Village Voice Media has an online ad section called Backpage.com. One of the sections is “Adult”, and critics say that occasionally it’s used by sex traffickers to sell sex with minors. Backpage.com defends the practice as free press. They use the analogy that just because people sometimes send illegal material through the mail, we don’t shut down the post office. They also claim that if they don’t sell the ads, someone else will. Critics want them to either remove the adult section altogether, or require identification and photos for all Adult ads to prevent sexual abuse of minors. It’s a similar situation to Craigslist, which last year shut down its paid adult services section after persistent pressure from a variety of sources.
The NY Times has an article on the subject titled Fighting Over Online Sex Ads.
Should advertisers be free to accept ads, when they don’t control the content, and when there is a significant risk that the ads may be used to sell sex with minors?
Is this a strictly legal issue, implicating freedom of the press?
Is this a moral issue where a business needs to respond to public pressure and proactively protect minors from being sexually trafficked?
What do you think of the analogies that Backpage is using? Is there a similarity between someone using the Adult section of Backpage.com to advertise prostitution which turns out to be sex trafficking of a minor, and someone using the postal service to transport illegal material from one person to another? Does it make a difference to you that the advertising is broadcast by an unidentified poster to all readers, while the post office is transporting material from one identifiable source to a specific addressee?
What about the argument that if Backpage.com shuts down its Adult section, those people will advertise somewhere else? For instance, when Craigslist shut down its paid adult services section, how many of those customers went to Backpage.com, and other such alternatives? Is this similar to a community attempting to move an adult bookstore or theater out of a high traffic downtown neighborhood?
What about the critics? Is their request to have Backpage.com require positive ID of those advertising in the Adult section reasonable? Would it help the situation?
Do they have a right to have Backpage.com shut down the Adult section on moral grounds? Is the possibility that minors might be trafficked sufficient to warrant shutting down the Adult section?
What arguments are most persuasive to you? Please add your thoughts and comments.