Craigslist Concentrates Crime for Cops

Mike Masnick has a piece up on Techdirt talking about the ridiculousness of the 17 state attorney generals who are attempting to shut down Craiglist’s Adult Services category. Masnick’s take on this is that law enforcement officials that are interested in actually preventing crimes should use Craigslist to their advantage rather than push Craigslist’s advertisers to other advertising platforms that may be less cooperative with law enforcement.

The theory here is that Craigslist concentrates advertising for criminal acts. Rather than have to seek out criminals, Craigslist does a fine job of corralling a large segment of advertisements for illegal services on their website. If law enforcement wanted to crack down on crime, they could:

1. Contact the site’s advertisers and arrest people who are committing illegal acts.

2. Contact Craigslist and ask them for contact information of advertisers .

3. Post ads to the site, telling advertisers that they’re being watched and providing a number they can use if they’re interested in getting out of the business.

I’m sure there are other things that would work too, if the goal was to solve a problem.

However, what the 17 state AGs are doing instead is attempting to shut that section of the site down. Does anyone believe that will somehow stop crime? Clearly, that’s just a losing game of whack-a-mole since the web’s site is infinite.

As I think about this, I think the problem here (beyond AGs bloviating for press) is the application of offline solutions to online problems. If a particular corner or street is notorious for prostitution, a crackdown on that street can, indeed, solve that street’s problem, and cities tend to have a finite number of streets where streetwalking prostitution has any chance of cropping up, so the problem really can be solved with this tactic. Of course, it really just pushes it to other advertising venues, but it does solve a street level qualify of life problem for people living in the certain neighborhoods.

Online, that simply will not work. There are an infinite number of streets and corners on the web, so there is no chance of winning by shutting down the one that happens to be the most popular today. Worst case scenarios include pushing advertising from a law enforcement cooperative Craigslist over to a site hosted outside the United States.

One positive here is that Minnesota’s AG, Lori Swanson, has not joined this Craigslist bashing game. I hope Swanson and her office are focused on solving issues rather than bloviating about symptoms.

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