Mainstream Media Kicks Craigslist While Its Down

Mainstream Media to Craigslist: You are an enabler of the criminal underworld!

Mainstream Media to Craigslist: "You are an enabler of the criminal underworld!"

There is nothing the mainstream media likes better than a juicy slab of bad news for a new media company.

Case in point: Craigslist.

You can feel the smug arrogance raditating from newsrooms across the country. The last couple of weeks have been cruel to the online classified site.  Craigslist is under fire after a Boston University medical student Philip Markoff allegedly murdered masseuse Julissa Brisman, who used Craigslist to advertise her erotic massages. Markoff is also under suspicion in two other crimes where he allegedly found his victims through Craigslist’s erotic services section.

Craigslist is a free and open online classified advertising service – not unlike those that are found at any newspaper in the country.  And, yes, it runs ads for erotic services – massages, escort services and sexual encounters – in much the same way any alternative newspaper in any metropolitian area does.  Look no further, for example, than the Boston Phoenix and its erotic classified ads.

So why is Craigslist being pounded on by the mainstream media? Because newspapers and magazines are experiencing the Great Media Collapse of 2009 – many on the verge of bankrupcty and closure.  This is partly due to services like Craigslist, which have taken the lucrative classified advertising business away from them.  Revenge, it seems, is sweet.

So Craigslist is getting editorials like this one from the Boston Globe: “Yet while the Web site was only a medium, the murder raises the question of what role virtual communities play and what responsibilities they should exercise. Craigslist, a for-profit company, presents itself as a community forum, and its terms of service forbid postings for illegal activities. Prostitution is illegal. But the “erotic services” ads on Craigslist are devoted to sex for pay.”

Notice the loaded words: “virtual communities” and “for-profit.”  Classic fear-mongering.  Newspapers and magazines should know better than to blame the messenger – especially when they are guilty of the same practices.

Blaming Craigslist for Markoff’s alleged crimes is patently ridiculous.  Should a newspaper be held responsible for a crime commited through its classified ads?  Or even its regular advertising?  Of course not.  Craigslist has more than nine billion page views a month – and serves up literally thousands of ads each day.  People sell old furniture, record albums, fences, antique tools, used cars and just about anything else you can think of.  They connect people, but aren’t in the business of verifying each and every ad.

They even tell you that on the site.  That would be an impossible task – and a practice that newspapers have never performed either.

Of course, Craigslist hasn’t done itself any favors by denying that its erotic services section advertises prostitution.  Of course it does – but not as overtly as the mainstream media would have you believe.  The language is couched in vagaries – much like the ads found in the Boston Phoenix and other alternative newspapers.

Craigslist should admit that its staff of 28 employees don’t have the ability to police and monitor each and every ad that goes up on the site.  That’s why it offers buyers and sellers a practical guide on how to avoid scams and to keep safe while using the service.

The glee in which newspapers and magazines are turning on Craigslist is irresponsible, but not surprising given their own desperate situations. It will be interesting to watch this case unfold as the media attention is now getting law enforcement to take a hard look at Craigslist.  Expect lots of chest thumping and for Craigslist to finally bend to the pressure and eliminate its “erotic services.”

But make no mistake: the responsibility for any crime belongs to the criminal.

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