Craigslist shuts its 'Internet brothel.' Will it matter?

Illustration by Jake Turcotte
Craigslist has agreed to remove its 'erotic services' category. But how long will it take for the sex industry to build a better mousetrap?

Under heavy fire from critics across the country, the classified advertising site Craigslist today announced it would shutter its "erotic services" category. In a statement, a Craigslist spokesman sought to play down "the sensationalistic journalism we've seen these past few weeks" – a reference to the furor surrounding the capture of the so-called "Craigslist killer." The statement went on to assert 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."

Still, the company said it would remove the "erotic services" category within seven days:

Effective today for all US sites, a new category entitled "adult services" will be opened for postings by legal adult service providers. Each posting to this new category will be manually reviewed before appearing on the site, to ensure compliance with craigslist posting guidelines and terms of use. New postings will cost $10, but once approved, will be eligible for reposting at $5.

The announcement was lauded in law enforcement circles. Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who met with the Craigslist team in New York recently, and has called the site a "blatant Internet brothel," said that, "Craigslist is heeding our clear call for conscience and common sense, sending a strong signal that Internet sites must police themselves to protect others."

Now what?

But the closing of the "erotic services" category is not the end of Craigslist's adult content. The site will now switch to an "adult services" vertical, which will be policed by a team of Craigslist employees. As Gawker and others have noted, of course, this is a tricky proposition – even a large team of specially-trained spotters will have a tough time keeping up with the questionable material which will undoubtedly flood the site. Over at Missouri's Riverfront Times, Nick Lucchesi writes:

Like any tool, Craigslist can be used to help or to hurt; turning CL employees into monitors is like telling everyone to play nice on the Internet... those johns and ladies will likely just go somewhere else to arrange hook-ups.

Everywhere, all the time

Even according to conservative estimates, sex and adult entertainment represents a huge swath of overall Internet usage across the globe. (On Craigslist, for instance, the "erotic services" vertical was once the biggest draw for visitors of the site, according to some estimates.) When Craigslist starts policing this content, will the sex industry build a better mousetrap?

Consider this: In April, as law enforcement began to put pressure on Craigslist, the Sun newspaper in England reported that one local brothel had moved its services onto Twitter.

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