. They can track them. And when they find them, the electronic records make it much easier to prosecute them. Or God forbid, there's a homicide, think back to the bad old days, let's say it's happening in print classifieds.
We all remember, you know, a killer would kill again and again and again. He would send in taunting letters to the police. And a year later, after ringing up a bunch of deaths, the crime is never solved. Look what happens if an individual like that tries to operate on the Internet or on Craigslist in particular, they're immediately caught. The evidence is abundant. They have no chance of escaping - being convicted and imprisoned. So that's one issue.
Of course, I need to rush to say that no illegitimate activity is welcome on our site. We don't want to see it there. Obviously, a lot of people make the argument that - make arguments for legalizing prostitution, pointing, for instance, to the Netherlands where prostitution is used much less by the public than it's used in the U.S. where it's illegal, and pointing to a lot of the harms that are taking out of it. Well, we take the opposition on that. We're a business, we're operating in the United States. It's our job to abide by all applicable laws and make sure that our uses do likewise.
But I think she does raise some interesting points.
CONAN: Mandy, thanks very much for the call. Good luck to you.
CONAN: Bye-bye. We're talking with Jim Buckmaster, the CEO of Craigslist.
You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
And let's get Christopher on the line, Christopher with us Rochester, New York.
CHRISTOPHER (Caller): Hi. Thank you for taking my call.
CONAN: Go ahead, please.
CHRISTOPHER: I'd just like to advocate the way that Craigslist handles their posting. I don't feel like it should be Craigslist's responsibility to monitor the behavior of the users. Like your guest just said, you know, in so far as they abide by all laws and they don't, you know, explicitly or implicitly advocate the use of the site for anything illegal or even questionable. I can't see how they're responsible for preventing these acts. Just like it wouldn't be, you know, the police's responsibility to screen whoever you're going to meet at a bar, you know, this (unintelligible) everywhere. And you can't place the burden on Craigslist because it's the avenue through which somebody is going to use to exploit the system.
CONAN: Christopher, thanks very much. Appreciate it.
CHRISTOPHER: Yeah, absolutely.
CONAN: And Jim Buckmaster, how will the monitoring change now under the new adult services category as opposed to the old erotic services category?
But I thought your caller - last caller raised an interesting point. I think that there's an imbalance here as regulators rush to say, well, you know, the Internet is simply too dangerous. The potential for harm is too great. We need to bring draconian measures to bear to try to prevent that from happening.
I hesitate to use an analogy, but consider the automobile: 40, 000 deaths each year, 10 times that many injuries. Most of those could be prevented with three simple technological fixes: One, an interlock system to prevent a car from starting as alcoholic fumes are detected; two, prevent a car from being started if safety belts are not buckled; and three, prevent cars from being operated in far excess of the speed limit. Why don't we implement those simple technological fixes that would save tens of thousands of lives and hundreds of thousands of injuries each year? Because we…
CONAN: Another conversation for another day.
MR. BUCKMASTER: …because we respect people's freedoms and we don't want to go there. The harm potential is much less on the Internet and people are calling - there's no deaths directly attributable to the Internet, and yet we're rushing to put in Draconian measures. And I just think, let's hesitate before making that mistake.
CONAN: Jim Buckmaster, thanks for your time today.
MR. BUCKMASTER: Thanks.
CONAN: Jim Buckmaster, with us from KQED in San Francisco, the CEO of Craigslist.
This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.
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