Sunday, April 26, 2009


I know that have talked about this a few times now, but given an ethics discussion had in my last Digi Comm class, I thought I needed to revisit the topic again, this time through a slightly different lens.

The recent "Craigslist Killer" case that makes headlines every day has given birth to legal issues for the site and renewed calls for Craigslist to remove its erotic services section. Craig Newmark, founder and CEO of Craigslist, however, has said that he will not remove this section. His argument is that the point of Craigslist, and indeed much of Web 2.0, is that it is what its users make it. And while it sets policies and removes illegal postings, he does not believe he should take it down, in the interest of the democratic nature of user-generated content. Many people agree, including Ken van Wyk, principal consultant at KRvW Associates LLC in Alexandria, VA. He claims that Craigslist and other sites like it are good for commerce and the open marketplace, and so long as it does not violate the law, it should be allowed to maintain its erotic services section. After all, stripping and massage are legal ventures.

Those on the other side claim that Craigslist's erotic section amounts to little more than an electronic pimp, and is the biggest prostitution ring in the country, which is definitely illegal. While it may seem very new-world in its nature, the arguments and debates raging around this are in fact quite old. It is the ageless debate of commerce vs. safely...where does one draw the line?

But I am more interested in the ethical debate that I see with respect to Craig Newmark. Should he feel ethically compelled to remove this section of Craigslist because he knows that it could be used for human sex trade, human trafficking and illegal prostitution, or is the need for an open, democratic online marketplace more important?

I am not so sure I would know what to do were I in his shoes. Adults are free to choose what they wish to do, and as the article quotes Mr. Newmark as saying, there are policies and safety tips in place to help ward off incidents like the one in Boston, which is the extreme case of wrongdoing in connection with this online service.

On the other hand, knowingly being a part of something that is illegal and has the potential to have serious collateral consequences (such as human trafficking) might be enough to push me to remove the services. It is difficult to boil down to an easy answer.

Perhaps one way Craigslist could help to cut down on the incidence of illegal activity, and keep the site and services sold there legitimate, is to mandate a registration process that is more thorough than what is currently required. Maybe for this particular section you would have to provide more information in order to ensure that the way you conduct yourself is above board. It seems to me that this would help to prevent human traffickers from using the site, and would almost certainly prevent against creeps like Mr. Markoff. Sure, this raises a more burdensome barrier to free trade for the users of this section of Craigslist, but clearly Mr. Newmark needs to do something. if not for a potentially pressing legal reason, than just for conscience sake.

1 comment:

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