Hell has frozen over. The end is nigh. Backpage has voluntarily shut down the adult sections of its website after the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations announced its findings about the website. The subcommittee reported that they found Backpage was knowingly editing the ads that appeared to have someone underage in them, but still allowed the advertisements to be displayed. Backpage’s own moderators were also allegedly instructed to remove words from the ads that may have hinted at child prostitution.
Backpage executives began using a feature called “Strip Term From Ad Filter” to help screeners automatically delete hundreds words indicative of sex trafficking — such as “lolita, teenage, amber alert, teen and school girl, according to the Senate report.
“Backpage moderators told the Subcommittee that everyone at the company knew the adult-section ads were for prostitution and that their job was to ‘put…lipstick on a pig by sanitizing them,’” the subcommittee alleges in the report.
Backpage responded to the report not only by shutting down sections of their websites that promoted prostitution, but by also posting the above graphic in the adult sections. Please allow me to address the arguments Backpage put’s forth.
First off, the government has not unconstitutionally done anything to Backpage. They literally shut down those sections on their own. The Chairs of the Senate Subcommittee, Senators Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo, even say as much…
“Yesterday we reported the evidence that Backpage has been far more complicit in online sex trafficking than anyone previously knew. Backpage’s response wasn’t to deny what we said. It was to shut down their site. That’s not ‘censorship’—it’s validation of our findings.”
Potentially, Backpage could bring back those sections at any time, and I wouldn’t put it past them.
Also as I’ve said many times in the past, this was never an issue about free speech, it’s always been an issue about how much money Backpage could make off of the women and girls that sold into sexual slavery through their website. The only thing that has kept them legally protected was the archaic Communications Decency Act of 1996 whose crafters obviously didn’t imagine websites would be using their legislation to defend the ‘freedom’ of deriving profit from sex trafficking.
As far as donating to Children of The Night, I can’t stop you from doing that. They do work to get children out of prostitution, however they admittedly have taken money from Backpage which is said to make up 10% of their budget. I would personally recommend SelahFreedom as they have personally assured me they have taken no money from Backpage and never would.
As far as the people who will say that this will drive prostitution and trafficking further underground, I say that’s the whole point. Backpage’s adult sections made it easy for just about anyone to become a pimp or trafficker when all they had to do was pay a few bucks to turn anyone out. With the closing of the adult sections it will mean a significant drop in the number of potential pimps looking to traffic someone online.
For those of you who say Backpage made sex work safer, I’ve already said that concept is highly suspect as it has allowed killers and rapists to have their victims delivered directly to their homes.
Since Backpage reportedly receives 80% of their profits from their adult ads, and that their founders, including CEO Carl Ferrer, are still facing criminal charges, it remains to be seen if Backpage will try to survive as a ‘normal’ classifieds site. However, if I had to hazard a guess I would say probably not, but in the past Backpage has been a virtual Rasputin refusing to die.
Make no mistake that this isn’t a blow to free speech but a victory for all the women and girls that have been trafficked on Backpage for the past decade and more.