Abstract: A Cesspool of Crime and ''Robbery by Appointment'': Craigslist and the Ethics of Internet Advertisements

Jo Ann Oravec


Many individuals utilize the Internet in the pursuit of activities that are morally questionable and possibly illegal as well. The activities may be as innocuous as exchanging nude photos with a loved one or as treacherous as sex trafficking or even murder. This presentation focuses on how Craigslist and related Internet platforms are construed in their roles in facilitation of such activities, providing a compendium of cases along with legal decisions. It addresses some of the decisions and pronouncements of Craig Newmark, the founder of Craigslist, concerning the role of that website in such activities. Newmark has been battered with an assortment of questions and taunts about Craigslist, including one that stated that Craigslist was in danger of becoming the ''Walmart of sex trafficking.'' Newmark's responses to the criticisms of and legal attacks on Craigslist have provided a template for other Internet figures who encountered subsequent confrontations. The presentation discusses how the social responsibilities of online service providers in relation to the various activities of their participants have been framed, describing how these obligations are constructed by some of the service providers themselves as well as in public discourse. It contrasts the approach of providing a transparent public marketplace for the advertisement of legally and ethically problematic services with strategies that potentially could drive such solicitations underground or place them even more firmly in the hands of exploiters and opportunists.