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US Attorneys Discuss Ad Concerns With Craigslist

May 6, 2009

Attorneys from the online advertising site Craigslist met with attorneys general from New York, Connecticut, Illinois and Missouri on Tuesday to begin discussions on whether the online advertisement host will begin blocking the “erotic services” section of its website.

The company has been the focus of much media attention and public unease in recent months since a number of recent high-profile murders have been connected with the sites online advertising services.

State officials are requesting a change of rules for the 14-year-old cyber flea-market that manages more than 20 billion hits a month from 50 different countries with a staff of just 28 people.

The popular site has been caught up in a media frenzy since the April murder of 26-year-old Boston masseuse Julissa Brisman who had advertised her services through Craigslist.

The 23-year-old medical student Philip Markoff ““ now dubbed the “Craigslist killer ““ has been charged with the murder and has also been implicated in the battery and robbery of a Rhode Island woman.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan has called on Craigslist executives to do away with the “erotic services” section of the website, which claims “is nothing more than an internet brothel.”  She added, “[h]opefully they will recognize the problem, and they claim to.”

Missouri attorney general Chris Kostner agreed with Madigan in criticizing Craigslist’s hitherto permissive stance towards ostensible online prostitution, saying, “It is blatant.  It is irresponsible.  It is illegal.”

“Craigslist is responsible for the types of advertisements it allows, and it is imperative that Craigslist agree to tougher restrictions and to remove ads for illegal activities from its site,” added Kostner.

Still, the website’s lawyers have argued that U.S. law protects website hosts from being responsible for user-posted content.

In an official statement, the company’s CEO expressed confidence that the problems could be resolved “while preserving the beneficial aspects of Craigslist”¦without compromising the quintessentially American values of free speech embodied in our Constitution.”

Craigslist attorneys also mentioned that recently introduced requirements for credit card information and phone numbers from people looking to post ads on the company’s website has brought a drastic reduction in the number of erotic advertisements posted each month.

Nevertheless, Madigan contended that some 400 to 500 prostitution ads are posted daily in her home city of Chicago.

“It’s got to change, and whether they find a way to do that voluntarily, great,” she said.  “If they don’t, I believe you’re going to see a whole series of lawsuits against them.”

New York journalist George Weber was stabbed to death earlier this year after setting up a meeting with his accused killer through a personal ad on Craigslist.  A Minnesota man has also been convicted of killing a woman who answered his posting for a babysitting ad on the website.

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