Craigslist's Erotic Ads Make The Internet an Even Vaster Wasteland

Editor's note: In this post, blogger David Coursey offers his personal view of the ongoing Craigslist controversy. For the opposing view, see Brennon Slattery's Craigslist is No Pimp: Keep the Erotic Ads.

If Craigslist is prosecuted for promoting prostitution, the company will be getting just what it deserves and the Internet may improve as a result.

Founded and based in San Francisco, where it originally operated only locally, Craiglslist has spread across the country, bringing easy-access, pay-for-play to communities where they clearly are not welcome.

That explains why, in addition to a Chicago's Cook County Sherrif's Department, South Carolina's Attorney General has threatened the company with prosecution if it does not remove the ads by May 15. Attorney General Henry McMaster says Craigslist has not done enough to remove illegal sex ads, despite an agreement reached with 43 state attorneys general last November.

McMaster is among a handful of state attorneys general that are still pursuing the wildly popular online bazaar.

Prostitution is not the only "real world" problem that has infected Craigslist. The ongoing case of the "Craigslist Killer" has also tainted the online service's reputation, as have ongoing complaints about rip-offs of unwary users.

Online services have for too long hidden themselves behind "freedom of speech" and court rulings that relieve them of responsibility for information posted on their systems by users.

I believe that Internet companies need to become responsible for the content they inflict on users and the communities in which they reside. If they fail to do so, the Internet cannot possibly reach its full potential as a positive part of people's lives.

Years ago, I gave a talk that warned a group of parents "if you think television is good for your kids, you're doing to love what the Internet is going to do to them."

Along that line, my friend, the futurist Paul Saffo, recently wrote a column comparing the development of the Internet to FCC Chairman Newton Minow's 1960's assessment of television as a "vast wasteland."

Saffo says that cyberspace may be doomed to become an even "vaster wasteland" than television, largely due to the actions of cable companies and other media giants seeking to protect themselves against threats to their existing businesses from the Internet. Think of Time Warner as an example of this.

I think the actions of content companies, like Craigslist, will also play a role in stifling the Internet's potential.

It was not so long about that we spoke of the Internet in grand, visionary terms. However, those have given way to the dark realization that all the bad that happens in the world can come into our homes over the Internet.

Craigslist is not alone in this, but the company is a major distributor of advertising for illegal activities and frauds. As one of the Internet's most-visited sites, Craigslist needs to do more to be a good citizen.

If it chooses not to do so, I will not cry when authorities make Craigslist an example of what happens when an online company refuses to deal with the problems it helps create.

Perhaps, that it what it will take for online companies to realize they have a responsibility for what happens in the offline world.

David Coursey tweets as dcoursey and can be emailed using the form at coursey.com/contact.

Disagree with David? So does Brennon Slattery. Read his opposing view: Craigslist is No Pimp: Keep the Erotic Ads.

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