The continuing saga of Craigslist vs. the state attorneys general took another turn, with South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster contending that the continued presence of ads for "erotic services" on the site constituted a criminal violation for which Craigslist management was personally responsible, and with Craigslist management firing back with a list of all the other places in which such ads could be found and asking whether McMaster was prepared to arrest them all too.
Late last year, Craigslist came to an agreement with 40 attorneys general -- including McMaster -- to help reduce prostitution on the site. In March, 2008, the organization implemented a telephone verification system for the "erotic services" section of the site, requiring a working phone number for advertisers, and enabling blacklisting of phone numbers for those who post inappropriate ads. Phone verification resulted in an 80% reduction in ad volume, and significantly increased compliance with site guidelines, Craigslist said.
In addition, Craigslist began requiring credit card verification and a small fee per ad for posting in "erotic services," to further encourage compliance with site guidelines, removing paid ads that violated site guidelines.
After the murder of an erotic masseuse allegedly committed by Phillip Markoff, which became known as the "Craigslist murder" because he had reportedly found his victim there, the site at first refused to shut down the erotic services section, and capitulated last week.
But that wasn't enough for McMaster, who is thought to be preparing a run for governor of South Carolina. "As of 5:00 p.m. this afternoon, the craigslist South Carolina site continues to display advertisements for prostitution and graphic pornographic material. This content was not removed as we requested. We have no alternative but to move forward with criminal investigation and potential prosecution."
At this point, Craigslist took the offensive. "The craigslist adult services section for Greenville, SC has a total of 1 ad for the last 3 days, featuring a photograph of a fully clothed person. The “erotic services” section for Greenville, which we recently closed, has 8 ads total which will expire in two days, and even for these ads the images and text are quite tame."
Meanwhile, the company went on to say, the “adult entertainment” section of greenville.backpage.com, (to which it provided a link it warned was "not safe for work") owned by Village Voice Media, had more than 60 ads in the the last 3 days, and about 250 in total. "In sharp contrast with craigslist, many of these ads are quite explicit, quoting prices for specific sex acts, featuring close-ups of bare genitalia, etc.," Craigslist said, going on to cite the area's yellow pages phone directory, Microsoft's live.com directory, AT&T's yellowpages.com directory, and print media as having even more ads.
"Are you really prepared to condemn the executives of each of the mainstream companies linked above...as criminals?" blasted an entry in the Craigslist blog written by Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster. "[M]ightn’t you want an endorsement from any of the SC newspapers for your gubernatorial campaign, whose publishers you’ve just labeled as criminals? Do you really intend to launch a criminal investigation against the phone company? What about potential new jobs connected to big data center buildouts in SC by Internet companies? Are you *sure* you want to prosecute all of their CEOs as criminals?"
As of yet, McMaster has not responded.