Craigslist Really Did Have a Problem

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about Craigslist after watching a video interview with Buckmaster and Newmark that perfectly encapsulated why some CEOs should stay away from the TV cameras.

My thesis was that while Craigslist was being unfairly painted as a menace to public safety (we’ve all heard of the “Craigslist Killer”) the fact remained that they had a serious problem brewing in their erotic services ad category. In the process of exposing Craigslist, likely in an effort to humanize them and deflect the mounting criticism, the effect was quite the opposite as Newmark and Buckmaster came across as strangely detached from the human ugliness that was playing out in real time on Craigslist and the news media.

Basically I said that they have a real problem and it needs to be dealt with aggressively rather than relying on tried-and-true “community solutions” strategy that has served the company well over the years.

Craigslist’s defenders, and there are many I learned, rely on three primary arguments: Craigslist) prostitution should not be illegal, 2) Craigslist can’t control what is posted and should not be held legally responsible or legally can’t because of provision protecting online services in federal law and 3) they already are taking all of the reasonable actions available to them to take down advertisements for paid sex services.

On the first argument, well all I can say is that prostitution is illegal so it’s rather silly to argue an affirmative defense on the basis of what one believes as opposed to what is the law. More importantly, human trafficking and exploitation is an affront to any civilized society and worthy of universal condemnation.

Craigslist accepts money for erotic services ads and there is an obvious proliferation of these ads in the erotics services category, therefore it could reasonably be argued that Craigslist was in fact profiting from illegal activity, which is well understood in the eyes of the law to be a aiding and abetting as a consequence of financially benefiting, having knowledge and awareness of the acts in general, and by nature of service they are providing assistance and support. If Craigslist added a section tomorrow titled “stolen property” we would not even be having this debate, and the argument that they can’t control what is posted rings hollow when they have already addressed the issue with a takedown process, so in effect they are acknowledging that they can control what is posted.

As for the third defense, sometimes simple observation is an effective instrument for fact finding and all I can really say is that you would have to be a complete idiot to not figure out that the majority of ads in erotic services are for prostitution. It doesn’t take an NSA code breaker to determine that “200 diamonds an hour, 120 for half” and” $100 donation for each hour” are advertisements for prostitution, especially when accompanied by an appropriately suggestive picture.

After mounting pressure from Attorneys General in Illinois and Connecticut (both Democrats by the way as is the AG in Missouri so don’t even think about trotting out the tired GOP and morals police argument) Craigslist is apparently reversing position on erotic services and taking down the section, replacing it with something that editors will review, apparently more strenuously than erotic services today.

Both Blumenthal (CT) and Madigan (IL) are shameless self promoters, it’s been said of Blumenthal that “the most dangerous place in Connecticut is between Dick Blumenthal and a TV camera,” but that doesn’t detract from the facts in this case nor the apparent culpability of Craigslist, which is apparent if for no other reason than Craigslist abruptly changed course on the issue after weeks of denials that erotic services would be dropped. Newmark and Buckmaster must have believed that there was a reasonable probability for legal action if they stayed the course, a development which could potentially threaten their entire business.

Craigslist issued a statement late this afternoon that was interesting if for no other reason than it contained a hell of a lot more than a simple confirmation of the plan to drop erotic services. What was striking was their assertion that Craigslist is safer than “American society as a whole”.

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.  

I guess it would be hard to dispute this because nobody, that I am aware of, has taken on the task of compiling violent crime statistics pertaining to Craigslist (or property crime despite the first recommendation from police when you are a victim of theft is to “check for it on Craigslist”). Having said that, I don’t quite know what to make of this statement… the fact that they are defending the service as having lower rates of crime still associates them with criminal activity, by their own admission!

Last week Newmark gave what can only be described as an emotional address (remember we’re talking about Newmark, “emotional” is relative) at the memorial for Katherine Olson, who was murdered as a result of an ad she responded to on Craigslist, and earned goodwill across the board in the process. Now it sounds like they are trying to say they are being victimized at the hands of a media inspired witch hunt. I don’t know what’s wrong with these guys but they should stop digging… just stop.

A Shadow of Its Former Self

I’m not smart enough to add anything to what El-Erian wrote, which is a sobering read but exactly the kind of informed debate that should be dominating public policy discussion instead of populism fueled cover-my-ass soundbites politicians in Washington and every state capital are broadcasting.

For the next 3–5 years, we expect a world of muted growth, in the context of a continuing shift away from the G-3 and toward the systemically important emerging economies, led by China. It is a world where the public sector overstays as a provider of goods that belong in the private sector. (As one of our speakers put it, we have transitioned from a world where the private sector provided public goods to one where the public sector provides private goods.) It is also a world in which central banks and treasuries will find it difficult to undo smoothly some of the recent emergency steps. This is particularly consequential in countries, such as the U.K. and U.S., where many short-term policy imperatives materially conflict with medium-term ones.

The banking system will be a shadow of its former self. With regulation more expansive in form and reach, the sector will be de-risked, de-levered, and subject to greater burden sharing. The forces of consolidation and shrinkage will spread beyond banks, impacting a host of non-bank financial institutions as well as the investment management industry.

How does inflation behave in the new normal? For now, it is hard to project any imminent pickup in inflation given the severity of the collapse in global demand and the resulting large output gap. Private components of global demand will not recover quickly and fully. Yet, one should not fixate just on demand when transitioning from a cyclical to a secular mindset. Supply also matters.

[From PIMCO – Secular Outlook May 2009 El-Erian]

#fixreplies: What Twitter Did to @replies is Stupid

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase

Top trending topic on Twitter is #fixreplies in response to the “small settings update” that they instituted yesterday afternoon.

We’ve updated the Notices section of Settings to better reflect how folks are using Twitter regarding replies. Based on usage patterns and feedback, we’ve learned most people want to see when someone they follow replies to another person they follow—it’s a good way to stay in the loop. However, receiving one-sided fragments via replies sent to folks you don’t follow in your timeline is undesirable. Today’s update removes this undesirable and confusing option.

The community is speaking and they don’t like it. Marshall summed up nicely why this is a stupid change.

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