Backpage shuts down adult ad section, citing government pressure and unlawful censorship campaign.
Of course this story is making news today, especially within the anti-trafficking community. But is also raises the debate – among many passionate people within the community – on the real value of this action. (If you read the article you will see a quote from the founder of Children of the Night who considers this a loss of a valuable investigative tool – just one argument among many.)
If we want to know what will really result from this shutdown, we need only look at what happened after Craigslist shuttered their Adult Services section in 2010.
First, Backpage (just like Craigslist) shut down these ads ONLY in the United States, so the impact on trafficking (and the loss of revenue) is domestic, not global.
Next; someone, somewhere, at this very moment is desperately building a platform to replace the void from Backpage’s departure – just as Backpage filled the void when Craigslist exited. Both Federal and local law enforcement officials (who actually work HT cases) will tell you that both Craigslist and Backpage were typically very helpful to law enforcement, quickly responding to subpoenas and other requests for help. Yes, this is a little like playing with the devil, but a cooperative devil, at least.
There are several other online platforms buyers of sex can access, many of which are private and require membership to access (My Redbook was among the most infamous until they were indicted). Pushing the advertising further underground can create operational and financial challenges for many law enforcement agencies. When these companies operate off-shore, they can thumb their noses at law enforcement, which may be powerless to act against them.
Looking back to 2010, there is scant evidence that shutting down Craigslist’s Adult Services section had any real impact. We will have to wait and see what the real impact will be here.
My point is not to defend Backpage, Craigslist, or any other advertiser; it is to point out the complexity in these issues (and tactics) within the anti-trafficking community.
I addressed this issue in my book, The Essential Abolitionist: What you need to know about human trafficking & modern slavery. (See the special offer notice below.) I’ll end here quoting the final paragraph from my answer to the question: What was the impact of shutting down the Craigslist Adult Services section?
“Not all anti-trafficking initiatives actually reduce human trafficking, or are they always intended to. Analyzing the potential consequences and looking for unforeseen consequences are both critical steps when exploring potential anti-trafficking actions. Some efforts raise public awareness; other improve the response of law enforcement or service providers. And some efforts arise from the simple moral ground that requires us to act if we oppose slavery. But, however worthy these aspirations, they do not guarantee our efforts will always have a tangible outcome.”
**January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. To help educate others about modern slavery, during January the Kindle version of The Essential Abolitionist is 50% off on Amazon. **