This post is a response to GEMS founder Rachel Lloyd's blog post: "An Open Letter to Jim Buckmaster." Read the original post.
I vividly recall meeting with Rachel Lloyd. Thanks to her story (and others I've been privileged to hear) we've vastly improved our approach to the point where an adult service ad submitted to craigslist today relating to an underage person like "Bethany" would be rejected by our reviewers, with an immediate report submitted to law enforcement, allowing the victim to be rescued, and the perpetrator to be removed from society.
Human trafficking and child exploitation are utterly despicable and horrendous crimes, absolutely beyond the pale. While quite rare on craigslist, any ad on our site in facilitation of such an unspeakable crime is completely unacceptable, and we will continue to work tirelessly with law enforcement to ensure that any such victim receives the assistance they deserve and that anyone committing such a crime is imprisoned.
Craig Newmark and I have been called communists and socialists for putting community ahead of financial considerations. After 15 years of focusing on public service, 50 million now rely on craigslist each month for their everyday needs. To the eternal amazement of financial analysts we have never sought to maximize our personal gain. Not because we're saints, but because valuing service over money is more fulfilling and enjoyable, and has always felt like the right thing to do.
If we for one moment believed our labor of love was increasing the incidence of such a heinous crime or was contributing to the suffering of its victims, we would indeed have trouble sleeping. We have been accused of many things over our 15 year history, but having no conscience is not one of them. Viewed in light of our 15 year history, is it even plausible that we would be defending the approach we have taken, in the face of the sustained demonization of our efforts that is occurring, if we did not believe we were doing the right thing?
To the contrary, we are convinced craigslist is a vital part of the solution to this age old scourge. We've been told as much by experts on the front lines of this fight, many of whom we have met with in person, and many of whom have shared very helpful suggestions that we have incorporated in our approach. Even politicians looking to make their careers at the expense of craigslist's good name grudgingly admit (when pressed) that we have made huge strides.
To our knowledge, only craigslist, out of countless venues, takes any of the following measures, let alone all of them:
* educating and encouraging users to report trafficking/exploitation
* prominently featuring a directory of trafficking/exploitation resources
* providing specialized anti-trafficking tools for law enforcement
* providing support for law enforcement anti-crime sweeps and stings
* actively participating in NCMEC's cybertipline program
* leading all awareness efforts for the National Trafficking Hotline
* meeting regularly with experts at nonprofits and in law enforcement
* manually reviewing every adult service ad submitted
* requiring phone verification for every adult service ad
* implementing the PICS content labeling system
What these measures mean in practice is that criminals foolish enough to place ads on CL relating to trafficking and exploitation are caught by law enforcement, with lots of assistance from craigslist -- hence the arrests you hear about.
Last year, when we began manual screening of adult services ads, those unwilling to subject themselves to craigslist's standards left in droves for the numerous venues which do not monitor ads. This migration is a matter of public record. You do not hear about arrests connected to the vast majority of adult services advertising because those venues do not cooperate with law enforcement, and do not urge their users to be on the lookout for and report suspected trafficking and exploitation.
For the sake of rescuing victims and prosecuting criminals, is it really a good idea to eliminate the only venue for adult service ads that is highly responsive to law enforcement? The only venue that seeks out nonprofit groups and readily adopts their suggestions? Would it not be a step backward to confine adult ads to venues that don't cooperate with law enforcement, that don't care what advocacy groups and nonprofits have to say? Quite a few concerned parties, including front line workers in this field, have told us it would.
craigslist started charging for "erotic services" at the repeated request of law enforcement, some of whom suggested fees of $100 or more. It was our idea to pledge net revenues to charity, an unprecedented pledge that no phone company or newspaper featuring adult ads ever took, and one which subjected us to significant state by-state regulatory burdens. This pledge was met with accusations of dishonesty, and ridicule that we thought any charity would want our "tainted" money. Can anyone blame us for announcing in May 2009 we would not repeat this pledge with adult services? As was made clear a year ago, craigslist will continue to engage in charitable giving, privately, and as it sees fit.
As to the quote from my earlier blog entry cited by Ms Lloyd, describing a "cynical misuse of a cause as important as human trafficking as a pretense for imposing one's own flavor of religious morality" -- how should we interpret a fundamentalist twitter campaign citing human trafficking as a reason for shutting down all of the craigslist personals categories, which together make up by far the most used personals service in the world? Surely a more constructive approach can be found than demonizing tens of millions of users of craigslist personals users, and effectively trivializing the suffering of actual trafficking victims.
In serving our users and the public as best we can, craigslist has to balance an immense amount of passionate and often conflicting feedback, and at the end of the day do what our consciences tell us is right. Certainly the adult services arena has exemplified that. And while there are no perfect solutions to difficult societal problems, craigslist is indisputably the "corporate responsibility" leader among the countless companies large and small that offer adult services ads. We will not rest on our laurels however, and are committed to doing even better.
craigslist has come a long way since I met with Ms Lloyd by video in 2008. I invite her to come and meet with me in person, as so many other experts in this field have done, to learn more about our approach, and help us make further improvements. That's how we've come this far, and it is our belief that by continuing to work together we will ultimately reach the goals all people of conscience share.