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Under legal pressure, Craigslist to kill Erotic Services ads

CEO says ads in new Adult Services category will be manually reviewed before posting

May 13, 2009 01:50 PM ET

Computerworld - Submitting to mounting legal pressure, Craigslist Inc. announced this afternoon that it will remove the Erotic Services category from its classified advertising Web site within seven days.

The move comes just two and a half weeks after Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster told Computerworld that the company had no intention of removing the Erotic Services category from the Craigslist site.

The company also announced today that while it's taking down the Erotic Services category, it will be launching a new category called Adult Services. Each posting to this new category will be manually reviewed before it appears on the Web site, which runs classified advertisements for everything from bicycles to lawn mowers.

"Unsurprisingly, but completely contrary to some of the sensationalistic journalism we've seen these past few weeks, the record is clear that use of Craigslist classifieds is associated with far lower rates of violent crime than print classifieds, let alone rates of violent crime pertaining to American society as a whole," said Buckmaster in a blog post today. "We are optimistic that the new balance struck today will be an acceptable compromise from the perspective of the constituencies, and for the diverse U.S. communities that value and rely upon Craigslist."

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who has been vocal in his criticism of Craigslist -- going so far as to call it an "online brothel" -- applauded the company's decision to remove the Erotic Services category.

"Craigslist is heeding our clear call for conscience and common sense, sending a strong signal that Internet sites must police themselves to protect others," said Blumenthal in a statement. "We will be monitoring closely to make sure that this measure is more than a name change from 'erotic' to 'adult' and that the manual blocking is tough and effective to scrub prostitution and pornography. Our continuing investigation will assure that these steps are substance, not just spin, and that Craigslist really shuts down its open online red light district."

The move to nix the Erotic Services category from its Web site comes just a week after Craigslist was pummeled by one state attorney general after another.

On Tuesday, May 5, Craigslist officials were called to a meeting with attorneys general from Missouri, Connecticut and Illinois to discuss the questionable ads. That same day, South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster issued Craigslist an ultimatum: Pull graphic pornographic material and prostitution ads from the site or face prosecution.

McMaster sent a letter to Buckmaster, saying that the company had not installed sufficient safeguards to keep its site from being used as a "vehicle to advertise or solicit prostitution." McMaster added that he was concerned about the easy accessibility of "graphic pornographic pictures" on the site.

McMaster could not be reached for comment on today's Craigslist announcement.

The Erotic Services category on Craigslist has been under scrutiny since Boston University medical student Philip Markoff was arrested and arraigned last month for allegedly murdering one woman and kidnapping and assaulting another after meeting both of them through erotic services ads on Craigslist.

Last week, Markoff also was charged with assault and weapons charges for allegedly using a gun to threaten a woman in a Rhode Island hotel on April 16. The woman told police that she had met her assailant through an advertisement on Craigslist.

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