While the government feels that Backpage encouraged sex trafficking, some groups are arguing that the site was crucial in catching sex criminals and rescuing victims.
Backpage, the classified ad website that's somewhat akin to Craigslist, is known for having a section where one can offer or hunt for adult encounters. While the site purports to ban explicit examples of solicitation, users have found ways to participate in sexual exchanges without getting flagged for prostitution. As of yesterday, however, Backpage has shut down its infamous adult section.
The decision comes as a response to a government effort to expose the site as being complicit in prostitution and human trafficking. Hours before the adult section was shut down, a US Senate subcommittee released a report alleging that Backpage administrators had edited posts in order to hide evidence of child sex trafficking, reports NY Post.
In a press release explaining its decision, Backpage states that the removal of the adult section is "a direct result of government censorship." However, US Senators Rob Portman and Claire McCaskill see the move as an example of Backpage admitting to its own guilt. “Backpage’s response wasn’t to deny what we said. It was to shut down their site,” they said in a shared statement. “That’s not ‘censorship’ — it’s validation of our findings.”
The Backpage executives are scheduled to appear at a subcommittee hearing today, though their attorneys have said that they will not testify.
The words of Dr. Lois Lee, founder of Children of the Night, a nonprofit organization that fights child sex trafficking, were included in Backpage's statement. She is disheartened upon losing Backpage's adult section, considering it to be an important tool in finding victims and perpetrators of child sex trafficking.
"It's a sad day for America's children victimized by prostitution,” said Lee via Backpage's statement. "Backpage.com was a critical investigative tool depended on by America's vice detectives and agents in the field to locate and recover missing children and to arrest and successfully prosecute the pimps who prostitute children.”
She suggests that instances of sex trafficking on Backpage are able to be dealt with by law enforcement, with the help of the website, and that the site's adult section allowed for an unprecedented opportunity to discover such crimes.
“The ability to search for and track potentially exploited children on a website and have the website bend over backwards to help and cooperate with police the way Backpage did was totally unique," she said. "It not only made law enforcement's job easier, it made them much more effective at rescuing kids and convicting pimps.”
Backpage's immediate decision to shut down its adult content seems to be due to threatened business interests. The government's efforts apparently include "pressuring credit card companies to cease doing business with Backpage." The site still hopes that the self-censorship is temporary, though, as it has vowed to continue "its efforts in court to vindicate its First Amendment Rights and those of other online platforms for third-party expression."