The site's offering of adult services sections has been highly controversial, due to allegations that Backpage knowingly allowed and encouraged users to post ads related to prostitution and human trafficking , particularly involving minors, and took steps to intentionally obfuscate the activities.
After a series of court cases and the arrest of the company's CEO and other officials, Backpage removed the adult services subsection in the United States in Near the turn of the 21st century, Internet -based classified advertising, particularly the website Craigslist , was having a significant impact on the classified advertising business in newspapers nationwide.
In , in response to this phenomenon, New Times Media later to be known as Village Voice Media , a publisher of 11 alternative newsweeklies, launched a free classified website called backpage. Backpage soon became the second largest online classified site in the United States. These included personals including adult-oriented personal ads , adult services, musicians and " New Age " services. Until January 9, , Backpage contained an adult section containing different subcategories of various sex work professions escorts, erotic masseuses, strippers, phone sex operators, etc.
After accusations from the United States Senate of being directly involved with sex-trafficking and the sexual exploitation of minors, the company suspended its adult listings, describing the move as "the direct result of unconstitutional government censorship". Kristen DiAngelo, executive director of the Sex Workers Outreach Project of Sacramento, criticized the shutdown, questioning how many sex workers across the United States no longer had a way to support themselves.
Activists argued that the move would force some of the site's users to work on the street instead. There has been significant public controversy and discourse regarding the adult section of Backpage. Most of the criticism has centered on the charge that Backpage is used to market minors i. At least one member of a team of over people also oversees each entry before it is posted.
Backpage has had continued issues with credit card processors, who were under pressure from law enforcement to cease working with companies that allegedly allow or encourage illegal prostitution. In Backpage lost all credit card processing agreements, leaving Bitcoin as the remaining option for paid ads. In an amicus curiae brief , the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children says the efforts of Backpage are inadequate and their reporting lacked in several areas.
They say Backpage does not report all ads that have been flagged as being underage, does not report when someone tries to advertise children under 18 years of age, and does not respond to requests of parents to have ads of their trafficked children removed. They also say Backpage "encourage[s] dissemination of child sex trafficking content on its website".
They say Backpage is much slower in removing ads that advertise children than ads placed by authorities aimed at trapping traffickers, guides traffickers in creating false pages for underage children, instructs traffickers and buyers on how to pay anonymously, and makes it easier to make adult posts than other posts. They said "To all intents and purposes, Backpage has instituted no effective procedures to prevent child sex trafficking ads from being created on its site.
Advocates for Backpage point out that by carefully scrutinizing each posting in the Adult section before it is posted, removing questionable posts and reporting potential cases of the trafficking of minors to the authorities and NGOs such as NCMEC, Backpage is aiding in the fight against this activity.
In addition, they argue that by providing prompt and detailed information about postings to law enforcement when asked to do so including phone numbers, credit card numbers and IP addresses , Backpage aids law enforcement in protecting minors from such activity. They also contend that the prompt and complete production of this information results in more convictions for illegal activities and that shutting down the adult section of Backpage will simply drive the traffickers to other places on the internet that will be less forthcoming about crucial information for law enforcement.
Liz McDougall, an attorney serving as general counsel for Backpage. Numerous writers, non-governmental organizations "NGO's" legal experts and law enforcement officials including the Electronic Frontier Foundation,   the Internet Archive,  and the Cato Institute,  have pointed out that the freedoms and potentially the entire fabric of the internet would be threatened if this type of free speech is prohibited on Backpage.
They cite both First Amendment rights of free speech guaranteed in the Constitution as well as Section of the Communications Decency Act. Writers for Forbes , the Huffington Post , and Fast Company have suggested that Backpage is a useful tool for law enforcement and the public in exposing the perpetrators of human trafficking. In many cases, the critics of Backpage say that these efforts are less than is necessary or possible. Some say that no efforts to police the site and report bad actors outweigh the negative impact the site may have in this area.
They enlisted support from musicians, politicians, journalists, media companies and retailers. The campaign created a greater public dialogue, both pro and con, regarding Backpage. Over , people including religious leaders, 51 attorneys general, 19 U. In , Village Voice Media separated their newspaper company, which then consisted of eleven weekly alternative newspapers and their affiliated web properties, from Backpage, leaving Backpage in control of shareholders Mike Lacey and Jim Larkin.
Executives for the spinoff holding company, called Voice Media Group VMG and based in Denver, raised "some money from private investors" in order to purchase the newspapers. Beginning in a number of legal challenges were initiated by foes of Backpage in attempts to eliminate the adult section of the website and or shut down the website entirely. These actions included legislative initiatives as well as lawsuits brought by individuals; all of these lawsuits, which were mostly brought by politicians and NGOs, were successfully challenged by Backpage, which argued that the First Amendment protections of free speech were being compromised by any restriction on postings by individuals on the Backpage website.
The Fifth and Fourteenth amendments to the Constitution as well as the Commerce Clause were also cited as reasons that these efforts were illegal under U. Section says that "No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.
It contains details about 17 alleged victims which range from minors as young as 14 years old to adults, who were allegedly trafficked on the site while Backpage was knowingly facilitating prostitution.
One year-old is alleged to have been forced to do in-calls at hotels. A second teenager was allegedly told to "perform sexual acts at gunpoint and choked" until she had seizures, before being gang-raped. A third victim, advertised under the pseudonym "Nadia" was stabbed to death, while a fourth victim was murdered in , and her corpse deliberately burned.
The lawyer for Backpage operations manager Andrew Padilla stated that his client was "not legally responsible for any actions of third parties under U.
He is no more responsible than the owner of a community billboard when someone places an ad on it,"  .
The State of Texas was also considering a money laundering charge pending its investigation. Lacey and Larkin were charged with conspiracy to commit pimping. Backpage general counsel Liz McDougall dismissed the raid as an "election year stunt" which wasn't "a good-faith action by law enforcement", and stated that the company would "take all steps necessary to end this frivolous prosecution and will pursue its full remedies under federal law against the state actors who chose to ignore the law, as it has done successfully in other cases.
He posited that AG Harris was more interested in the publicity from the arrests for political gain than in enforcing a law she had previously admitted was unenforceable by individual states as specified in section But the attorney general of California has managed the feat.
By charging Carl Ferrer, the chief executive of Backpage. Numerous previous court ruling and decisions were cited in the Demurrer supporting this position. The AG filed its response to the Demurrer on 4 November Backpage Attorneys filed their reply in support of the Demurrer on 10 November On 16 November Judge Michael Bowman of the Superior Court of the State of California issued a tentative ruling in this case supporting the position of Backpage and granting its request for dismissal of the case.
Bowman dismissed all the charges in the complaint, stating that:. Congress has precluded liability for online publishers for the action of publishing third party speech and thus provided for both a foreclosure from prosecution and an affirmative defense at trial. Congress has spoken on this matter and it is for Congress, not this Court, to revisit. They were charged with pimping and money laundering.
Lawyers for Backpage responded that the charges rehashed the earlier case that had been dismissed on December 9, Jim Grant, an attorney for Backpage said: Since April , the U. Over the ensuing months, Backpage raised and PSI rejected numerous objections to the subpoena, including that the subpoena was impermissibly burdensome both in the volume of documents PSI demanded and in its intrusion into constitutionally-protected editorial discretion.
PSI subsequently issued a shorter document subpoena with only eight requests but broader in scope and also targeting Backpage.
PSI applied in March for a federal court order to enforce three of the eight categories of documents in the subpoena.
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