Back in May 2009, I wrote about how strange it was that state Attorney Generals would go through the effort to shut down erotic services related ads on Craigslist. At the time, I predicted the following fall-out:
1. People looking to sell themselves on Craigslist will shift to other categories, polluting non-sexual services classifieds categories with innuendo-laden ads.
2. Some sellers will shift to other sites that continue to provide a platform for erotic advertising, such as CityPages.com’s backpage.com site.
3. Non-Craigslist publishers will profit from the changes.
Which brings us to this story from August 2011 about a human trafficking arrest covered by the StarTribune where a local police sergeant explains the Craigslist fallout:
When Warren was arrested two years ago, Craigslist was a primary website for women offering sexual services and a bountiful target for investigators to cull juvenile and adult prostitution cases. Amid public pressure, the website shut down its adult services section last September, but that hasn’t slowed down online prostitution, law enforcement says.
“Now we see new websites pop up all the time,” said Sgt. John Bandemer, head of the Gerald Vick Human Trafficking Task Force. “We see the same girls posting an ad on four or five websites. It’s nearly impossible to keep track.”
The article goes on to mention that Craigslist tracked users, worked with law enforcement, and even sent an employee to testify in this case in Minnesota.
One of the witnesses called by the U.S. attorney’s office in Warren’s trial was Clint Powell, Craigslist’s head of customer service and law enforcement initiatives. Powell, who told Congress last year about actions Craigslist had taken to weed out and prevent adult services ads, was flown in from the company’s headquarters in San Francisco. He discussed how the website tracked people who post ads. After his testimony, he said he has been asked only a few times to testify in a criminal trial.
Looks like were have a situation where attorney generals managed to increase advertising costs for prostitutes, increase profits for less cooperative online properties, and increase the complexity of tracking crimes for law enforcement.
Back in 2009, I also mentioned that this would be good for Backpage.com, the classifieds site owned by Village Voice Media that powers the escort ads served by CityPages and similar sites around the country. Related to that, check out this Google Trends chart of the relative search volume for “Backpage” vs “Escorts” related search traffic.
It’s almost as if the term Backpage is to Escorts as Kleenex is to facial tissue.