Craigslist Exec Takes on Southern Prosecutor

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK

    Craigslist's chief executive demanded an apology from South Carolina's attorney general Monday, saying the prosecutor's threat to file prostitution charges against the company was unreasonable and unfair.

    Attorney General Henry McMaster threatened last week to prosecute Craigslist executives for aiding and abetting prostitution if an ad on the Web site leads to a prostitution case in South Carolina. The prosecutor has said his office is investigating the ads, but so far no charges have been brought.

    McMaster claims Jim Buckmaster and Craig Newmark were engaging in illegal acts.

    The San Francisco-based Craigslist has come under closer scrutiny for its "erotic services" category after a Boston-area man was accused of killing a masseuse he met through the Web site. The company has promised to eliminate the category and replace it with a new "adult services" section, where ads will be screened before they are posted.

    "Many prominent companies, including AT&T, Microsoft, and Village Voice Media, not to mention major newspapers and other upstanding South Carolina businesses feature more 'adult services' ads than does craigslist, some of a very graphic nature," Jim Buckmaster wrote in a company blog.

    He included Internet links to listings for escort services throughout South Carolina. "Are you really prepared to condemn the executives of each of the mainstream companies linked above, and all the others that feature such ads, as criminals?"

    McMaster, a Republican who plans to run for governor of South Carolina in 2010, declined to comment on Buckmaster's latest blog. His campaign also was a topic in Buckmaster's posting.

    "Craigslist may not matter in your world view, despite our popularity among your constituents, but mightn't you want an endorsement from any of the SC newspapers for your gubenatorial campaign, whose publishers you've just labeled as criminals?" Buckmaster wrote.

    Craigslist came under fire last month after Philip Markoff was accused of killing a New York City masseuse he met through the Web site. Police have also accused Markoff, 22, in the armed robbery of another woman. Police said both women had advertised erotic services on Craigslist.

    Markoff has pleaded not guilty.

    CNET published the entire blog:

    An Apology Is In Order

    Dear South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster,

    Two days ago you accused Craigslist, and me personally, of engaging in criminal acts, reiterating your previous threat to file unwarranted and unconstitutional charges against us that are clearly barred by federal law. As you put it, "We have no alternative but to move forward with criminal investigation and potential prosecution."

    These very serious allegations followed the dramatic changes we implemented last week, widely applauded by other attorneys general, that go far beyond the policies and procedures you yourself personally endorsed just 6 months ago, as indicated by your signature on the joint statement.

    So effective in fact, that our "adult services" and soon-to-be-retired "erotic services" sections combined, for all cities in South Carolina, currently feature a total of 40 ads, all of which comply with our terms of use. That's 40 ads out of a total of 334,180 currently listed on our SC sites. The rest comprise a thriving marketplace for South Carolinians, offering jobs, housing, for sale items, local services, and just about everything else.

    Many prominent companies, including AT&T, Microsoft, and Village Voice Media, not to mention major newspapers and other upstanding South Carolina businesses feature more "adult services" ads than does Craigslist, some of a very graphic nature. For a small sampling, look (careful NSFW) here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here.

    Have you fully considered the implications of your accusations against Craigslist? What's a crime for Craigslist is clearly a crime for any company. Are you really prepared to condemn the executives of each of the mainstream companies linked above, and all the others that feature such ads, as criminals? Craigslist may not matter in your world view, despite our popularity among your constituents, but mightn't you want an endorsement from any of the SC newspapers for your gubernatorial campaign, whose publishers you've just labeled as criminals? Do you really intend to launch a criminal investigation against the phone company? What about potential new jobs connected to big data center buildouts in SC by Internet companies? Are you sure you want prosecute all of their CEOs as criminals???

    If you are threatening our founder Craig Newmark, a board member with no operational role at Craigslist other than as a customer service representative, then you are expanding your list of "criminal suspects" to include thousands of employees at the above-named companies, or the companies' boards of directors, or both.

    Mr. McMaster, I strongly recommend you reconsider and retract your remarks, and positively affirm that you have no intention of launching criminal investigations aimed at any of these upstanding companies, because in truth none of them are deserving of such treatment. Certainly when it comes to Craiglist, by any objective standard your threats and accusations are unreasonable and unfair:

    • threats of criminal prosecution are utterly unwarranted by the facts
    • the charges threatened are unconstitutional and barred by federal law
    • our adult ad screening regimen is stricter than the one you endorsed
    • our adult services ads are fewer and tamer than other SC venues.

    We're willing to accept our share of criticism, but wrongfully accusing Craigslist of criminal misconduct is simply beyond the pale. We would very much appreciate an apology at your very earliest convenience. As I'm sure would all of the other fine companies whose executives you've called out as criminals.

    Sincerely yours,

    Jim Buckmaster
    CEO, Craigslist