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South Carolina AG Threatens Criminal Charges Against Craigslist

Maybe threatens own political career instead

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Craigslist can’t win for losing, especially when it comes to grandstanding attorneys general who understand the value of a high profile crusade more than they do the law. The latest example comes out of South Carolina, where the attorney general has threatened criminal prosecution of craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster and founder Craig Newmark for displaying prostitution ads and “graphic pornographic material.”

Jim Buckmaster
Jim Buckmaster
craigslist.com

We’re guessing as opposed to “implicit” or “vague” pornographic material; score one for redundancy.

Score another for trumped up publicity hounding and complete ignorance of federal law; score a third for bloggers brash enough to use the phrase “incompetent media whore.”

Let’s back up. Last week, Buckmaster folded under the pressure of the national media hype machine and a gaggle of state attorneys general by announcing the closure of its “erotic services” section and the formation of a vaguer “adult services” section with higher listing fees, watered down language, and internal approval process. We have the translation of Buckmaster’s announcement for your reading pleasure.

Even the concessions Buckmaster made last week were generous and unnecessary; craigslist is protected from liability from third party postings under the Communications Decency Act, a fact numerous Internet lawyers pointed out. Even if state attorneys general had legal legs to stand on, which they didn’t, one would be hard pressed to identify the difference between craigslist and a number of other services, online and off, where prostitution listings are prevalent.

In short, craigslist quickly became a hot, recognizable target solely for political gain, and Buckmaster should have never given in. South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster, eyeing a run for governor, must have smelled craigslist blood in the water, issuing even more extreme verbiage:

Henry McMaster
Henry McMaster

“As of 5:00 p.m. this afternoon, the craigslist South Carolina site continues to display advertisements for prostitution and graphic pornographic material. This content was not removed as we requested. We have no alternative but to move forward with criminal investigation and potential prosecution.”

Never mind what, exactly, he would be prosecuting, unless he’d care to define “pornography” and illustrate somehow that craigslist was the sole resource for it on the Web available to South Carolinians, Buckmaster finally grows a set and gives McMaster what-for on the craigslist blog by listing other classifieds sites with 30 times the escort listings and far more explicit language, including:

  • Backpage.com’s adult entertainment section for Greenville, SC.
  • The print telephone yellow pages
  • Microsoft’s Live.com
  • Myrtle Beach escort ads on AT&T’s yellowpages.com

He forgot the sports section of the local newspaper. “Any interest in targeting them for criminal prosecution?” asks Buckmaster. “Didn’t think so.”

This is yet another reason online companies have to fight for their legal rights instead of bowing to external pressures, whether it’s Google against the AP and Viacom, or Craigslist against every politically-ambitious attorney general in the United States. Give an inch, they’ll take a mile for their own self-serving reasons. Also, if the big sites don’t fight for basic rights, what chance do smaller sites have?
 

South Carolina AG Threatens Criminal Charges Against Craigslist
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  • Joseph

    hEY HEY !!!

    Jayson!!

    Great Article,

    This whole thing is silly!
    Its getting rough !!

    Luv ya man!!

    Great writing!

    Joseph

  • Guest

    Hookers will always find a way to advertise on the internet. Most logical choice may be http://www.tugtest.com

  • http://www.cornerbrookclassifieds.ca Corner Brook Classifieds

    Why even bother?

    It makes no sense for legal action to be taken.