The Mounties and the “bullying busybodies.”

142_HollisStreet_SouthOfSalter - 550

This week, Craigslist, the online classified ad service,  shuttered the erotic services sections of its US websites, replacing them with a black banner reading, “Censored.” Canadian Press reports that the RCMP want Craigslist’s Canadian section to follow suit, and block access to its adult services section.

If the Mounties get their way, the main result will be more suffering by vulnerable women. Some prostitutes will be forced back onto the streets; more will be deprived of a way to screen potential clients in their dicey occupation. The one thing that won’t stop is prostitution.

I can’t put this better than a recent post by Jacob Sullum at

Armed with nothing but sternly worded letters, indignant press releases, and a seemingly inexhaustible store of self-righteousness, [Connecticut Attorney General and US Senatorial candidate Richard] Blumenthal played a key role in pressuring Craigslist to shut down its “adult services” section, which he called a “blatant Internet brothel.”…

Although fighting prostitution is not part of Blumenthal’s portfolio as attorney general, it is part of his campaign for the U.S. Senate, in which he portrays himself as a crusader who is unafraid to challenge “the biggest special interests.” With an estimated $122 million in revenue this year, Craigslist is not all that big, but it dominates the online classified ad business and runs one of the country’s most popular websites.

Conflating prostitution with slavery and child rape, Blumenthal accused Craigslist of profiting from horrendous crimes. “We recognize that craigslist may lose the considerable revenue generated by the Adult Services ads” if it closes the section, Blumenthal and 16 other state attorneys general wrote in an August 24 letter to the company. “No amount of money, however, can justify the scourge of illegal prostitution, and the suffering of the women and children who will continue to be victimized, in the market and trafficking provided by craigslist.”

Blumenthal ignores both the law’s role in fostering coercion and violence by driving the business underground and the protection that services like Craigslist can provide by allowing prostitutes to screen customers and avoid walking the streets. But to fully appreciate the audacity of his charge that money blinded Craigslist to the suffering of sex slaves, note that the company started charging for adult service ads in 2008 at the behest of law enforcement officials. The idea was that fees would thin the section, while requiring a credit card and a valid phone number would deter criminal activity.

Craigslist also hired dozens of lawyers to screen ads for compliance with the company’s terms of use, which prohibit “offer or solicitation of illegal prostitution.” Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster reportsthat “more than 700,000 ads were rejected by those attorneys in the year following implementation of manual screening” in May 2009, while Village Voice Media’s (where the ads are far more explicit) saw a big increase in business….

As an “interactive computer service,” Craigslist had no obligation to screen ads; under federal law, posters are exclusively responsible for such content. By taking precautions that were bound to be less than completely effective, the company invited further demands from bullying busybodies like Blumenthal, who deemed last week’s capitulation merely a “step in the right direction.”

Hat tip: Daily Dish. Image: 142 Hollis St. South of Salter, by Donald Cameron MacKay, 1929, via the Dalhousie University archives. Disclosure: Many years ago, I worked on a college newspaper with Blumenthal. Funny, I don’t recall him being such a horse’s ass back then.