This saga just gets more and more interesting.
Craigslist, in the face of increasingly shrill (and politically charged) calls to close the valve for prostitution on its site, has filed suit against one of its more vocal critics: South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster.
McMaster has been rattling his saber against Craigslist, threatening criminal prosecution if the site didn’t scrub all the objectionable postings — those with pornographic images or obvious ads for prostitution — from the South Carolina sections of the site by 5 pm May 15. In the meantime, Craigslist announced plans to shutter its erotic services section, but a few ads remained by the close of McMaster’s ultimatum, and he announced plans to move ahead with his criminal prosecution.
Now Craigslist is suing in federal court for declaratory relief and asking for a restraining order to keep the attorney general at bay.
In a blog post, Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster claims that McMaster’s case is both “unwarranted by the facts” and unconstitutional.
“Interestingly, if you read Mr. McMaster’s ultimatum carefully, you’ll note that the only way to definitively comply with it is to take down the Craigslist sites for South Carolina in their entirety. The open architecture of Craigslist, quintessential to the value it provides for users, simply does not allow for the absolute prevention of solicitation or pornography, with respect to any of its categories and functions.”
In a statement, McMaster put a cheery face on Craigslist’s move.
“The defensive legal action Craigslist has taken against the solicitors and my office is good news. It shows that Craigslist is taking the matter seriously for the first time.”
Of course, Buckmaster has pointed out several times that McMaster was one of 40 state attorneys general who signed on to a [set of policy changes Craigslist announced in November](/webcontent/article.php/3783706/Craigslist+Cracks+Down+on+Illicit+Sex+Ads.htm) to scrub the site of illicit sex ads.
But McMaster and others have since complained that Craigslist failed to live up to the spirit of that agreement, and that prostitution has continued to flourish on the site.
Not helping things was the high-profile murder in Boston earlier this year, where medical student Philip Markoff allegedly shot and killed a masseuse he met through the site, and was quickly dubbed the “Craigslist killer” in the media.
That incident seemed the catalyst for the reinvigorated state AG probe that eventually led to Craigslist replacing erotic services listings with an adult services section, which it said would be monitored manually for unsavory or illegal content.
Craigslist announced that change two days before McMaster’s ultimatum expired, saying at the time that erotic services listings would drop off the site in seven days.
Two days later, of course, some of the ads still lingered on the South Carolina sections (and all others) of Craigslist.
So today, seven days since Craigslist announced that all erotic services ads would disappear from the site, McMaster says:
“Overnight they have removed the erotic services section from their website, as we asked them to do. And they are now taking responsibility for the content of their future advertisements. If they keep their word, this is a victory for law enforcement and for the people of South Carolina.”
No argument that Craigslist might have dragged its feet a little on the sex ads issue.
But for McMaster to take credit for pressuring Craigslist into a policy that it said it has already said it was moving toward seems like political posturing of the most cynical kind.
A review of the timeline:
**May 5:** SC AG McMaster issues his 10-day ultimatum.
**May 13:** Craigslist announces that erotic services ads are closed for new ads, and that existing listings will drop off the site in seven days. Other AGs praise the agreement.
**May 15:** Erotic services ads still show up on SC Craigslist sections. McMaster announces his intention to pursue a criminal investigation and potential prosecution.
**May 18:** Buckmaster asks for an apology for McMaster’s threats.
**May. 20:** On schedule, last erotic services ads drop off of the South Carolina Craigslist sections. Buckmaster announces a lawsuit seeking declaratory relief and a restraining order. McMaster unconvincingly claims credit for purging the site of erotic services ads.