Craigslist Censors Its 'Adult Services' Listings: Refunds on the Way?

Craigslist has censored its adult-services listings after several state attorney generals asked it to move remove them.Sex sells, censorship doesn't. That's what Craigslist is learning after it blocked access to its controversial "adult services" listings late last week.

The move came two weeks after attorneys general from 17 states called on the online classified ads giant to yank the racy listings from its site. The online classified ads giant, instead, plastered a black and white "censored" sign over its "adult services" listing and blocked access to the listings.

And now, according to legal experts, Craigslist is likely on the hook to refund the money back to all those folks who paid $10 a pop to post their racy advertisements or $5 each for a re-posting, according to its terms-of-use agreement.

Refunds Coming?

Under the agreement, fees are not refunded if an ad is removed for violating the terms of use. In this particular case, however, Craigslist hasn't said it has deemed the ads to be in violation of its terms of use, nor has it removed them. Instead, it has blocked access to those listings, which has the same effect as if it had removed them.

"It'll be hard for them to keep the money," says Laurence Pulgram, an attorney with Fenwick & West. Last year, Craigslist pulled in an estimated $100 million in revenues for its entire site, including adult-services listings.

Even though there are usually some limitations on when services like Craigslist are required to issue refunds, advertisers generally get a refund if an ad doesn't run, says Damon Dunn, an attorney with Funkhouser, Vegosen, Liebman & Dunn.

Craigslist was not immediately available for comment and has not said why it decided to post a censored sign on the adult-services listings instead of removing them all together.

Advantages of Censorship

But while Craigslist's strategy may cut it out of a tidy sum of revenues, attorneys say the censorship block gives it two principal advantages: It allows Craigslist to protest the demands of the attorneys generals and buys them more time to consider their options.

Rather than remove all the "adult services" listings, Craigslist is putting them on ice until it determines whether it needs to remove them permanently, revise the way it handles them, or come to some middle ground with the states' enforcement cops.

The move marks the second time its responded to pressure from law enforcement over the red light district on its site. Last year, the online classifieds titan did away with its "erotic services" listings, but installed "adult services" in their place. Craigslist began charging for the listings and said it planned to closely monitor them.

In a joint-letter signed last month by attorneys generals from 17 states, the multi-state task force had this to say about the adult-services monitoring:
Your much-touted "manual review" of the Adult Services ads has failed to yield any discernible reduction in obvious solicitations. We recognize that Craigslist may lose the considerable revenue generated by the Adult Services ads. No amount of money can justify the scourge of illegal prostitution, and the suffering of the woman and children who will continue to be victimized, in the market and trafficking provided by Craigslist.
Censorship Wins Approval from AGs

A week before the attorneys general sent their joint-letter last month, Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster noted in a blog post that Craigslist manually reviews each ad in the "adult services" listings by an attorney trained to enforce Craigslist posting guidelines. He added that the guidelines are more rigorous than those commonly found in newspapers and yellow pages and resulted in more than 700,000 ads being rejected.

Despite the changes in how it handles sex-related listings in the U.S., the privately held company continues to use its "exotic services" label in other countries, including Canada. In Canada, Craigslist also posts no warnings that the exotic services postings will be manually screened, leaving one to assume it isn't happening there.

Nonetheless, Buckmaster, who chided other companies for not taking similar steps in monitoring their sites for prostitution and trafficking of children, said in his blog that Craigslist "is committed to being socially responsible, and when it comes to adult services ads, that includes aggressively combating violent crime and human rights violations, including human trafficking and the exploitation of minors."

The attorneys general apparently applauded the move by Craigslist to censor its adult services. According to a report in the Chicago Blog Network, Cara Smith, deputy chief to the Illinois' attorney general, said she appreciated the steps Craigslist has taken.

Increase your money and finance knowledge from home

Economics 101

Intro to economics. But fun.

View Course »

Finding Stock Ideas

Learn to do your research and find investments.

View Course »

Add a Comment

*0 / 3000 Character Maximum

15 Comments

Filter by:
rajudesaiusa

Hello AG's, Wake up. All the Craigslist ads have been moved to www.backpage.com. Same ads and same players. Moved from McDoanld's to BurgerKing. Check out that site under Escorts and other categories. Just a public service coment!!

September 08 2010 at 1:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
tgarcia201

Yikes..We can't control our borders but certainy do a hell of a job at preying on poor hookers

September 08 2010 at 1:14 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
jkelnjshor

This is bulls!@t how long dis crap been out there??Look hooker's are gettin plump 'cause they not walkin' da street.Glad dis is gone I know not for good but at least for the time being da "girls" will be gettin' some vertical exercise.Protect U'r childern keep this shut down!!

September 08 2010 at 12:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
NO1CHEF99

Hey AG's you did not stop a darn thing all they did was move their ads to a different section of CL ! We the honest people how like to use CL would like to take this chance to thank you fo screwing up the rest of the site, now incase you have not noticed you can not tell who you are naking contact with - if they are a person - a provider - selling sex - or just plain selling a real item in "household goods". Don't believe me just look through the ads that have appeard in the last 5 days and try and figure out which is which!

September 08 2010 at 11:21 AM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply
uspimain

In Tampa Florida it is rampent and all other major cities targeting professional business men......they use backpage.com criagslist (now censored) and many other sites adultsearch.com the police need to do their job and STOP it

September 08 2010 at 10:36 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
uspimain

The police need to do better enforcement and stop taking payoffs....

September 08 2010 at 10:35 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
uspimain

How about backpage.com they are doing the same thing

September 08 2010 at 10:34 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
uspimain

How about backpage.com they do the same thing time to shut them all down. You even have chinese spas setting up everywhere.

September 08 2010 at 10:34 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
Michael

It is a true shame that the CEO of Craig's List, Buckmaster, did not have the internal fortitude and strength of committment to those Americans who use their site to defy the socialist agenda of this colaboration of Attorney Generals and stand with the 1st Amendment behind him. While any child porn ads and trafficing in children should by all means be thwarted and expunged, what takes place between consenting adults, on the other hand, is their own business. It seems that the Attorney Generals ot these 17 states want Craig's List personnel to do their job for them and police the activities of those legally using their site.

September 08 2010 at 10:14 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Michael

It is a true shame that the CEO of Craig's List, Buckmaster, did not have the internal fortitude and strength of committment to those Americans who use their site to defy the socialist agenda of this colaboration of Attorney Generals and stand with the 1st Amendment behind him. While any child porn ads and trafficing in children should by all means be thwarted and expunged, what takes place between consenting adults, on the other hand, is their own business. It seems that the Attorney Generals ot these 17 states want Craig's List personnel to do their job for them and police the activities of those legally using their site.

September 08 2010 at 10:14 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply