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Craigslist is an internet icon, and it's a unique one. Despite the rapid evolution of the internet over the past decade, Craigslist in 2010 still looks like Craigslist in 2000. The fact that Craigslist has managed to thrive largely its original form is a testament to the value it offers.

But Craigslist is under assault. And it's not competitors who are attacking. It's politicians and the media. The reason: adult service ads which many say are frequently used in the illegal trafficking of women and children. And which many argue Craigslist continues to allow because they're a lucrative source of revenue.

The controversy over these ads isn't new, but it isn't going away. Despite Craigslist's attempts to appease lawmakers and law enforcement, public officials continue to lambast Craigslist. Some are even suggesting that laws designed to limit the liability of internet service providers for content posted by third parties be revised. Such revisions could threaten Craigslist's business model.

Politicians, of course, love to stir the pot, but perhaps much more worryingly for Craigslist, the company seems to be getting less love from the media lately too.

Case in point: Amber Lyon, a reporter at CNN, recently surprised (or ambushed depending on your point of view) Craigslist's founder, Craig Newmark, as part of a story on the trafficking of women and children. Newmark spoke with her and arguably came off looking a bit aloof. The interview sparked an angry response from Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster. Newmark himself responded to the interview last week. His defense: my personality makes me an easy target for a reporter looking to craft a story, and everyone knows I'm a good guy. He wrote:

...Amber, CNN, and others are depicting Jim and I as profiteers oblivious to the welfare of women and children. Anyone that’s followed us over all these years knows that’s not at all what we’re about. In reality, we’re both pretty obsessed with trying to make the world a better place, and neither have much interest in possessions or fancy lifestyles. Me, I’ll stick to my causes, like doing right by our veterans, keeping the faith on net neutrality, and working toward better governance...

So are the complaints about Craigslist's position vis-à-vis adult services ads fair? People on both sides of the debate have their arguments, and I'm not going to jump into the fray. But I would suggest from a PR perspective that when the face of any company is forced to declare "I'm a good guy who is trying to make the world better" and cite his or her good works in response to a matter that calls into question a company's values, it should serve as a wakeup call.

Craigslist may be low-key, but it has a high-profile brand. And despite the apparent staying power of Craigslist's popularity with consumers, every brand is vulnerable. Here, regardless of whether one believes Craigslist is right or wrong, Craigslist increasingly finds that a lot of the buzz around its brand deals with an inherently negative and visceral subject: the exploitation of women and children. That's not good. Clearly, the company's previous attempts to address concerns over adult services ads haven't been effective, and the situation has arguably gotten worse. And it will likely get worse unless Craigslist ditches its down-to-earth corporate persona and realizes that it's in the PR fight of its life.

Patricio Robles

Published 3 September, 2010 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

2380 more posts from this author

Comments (5)

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Sofia Sanchez

I understand that there are people on both sides of this issue -- but while the folks at CraigsList have their chance to speak just about whenever they want -- the victims rarely have a voice. (When they do -- as in this open letter to Craig -- it is powerful http://www.huffingtonpost.com/malika-saada-saar/craig-please-listen-to-us_b_582237.html). I think it's time we stop using CraigsList, and while it's the first website many of us think of to buy and sell or find a job, there are socially responsible sites like Geebo.com, where we can do the same thing -- without contributing to something as horrible as what's happening (and being profited from!) on CraigsList.

almost 6 years ago

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MaryJohn

Craiglist is just a service why blame them -These people are the ones posting their services there using secret codes.

almost 6 years ago

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Gerald C

I have to say I side with Craigslist. So they take down the erotic section, the offenders will just post in another section,They take that section down, then so on and so on. Eventually they will have to remove craigslist's all together, and the funny part? this won't stop anything. The offenders will just post in other forums. Craigslist is a very useful site that many people have become reliant on. I would think Law enforcement would love the fact that these offending ads are there, in the open, so they can work on arresting the proper offenders. At least now they can see it and work on proper sting operations. Shutting down the Erotic section is just like shooing the hookers to another street corner. Their not going away....just walking down a different street.

almost 6 years ago

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F. lohl

When you push activity legal or illegal underground you cause MORE HARM THAN GOOD!!!! SO MURDERS/RAPES AND OTHER CRIMES TRAFFICING CONTINUE ONLY MORE DIFFICULT TO INVESTIGATE REPORT MAKE ARRESTS:  MAKING IT EASIER TO GET AWAY WITH IT GREAT JOB !!!!!!!!     CRAIGSLIST IS DOING A SERVICE SO WHEN THERE ARE CRIMES  THEY CAN BE CAUGHT IN THE OPEN MAKING IT EASIER FOR LAWENFOCEMENT        THANK YOU CRAIGSLIST!!!!!!!!     

almost 6 years ago

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Angelo

Lately posting on Craig's list is a nightmare. Very hard to understand "captcha's", phone verification, if your IP address does not match the city of the item you are advertising, your post get "ghosted" (the ad does not appear but you don't get notified about that) etc. They have not a serious help center, I got myself a couple of "GTFO" and "talk again when you get sober" from the people that are supposed to help you. Obviously the PR level is going down quickly. I will not advertise a thing ever again on Craig's list. I am not there to be offended by anyone for something idiotic they put in place. Of course prostitution is rampant there, but regular people are ignored by them. I sincerely hope that Craig's list is going to be wiped out soon.

almost 5 years ago

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