By this time next week, Craigslist's "Erotic Services" section will be gone. Under pressure from several states, the site is shuttering the controversial section, where the purveyors of "massage," "boudoir photo" and other euphemistically described services could pay a fee to advertise.
However those businesses will still have a home on the site, as long as they keep it legal and conform to Craigslist's policies. With the approval of state Attorneys General and law enforcement, the classifieds giant said it will soon create a new "adult services" section. Rather than being subject only to its community flagging system as other sections are, the adult section will be moderated by humans to prevent the sale of sexual services. As with the "erotic" ads, "adult" postings will cost a small fee.
The decision to do away with the ads came as Craigslist fell under pressure from several state prosecutors, including those in Illinois and Connecticut, to do more to prevent prostitution. Their investigation was driven partly by its possible role in the recent murder of a massage therapist by a Boston medical student.
In a statement, Craigslist said the move delivers an "acceptable compromise" between its users, state AGs, law enforcement officials, and legal erotic services businesses. But it struck a defiant tone against those who it believes have mischaracterized its role in perpetrating criminal activity.
"The record is clear that use of Craigslist classifieds is associated with far lower rates of violent crime than print classifieds," it said in a statement. It added, "Community moderation as exemplified by our flagging system is arguably the most successful system ever conceived for eliminating inappropriate activity from a massive Internet community."
Connecticut AG Richard Blumenthal hailed the change, and sounded a similarly uncompromising note.
"We will be monitoring closely to make sure that this measure is more than a name change from erotic to adult and that the manual blocking is tough and effective to scrub prostitution and pornography," he said in a prepared statement. "Our continuing investigation will assure that these steps are substance, not just spin, and that Craigslist really shuts down its open online red light district."
It was only last November that Craigslist began charging for erotic services posted on its site. The posters of those ads were forced to include a phone number and credit card information, a requirement the site speculated would reduce the number of prostitution ads on the site.
All revenue from "erotic" ads was donated to charity, but that policy may end with the new section, according to Craigslist. "To avoid any future misunderstanding, we are making no representation today regarding how revenue from the 'adult services' category will be used," it noted.
That policy shift means new "adult" ads could join a limited number of ad types that actually contribute to Craigslist's bottom line. Others include some employment and real estate listings.
Craigslist has a history of supporting law enforcement actions against illegal use of its platform. In 2007, Nassau County police in New York used the site to investigate prostitution rings, an investigation that reportedly led to arrests.
Until March 2012, Zach Rodgers was managing editor of ClickZ's award-winning coverage of news and trends in digital marketing. He reported on the rise of web companies, data markets, ad technologies, and government Internet policy, among other subjects.
June 20, 2013
1:00pm ET / 10:00am PT