Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan is leading the way in pushing for changes in the online site Craigslist to better allow for monitoring of potentially illegal behavior. On May 13, her office announced that the company has agreed to shut down its erotic services section and instead create an adult services section that allows for better tracking and monitoring of who places the ads, and what they say.
There have been two recent high-profile murders traced to people who used Craigslist, one involving New York gay radio journalist George Weber by a 16-year-old he met through the site ( John Katehis has confessed to the murder ) , and one involving Phillip Markoff, accused of killing Julissa Brisman, who advertised massage services.
In a November agreement reached with Madigan and 42 other attorneys general, Craigslist agreed to crackdown and monitor the section, but Madigan sent a letter in April saying the company was not following its agreement, including stronger screening.
The company said it will now manually review every ad posted in the new adult section and ban nude or graphic photos.
Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart sued Craigslist earlier this year saying it was facilitating prostitution. Law enforcement agencies across the country have been cracking down on the company, so this latest response is likely to fend off more lawsuits.
In the 1980s and 1990s, it was known that Chicago police used classified ads in Chicago gay newspapers to entrap men for solicitation, even those who were just trying to meet one another for casual sex or a relationship, not prostitution. In those cases, it was never even suggested that the newspapers themselves were part of the criminal transaction.
Civil libertarians and Craigslist, point out that crime will occur whether through an online or print ad, or a casual pickup at a bar. Such crimes include prostitution all the way to murder. Stopping the ease by which Craigslist allows such instances to occur will not stop the crimes themselves. After all, Jeffrey Dahmer, Larry Eyler and John Wayne Gacy did not need personal ads to do their crimes. And neither did Ted Bundy, Richard Speck, or myriad other killers from the past. "Stranger danger" is still the same as it was in decades past.
Craigslist has changed its policies, but it's unclear if the precedent being set could also impact other companies, including print newspapers, who take ads from the public for a wide range of services. Even the most innocuous ads, for example for a nanny, have resulted in crimes by luring people to unsafe situations. Will newspapers, both print and now online, be targeted next?