Backpage Adult Ads Fold
Finally! After two years of investigation by the U.S. Senate and other legislative and law enforcement interests, Backpage.com announced January 9 that it would cease publication of its adult classifieds section. The section is well-known in law-enforcement and advocacy circles as a facilitation point for human trafficking.
The decision came just as the U.S. Senate was to convene a hearing on the site and just after the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee’s investigations subcommittee released a report accusing the site of intentionally profiting from illegal activity. Led by Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and Rob Portman (R-OH), the report found that Backpage owners and staff knowingly hid the illegal activity by “systematically editing” its adult-section advertisements; that three U.S. citizens who claimed to have sold the site to a foreign company in 2014 still owned it; and that the site’s owners and management knew Backpage.com facilitates prostitution and child sex trafficking.
In a joint statement, Portman and McCaskill said, “Our goal was to get to the truth-and Backpage fought us every step of the way. Our report includes new evidence that Backpage as been far more complicit in online sex trafficking that anyone previously knew. Backpage’s response wasn’t to deny what we said. It was to shut down their site. That’s not ‘censorship’ (as Backpage had asserted)-it’s validation of our findings.”
Backpage was under fire legally in several states, as well, the most serious of which was the filing of criminal charges in the fall in California by then-Attorney General Kamala Harris against Backpage’s Carl Ferrer, James Larking and Michael Lacey. (Harris is now a U.S. senator from the state.) Backpage claims the investigations and Senate hearing amounted to abridgment of freedom of speech.