Saturday, April 7, 2018

Backpage.com Seized

From a site that is apparently an Arizona TV station:
The site allows users to post ads for 'escorts' and investigators say many of the ads are actually for underage girls.
The FBI seized the website because it was allegedly being used to facilitate crime. The FBI has done this before with other sex trafficking websites and online pharmacies.
There are 17 victims named in the documents who are both adults and children who say they were forced into sex trafficking. ...
The Department of Justice (DOJ) says almost every single sex trafficking case involves online ads, mostly from Backpage.com.
According to the DOJ, the biggest issue with these websites is that it facilitates sex trafficking for people who would have been to sheepish to pursue sex on the streets, especially to look for children. ...
But investigators say the site lost that protection when they alerted posters to key terms related to child sex trafficking. Investigators found proof of these alerts in internal Backpage.com documents. 
The site even gave the third party posters a chance to rephrase their ads so they wouldn't be flagged for child sex trafficking. Some of the terms Backpage.com admins told posters not to use include "Lolita," young, teenager and even "Amber Alert."

I know, some of you think this will facilitate suppression of conservative voices, but the suppression of conservative voices isn't the FBI, but Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.  Making it harder for pedophiles to find little girls and boys for sex is a big win.

13 comments:

hga said...

If SESTA wasn't needed to take down Backpage.com (Trump hasn't signed it), then what's the point of it? How can you be so confident it won't be used to suppress the Right on the net?

Clayton Cramer said...

SESTA is about civil liability. How would you apply SESTA to conservative thought? Just don't advertise adult services and you are safe.

Sevesteen said...

"sex trafficking" is in many ways similar to "assault weapon"--The imagery is children and enslaved women, but also covering far less serious voluntary activity. Craigslist used to have a section for escorts and casual sex--not monetized, but keeping those interests from cluttering up the other dating sections. They closed the escorts section a few years ago, now they've closed the entire personals section because it is too risky under FOSTA.
Would similar restrictions on Gunbroker be OK? Make them liable if a third party manages to sell an illegal gun through the service, but if they don't immediately terminate an account when someone mentions "M4" that's evidence that they are 'letting posters rephrase their ads' to get away with something?
Freedom has to include the freedom to do things I personally find distasteful. Nobody should be forced to have sex for money, but that doesn't mean all ads mentioning sex should risk government prosecution.

hga said...

It's about your site's users doing things like "adult services". To quote Wikipedia about claims about it, "it would make providers become liable for any usage of their platforms that facilitates sex trafficking, knowingly if they moderate for such content, and with reckless disregard if they do not proactively take steps to prevent such usage."

You're going to tell me there's no way this could be used to take down conservative discussion forums, or sites that have comment sections? Or severely crimp them by requiring massive resources for moderation?

StormCchaser said...

We'll see if the charges stand up. If they do, then fine, but now we cannot buy and sell guns over the Internet in Arizona.

But the real concern is SESTA and other attempts to take what are simple platforms and turn them into content editors. It would be like fining restaurants if prostitutes ate there, except it the collateral damage, including to conservatives, will be far worse than any good it achieves.

The sex trade will just move to overseas sites, where the cat and mouse game will go on forever. I doubt the gun trade will, but, well, maybe there's a use for Russia after all - to host gun ads that cannot be hosted in the US because we are no longer a free country.

Clayton Cramer said...

Having to moderate comments for illegality is a pain, but likely will reduce the number of comments that start, "My sister is making $78 per hour with Google."

If restaurants were consistently turning a blind eye to prostitutes trolling their bars, there would likely be use of the Red Light Abatement Act in California. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_Light_Abatement_Act

Sex trafficking has a generally accepted definition that does NOT include voluntary prostitution of adults. It refers to sex slavery including that of children.

Losing a place to trade guns is disappointing, but gunbroker.com et al. provide such a place. Also, BATF's efforts to engage in unlawful transfers in such sites were shut down by the site owners rapidly, to their credit.

Clayton Cramer said...

Sevesteen: "all ads mentioning sex should risk government prosecution."

They do not. Ads that are involved in trafficking children and with the active assistance of the carrier are at risk. If a website carried ads where it was implied that you carry out hits for hire, and the owners suggested other language that made those services less obvious, would anyone argue that this behavior was proper or tolerable?

StormCchaser said...

I hate to say this, but you seem to be taking a couple of positions that are dangerous: that the government should compel media to censor; and, that the freedom to keep and bear arms is great, but other freedoms should be curtailed by government if the cause is just.

That's the same argument used by all tyranny - it's always that you don't need the freedom to do "X" or that you should not allow "X" and we will punish you if you do.

"Having to moderate comments for illegality is a pain, but likely will reduce the number of comments that start, "My sister is making $78 per hour with Google."

In other words, it's okay that the government forces this decision on businesses. I thought you were a conservative, but this would suggest otherwise.

"If restaurants were consistently turning a blind eye to prostitutes trolling their bars, there would likely be use of the Red Light Abatement Act in California." Nice that you refer to California, but that doesn't make the law correct or consistent with ordered liberty.

While it is true that we lose a good local site for gun sales, the existence of another doesn't make it right. If they shut down backpage.com for actually breaking constitutional laws, that's fine, but you would appear to favor changing laws to make *failure to police* a site a crime.

That is not a conservative position, it is a statist position. No serious person is in favor of sex trafficking, but that doesn't mean that we are willing to throw out our freedoms in a vain attempt to stop it.

Clayton Cramer said...

"I hate to say this, but you seem to be taking a couple of positions that are dangerous: that the government should compel media to censor; and, that the freedom to keep and bear arms is great, but other freedoms should be curtailed by government if the cause is just."

This law does not compel media to censor, but may allow them to be held civilly liable if they aid and abet a crime.

Every freedom can be curtailed if the risk is high enough, and the stupid in society is strong enough. Can I buy 15 kg of sarin, and keep in the trunk of my car? Can I keep my pet mountain lion in the backyard in a city? (People do keep them in rural Boise County. Here, doggie, doggie.) Can I keep 100 pounds of black powder in my urban home? Can I shine a 100 milliwatt laser into the sky in the approach path to an airport? Can I pour gasoline down the street on the 4th of July?

Part of what separates libertarian from conservative is recognition that some large number of people are irrational and/or short-sighted. Also lazy, stupid, or ignorant.

Sevesteen said...

There is incentive for a bodyguard to appear to be a badass, to imply that they are willing to bend or break the law to protect a client, they will do whatever it takes. This could easily straddle a line between dedicated bodyguard and hitman, and I could see a site owner requiring the language be toned down before publication without it being "supporting hitmen". Likewise, "will wear a schoolgirl outfit" vs "will provide an actual schoolgirl". Not much different than "AR15 dressed like an M4".
I'd really like to know the specifics on this, the articles I've seen are all fully partisan on one side or the other. I'd be surprised to find out that Backpage was deliberately allowing child prostitution ads on their site or helping to suggest wording with the intent of allowing exploitation to continue. I suspect that this is what it would look like publicly if Bloomberg had the authority to go after Gunbroker.

StormCchaser said...

The law forces them to censor, since "aid and abet" seems to mean allowing certain content. Having watched what modern "moderators" do to conservative content, I have concluded that online censorship is far more dangerous than what is being censored.

It means that the open discussions we are used to having on the net will pretty much disappear. Certainly real time discussions will vanish. After all, if someone sets up something like Facebook messenger, then bad people will abuse it - especially those in illegal trades, and this sort of liability will then be added to the law. If we don't combat this censorship, then there will be no open platforms anymore, because of the liability that will accrue to the owner of the platform.

Your comment section is unusual, in that it is pre-censored. That significantly reduces the interactivity, but I understand that you have chose to do that because of the bad things people put up. But... if the whole Internet gets that way, then we have a big problem.

In the modern age, USENET (where you and I first interacted) would probably have disappeared, because it had no censors. On the other hand, the way modern colleges operate, talk.politics.guns (or whatever it was back then) would be banned anyway - because: guns.

I am no fan of the people who ran BackPage - they are among the founders of The New Times, our local left-wing rag. Another of the founders was a programmer who worked for me, but fortunately she is apparently not involved in this thing.

My view is a conservative position (i.e. cause and effect based), not a Libertarian one (utopian thinking based). Obviously we disagree on the level of danger here, but to assume that my position comes from some utopian belief about the goodness of people is incorrect.

Clayton Cramer said...

Facebook and other SJW media platforms are doing what they are doing without any legal encouragement at all. They need no law to continue this.

Likewise, "will wear a schoolgirl outfit" vs "will provide an actual schoolgirl". Not much different than "AR15 dressed like an M4". In fact the first example is clearly implying "not a real schoolgirl."

Anyone who really wants a 15 year old will recognize this. Ditto, if you want an M4, "dressed like an M4," tells you it is not.

"I'd be surprised to find out that Backpage was deliberately allowing child prostitution ads on their site or helping to suggest wording with the intent of allowing exploitation to continue."

Why? It is ad revenue. The founders ran the Village Voice and left to devote their energy to BackPage which made lots of money. Remember that leftist hatred of capitalist "exploitation" is largely projection.

Sevesteen said...

In fact the first example is clearly implying "not a real schoolgirl."

There isn't likely to be a clear line in the language between "not real" and "real"--The dressed up adult has an incentive to emphasize their realistic disguise, the child needs plausible deniability. How should Backpage determine where on that spectrum is an ad they should accept, and what should they do about ads that cross the line? Is there something that Backpage could realistically do that would allow their escorts section to remain?

At least one study (claims a very statistically significant drop in women's murder rates matching when Craigslist opened their Escorts section at different times in different cities. This seems plausible--Prostitution is extremely dangerous to women. Less street prostitution, more than a brief moment to vet a potential john is likely to make it much safer. I don't see anything that would indicate Backpage would be different. We need to look at the whole picture--to me a measured reduction in murder rates is worth a whole lot, "if it saves just one child" is someone who wants to use emotion because their argument lacks facts and statistics--whether it is guns or classifieds.