THE BLOG

Killer Classifieds

05/04/2009 02:30 pm 14:30:37 | Updated May 25, 2011

Jim Buckmaster must think we're stupid. He's the C.E.O. of Craigslist the popular and controversial internet classified ad site. Faced with another major public relations disaster, this time the murder of a young woman who reportedly hooked up with her killer via Craigslist, all Buckmaster had to say was, "I would not describe any section of our site as 'sex related.'" He admits Craigslist does feature an "erotic services" section but, he says, it was not designed to offer more than "legitimate escort services, sensual massage or exotic dancers."

What does he think "erotic service" leads to - a game of paddy cake?

In case you've been on a different planet lately Craigslist is a worldwide internet site featuring millions of ads on everything from "Jobs, housing, goods, services, romance, local activities, advice - just about anything, really."

The most recent story has to do with the brutal beating and shooting death of 25 year old Julissa Brisman in a luxury Boston hotel room. That's where police say she met medical school student Phillip Markoff, now dubbed the Craigslist killer. At this writing Markoff is charged with Brisman's murder and is wanted in connection with the kidnapping and assault of at least two other women he met through the same site.

Let me set the record straight. Craigslist includes ads for sex, lots of ads for sex. So either Mr. Buckmaster doesn't know his own product or he's parsing words to an extent that would put Bill Clinton to shame. Besides the erotic services section there's a whole "Personals" section with subtitles such as: Women seek men, women seek women, men seeking men. Just what does Buckmaster think these people are seeking - a ping pong partner?

Suzy Spencer, a bestselling author who's researching a book on sexual trends in America, tells me the Craigslist "Casual Encounters" section is also sexually oriented. "It's where men and women go specifically to find partners for spur of the moment, no strings attached sex, not a date for dinner and a movie. I know. It's where I've found many of my (book's) sources, and they've told me in minute detail about the sex they had with partners they found via Craigslist."

Look, I'm not blaming Craigslist for this young woman's murder. But you'd think its corporate culture might include the acceptance of some responsibility, maybe even a public admission, that their site has been a facilitator for predators on the prowl. Supporters of the site have said it's actually a good thing Markoff turned to Craigslist because police were able to follow the computer clues right to his doorstep. I say there's never much good news when someone has been murdered.

The complaints about Craigslist and sex ads aren't new. Last year 40 State Attorneys General put pressure on the company and forced Craigslist to take steps to tone down its salacious postings. In March 2008 Craigslist began requiring all those who placed erotic ads to supply a telephone number, thinking that would be a deterrent. It wasn't. In November 2008 the company agreed to charge erotic service advertisers a small credit card fee which could go to identify them. Craigslist, then put in the uncomfortable position of both running and profiting from the erotic ads, declared the money would go to charities fighting human trafficking and child exploitation. That was nice.

Not much changed, however, as thousands of the scandalous ads continued to crop up on the site. Just last month Tom Dart, Sheriff of Cook County, Illinois filed a federal lawsuit against Craigslist or as he called it, "the largest source of prostitution in America."

A veteran social worker source of mine in Oakland, California agrees with the Sheriff. She says Craigslist continues to be a major path of income for young girls she works with. Some of them brag that they were as young as 12 when they began to tap Craigslist classifieds whenever they needed to make some cold hard cash. For the men who responded - that was felony statutory rape.

CEO Buckmaster insists most of his site's classifieds are for furniture, appliances, jobs and legitimate services. Only about, "one percent of ads posted on Craigslist are in the erotic services section," he says. So, a question. If they constitute that small a contribution to Craigslist and the site makes no money from them why not take the high road and refuse to run them? Who among us wouldn't applaud that course of action? Wouldn't that be a better public relations move than insisting Craigslist is not culpable in any way?

I wonder what Craig himself thinks about all this. Yes, the site's founder, Craig Newmark, still works there as its iconic head and customer service representative. I wonder if he's totally proud of what his corporate creation has become.

>Diane Dimond's weekly columns can be found on her web site www.DianeDimond.net Daily posts are found on www.TrueSlant.com/dianedimond